By Joseph Rice, Executive Director of Nawayee Center School
Nawayee is an Ojibwe word that means “the center” and for over 40 years Center School has been a fixture in the Phillips neighborhood, the heart of the Minneapolis Native American community, by providing educational resources for students in grades 7-12 struggling in a traditional academic environment. The mission of the Nawayee Center School is to provide transformative education, grounded in indigenous life-ways and a love of learning. Native American cultural values are modeled and integrated throughout the entire curriculum. During the holidays, our students and staff come together to host feasts for our community and local elders to gather and reflect on giving, gratefulness and family traditions. We use food from our school’s garden and wild rice and maple syrup from our experiential sugar bushing field trips.
The giving of thanks or gratefulness is an essential part of Indigenous lifeways. The earth and all things on her and in the universe are widely understood to be alive and related to one another in a similar manner to the way that some human non-indigenous families perceive each other nowadays. From this basic understanding it follows that everything we have is a gift from a living relative and that we should be gracious in receiving those gifts. It is further understood that we should follow the examples demonstrated by our relatives and likewise be giving and generous. In other words, our relationship to our relatives should be a reciprocal one in which our many gifts are shared as a matter of course regardless of the season or time of day. We should also remember to celebrate the successes and good fortune of all our relatives because our generosity is in no way limited to the physical realm.
Many Indigenous celebrate the winter solstice as the return of the life-giver, the sun and grandfather, and the beginning of the end of winter. This is a reminder that the earth, our grandmother, will soon be waking up and it is a time to start preparations for greeting her with a grateful heart. Many indigenous nations and communities hold winter solstice celebrations and ceremonies and among many peoples this period is understood to be an opportunity to address the spiritual and emotional health of the human entity. Winter is observed to be the most difficult time to live and so many Indigenous peoples determine their age according to how many winters one has survived. Giving of gifts and gratefulness are also an essential part of life during winter as we are taught from an early age to be grateful for life’s challenges as well as its blessings and to be generous in supporting one another and appreciating the many ways that all our relatives enrich our lives.
Round up at the register to support Center School during December and purchase B & E’s Trees Maple Syrup to boost your donation. Through our Change Matters Product Partner Program, B & E’s Trees is donating $1 for every syrup sold during December.