American Indian College Fund Early Childhood Initiatives Spur International Self-Determination Movement as Detailed in New Report

Published February 14, 2018

DENVER  Preparing children for college starts at birth. But the American Indian College Fund realized that a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not work for Native children. Six years ago, the College Fund set out to strengthen systems of care and learning for Native children by expanding opportunities for their families to consider college as a pathway to thriving communities, starting from birth to career, by incorporating the local culture into education. Today the College Fund released a landmark report detailing its findings from the work that has inspired an international movement, titled Tribal College and University Childhood Education Initiatives: Strengthening Systems of Care and Learning with Native Communities from Birth to Career.

Thanks to the College Fund’s Tribal College and University (TCU) Early Childhood Education Initiatives, entire Native communities are determining and providing place-based, culturally appropriate education for their young children to ensure their academic and social success at a foundational age.

The new report details how the College Fund built systems of early childhood care and learning founded on sustainable structures and implemented them at seven TCUs (accredited higher education institutions located on or near Indian reservations serving Native communities). Through the College Fund’s initiatives to date, 3,975 children and 2,398 families have benefited, while 1,185 teachers received training and professional development opportunities to better serve their communities.

The report shares early childhood education models that can be modified to meet specific community needs. It also includes information about growing partnerships with local and external education organizations, foundations, and professional organizations; engaging parents and families in curriculum development; utilizing the knowledge and experience of community elders; pursuing program excellence; documenting work and sharing findings to improve the work for sustainability; and transforming education in communities facing challenges.

The College Fund launched its first program in 2011, titled the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Tribal College School Readiness and Success by Third Grade Initiative. The program was a five-year, $5 million dollar initiative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Since 2011 the College Fund has launched three additional Native American early childhood initiatives: Ké’ Family Engagement, Cultivating Lakota Early Learning Opportunities, and Restorative Teachings. The College Fund awarded funding opportunities in the total amount of $7.25 million to TCU early childhood teacher education programs and faculty and TCU early learning centers and their partners, teachers, Native families, and children.

Seven TCUs participated in these initiatives: the College of Menominee Nation (Keshena, Wis.); Iḷisaġvik College (Utqiaġvik, Alaska); Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College (Baraga, Mich.); Northwest Indian College (Bellingham, Wash.); Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (Albuquerque, N.M.); Salish Kootenai College (Pablo, Mont.); and Sitting Bull College (Fort Yates, N.D.).

The initiative is directed by Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Ed.D., an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and the Vice President of Program Initiatives at the American Indian College Fund.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said, “As indigenous people who recognize the sacredness of our children and the impact that colonization has had on their lives, we are particularly moved by what we learned from our work. We have always known that parents and communities know best when it comes to the socialization of Native children. The College Fund and TCUs proved that we can do the work of our ancestors—to honor and educate young children—in modern institutions. We are grateful to the parents, teachers, and especially the children for bringing us to this point. We encourage more investment so more children can be reached.”

To request that Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Ed.D. speak at an event, or for additional information about the findings in the report and initiatives, please contact Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz at 303-426-8900 or

To download a free copy of the Tribal College and University Childhood Education Initiatives: Strengthening Systems of Care and Learning with Native Communities from Birth to Career report, go to



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