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Native American Heritage Month at Tohono O’odham High School

Teacher in classroom speaking to students.

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and honor the rich cultures, traditions and contributions of Indigenous Nations and people across the United States.

Tohono O’odham High School serves students from a diverse set of tribes in the surrounding area – Tohono O’odham Nation, Gila River Indian Community, Ak-Chin Indian Community and Salt River Indian Community as well as the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Apache communities and more. The staff takes pride in offering its students a rich experience throughout the month so they can share what being a Tribal citizen means to them and express their individuality as Indigenous youth.

“The TOHS Student Council is working to instill pride by creating a Tribal student government to learn more about the Tohono O’odham Nation way to protect and to preserve O’odham ‘jewe c himdag,’” said special education teacher Paul Fulginiti. “Working with O’odham leaders and elders, the TOHS Student Council gains understanding and respect of O’odham ‘himdag’ through educational programs and student outreach, specifically Native American Heritage Month.”

Tohono O’odham High School plans exciting activities and educational opportunities to celebrate the area’s Tribal history and heritage during Native American Heritage Month.

Some students have been working on a month-long project called “Interview with an Elder” to help them connect and learn about their past and culture. The TOHS Student Council also spent the month developing the O’odham Leader Speaker Series to inform the high schoolers about Tribal sovereignty. The month also brought the annual Miss Tohono O’odham High School pageant put on by the school’s Native American Club.

Part of the Bureau of Indian Education’s mission is to provide culturally relevant curriculum to students, which means highlighting and recognizing Native identity and its importance in an educational environment. That curriculum is taught year-round at Tohono O’odham High School – not just one month in the fall. 

“The values and strength of indigenous peoples are reflected in specific knowledge, worldviews and relations to the natural elements and the land,” said computer science training instructor Joseph Gonzales. “Education from this context is evident within everyday life activities, lessons, stories and songs. We try to bring this to our school in the form of blessings and ceremonies as well as into the daily lessons and activities.”

This year, Tohono O’odham High School students spent time at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, learning about Indigenizing education; kept up with news and important developments in their villages, districts and Tribes from a variety of media sources; participated in the TOHS Student Council to learn leadership skills and how to prioritize Tribal sovereignty in decision making; and enrolled in a Native American films course as an elective.

The staff aims to inspire their students to work hard and become leaders in their Tribes and communities. They hope focusing on culturally relevant curriculum helps the students carry pride for their heritage and valuable life lessons with them wherever they go in the future.

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