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Groundbreaking Mag Celebrates Native Women; Now in Multiple Platforms for Classrooms

A story about Native Daughters magazine.
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To create Native Daughters magazine, Jordan Pascale, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) journalism student, stepped into a Pine Ridge, South Dakota sweat lodge in the fall of 2009 hoping to figure out a world he longed to understand.

To build the Native Daughters website, Molly Young, another UNL journalism student, drove through a blizzard to film teens in Santee, Nebraska talking about suicide and escaping the reservation.

To build the free curriculum companion for Native Daughters, 14 educators—half of them enrolled tribe members from Native schools—spent a week in the summer of 2011 breaking down the content to make the stories connect to students and teachers both on and off the reservation.

The result was a journalistic, multimedia study of a story that hadn’t been told enough, if at all. The onetime product, Native Daughters—Who they are, where they’ve been and why Indian country could never survive without them, came off the presses and hopped online in the spring of 2011. Now, it needed an audience.

By January 2012, the Nebraska Humanities Council, Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) and UNL’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications had produced a Native Daughters curriculum companion free to all K-12 educators. By February, Native Daughters had sold out its second printing. The sales numbers aren’t as interesting as the people who placed the orders, which came from:

An official at an Ypsilanti, Michigan prison who wanted the magazines to inspire her Native female inmates;

Directors of Indian education programs within Minneapolis, Denver and Portland, Oregon school districts;

A Southern California professor who wanted to feature the magazine in her anthropology class;

The director of the Seattle Indian Health Board, who wanted copies as an educational tool;

The director of the Chickasaw Cultural Center, who wanted magazines to serve as the focus of a weeklong college-credit course.

From all this, UNL journalism professor Joe Starita learned two things: Readers had never seen a publication that featured compelling success stories of Native women past, present and future; and students, especially Native students, can be inspired by such stories. The story, for example, of Danelle Smith, a pregnant teen “freaking out” on the Winnebago Reservation, who is now general counsel for the tribe after graduating from the University of Iowa College of Law while raising three boys. Or of Lakota soldier Darla Black, who fought for her country in the U.S. Army while fighting domestic abuse and discrimination back home.

To get those stories and many more like them in front of students, UNL got a grant from the Nebraska Humanities Council to fund a Native Daughters Summer Institute and a Web-based curriculum companion that would be free to all educators. The NDE’s Office of Multicultural/Diversity Education provided more funds and leadership for the project. “The goal all along was to penetrate as widely and deeply into American classrooms as possible,” said Starita, the author of “I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice. “The online curriculum guide made that considerably easier. Now, the teacher-quarterback has a playbook on how to teach the content.”

The five-day summer institute started with two Native daughters: Judi Gaiashkibos, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs; and Carol Rempp, Oglala Lakota, the NDE’s program coordinator of the Office of Multicultural/Diversity Education—Gaiashkibos was an instructor in the course, Rempp had been featured in the magazine. The pair fired up 14 educators who were about to split into pairs to build units for each of the seven themes of the magazine-website: law givers, artists, environmentalists, storytellers, healers, warriors and leaders.

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The highlights of that week:

MONDAY: Organizers had planned a lunch of meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. Pretty daunting food when the heat index was hitting 105 degrees. After lunch, one curriculum developer picked up the magazine and said, “It’s beautiful, but if you gave me one, what is my incentive to open it? When would I have time to do that?” The answer was clear: That’s why you’re here. Let’s make a curriculum companion that makes classroom implementation easy for educators.

TUESDAY: A speaker from the state brought in cutting-edge classroom ideas, from comprehension recall games to online

assessment tools. Teachers, who generally make the worst students, cheered for her, and incorporated those ideas into early brainstorming. Santee (Nebraska) High School English teacher Jay Channing, Anishinaabe (White Earth) and Santee Sioux, presented his idea of Facebook pages for Native storytellers. Others planned to “steal” the idea, have students create fake Facebook profiles for each of the profiles in the magazine. Some teachers remained quiet. Kristine Earth, a Title VII educator at Winnebago (Nebraska) Public Schools, had never done anything like this before. Writing curriculum for content about Native women. Nobody had really done it before.

WEDNESDAY: When teachers were given five minutes to present their work, they took 20, but organizers didn’t want to stop the ideas from flowing or the debate. Channing asserted a point that got everybody’s attention: “We don’t break down stories the way we do English and American literature stories,” he said. “We believe that they’re lessons, not stories. We believe they are true.”

THURSDAY: Teachers were still excited about the project, but Rempp pointed out that school administrators had to be on board. She said they would like a free curriculum for a durable text, but would the magazine fit into the curriculum? To that end, Rempp had curriculum developers align their units and lessons with Nebraska state standards, which would help Nebraska educators immediately and serve as a model for educators in other states who must meet similar standards.

FRIDAY: Teachers presented their work and celebrated in a prayer ceremony led by Renee Sans Souci from the Omaha Nation.

After months of editing, the curriculum companion is being tried out in schools throughout Nebraska and the country. Rempp and Earth brought two boxes of magazines and companion material to the National Indian Education Association’s 2011 convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico from October 26 to 30. “There was a lot of buzz in the room as teachers came in and received a copy of the magazine,” Rempp said. “In all honesty, people were blown away when they heard Kristine talk about her experience as a (curriculum) writer on the project and her experience being a Native daughter herself.”

The buzz reached Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Muscogee Creek entrepreneur Ginette Overall runs a power-generator company. “It’s the first publication I’ve ever picked up in my life that I could clearly see myself in, that I felt was written for me,” Overall told the Lincoln Journal Star.

She offered $150,000 to ensure that the College of Journalism and Mass Communications could make a second Native Daughters that would focus on Oklahoma tribes. The class starts in August. The hope within UNL’s journalism college is that Native Daughters will become a model for historical storytelling for K-12 students. And that the stories will continue beyond Oklahoma.

Scott Winter is an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. His students designed the Native Daughters magazine, website and curriculum companion.

To purchase the Native Daughters magazine, contact professor Joe Starita at 402-472-8280 or

The accompanying website is To download the Native Daughters curriculum companion, click here.