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There are nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon, and five of these tribes have federally grant funded Head Start classrooms as part of their services for children and families. The unique government-to-government relationship that accompanies these grants means there is a specific Region (referred to as Region 11) that supports this work. Tribes also have a government-to-government relationship with the state of Oregon; however, Head Start does not fall under this work as it is funded directly to the tribes. These programs are critical to their communities; in some instances, after they have prioritized members of their tribe, they are also able to serve additional (non-tribal) children from the community.

Micker (Mike) Richardson, the Head Start Collaboration Director for American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) programs, works with tribes across the country that provide Head Start services. As the Director of the Head Start Collaboration Office in Oregon, my work is primarily connected to the Oregon Head Start Pre-Kindergarten programs. As individuals tasked with supporting collaboration, Mike and I needed to learn how we could work together and best answer questions that tribes might have. When Mike learned he would be traveling to Oregon to visit Tribal Head Start Programs, he was quick to invite me along.

During our first visit, we were at the Ca-Uma-Wa Head Start program near Pendleton. This was the first of two Oregon Tribal Head Start programs we had the pleasure of visiting.  We visited a number of classrooms, and in one we were instantly drawn to beautiful handmade cradle-boards with vibrant colors.  It was clear they were crafted with care. Margaret Gunshow, the Head Start program manager, explained that they were crafted specifically for their classrooms by Cleo Agnes Dick, an elder with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation.

Next, we met the Education Director, Modesta Minthorn-Pinawollenmay. Margaret and Modesta were both gracious in taking time to meet with us, so that we could learn how the Head Start Collaboration Offices could be beneficial to the important work of their program. They shared information that helped to shape my understanding of their education programs, and reflected on the support  they receive from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. There is strong investment and support from tribal leaders and the community that enhances the work with children and families.

The second site we visited was with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Cheryl Tom, who oversees the Head Start program, was quick to invite her content-area managers so that they could share their experiences and the uniqueness of the support they provide. The crisp fall air was slightly abuzz as later in the week they would be honoring the Veteran’s at a Pow-Wow. The children in the Head Start program have been practicing and preparing for this Pow-Wow. A generous gift from a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs ensured that all children had an item to wear for the Pow-wow. With the support of tribal members, a variety of items were crafted to make sure there was enough for each of the children to have something. In our conversations, the investment of the tribe in this work and the dedication of the staff was extremely clear.

Tribal Head Start programs offer the same Head Start services and follow the same regulations as all Head Start programs across the country. The ways they engage their tribal community varies, and the community reaches out to support the children and this work, as readily as staff reach out to the community. Volunteers are common, supports around passing on traditions/understanding are readily available, and support for language preservation is also common. There is a clear connection between the priorities of the tribes and the goals of Head Start, which benefits the children and families in these communities.

-Shawna Rodrigues, Head Start Collaboration Director

More information visit https://oregonearlylearning.com/visit-tribal-head-start-programs-shawna-rodrigues/