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Amplifying the Strengths of Indigenous Communities

Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz receiving the Alumni Council Award
Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz receives the Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education at HGSE Convocation in 2016
Photo: Jill Anderson

Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz (Diné), left a tenure-track position at Indiana University for the American Indian College Fund (AICF), an organization that has provided scholarships to more than 3,500 Native students and support to the country’s 32 tribal colleges and universities (TCUs). She wanted to be part of the critical work to strengthen the pathways from early childhood to college for Native populations, and she wanted to partner with Native communities to do that work.

Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Ed.D.’02, works with Native students and families to create opportunity, channels of empowerment, and community-led change. 

“We know that when children and families have access to early childhood high-quality learning opportunities, that sets them up for success as a learner down the road,” said Yazzie-Mintz, Ed.D.'02.

At AICF, where she was vice president for program initiatives, she spearheaded the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” program to develop warm and inclusive early childhood programs, empower families to take charge of their children’s educational opportunities, and integrate Native language and culture into curriculum development. The program awarded nearly $1M of grant aid to four TCUs with the goal of strengthening early childhood education programs at those institutions. Now, Native children in the communities served by those four TCUs are following this curriculum, and it has become a model for improving early childhood education in other indigenous communities.

In 2016, Yazzie-Mintz was recognized for her contributions with HGSE’s Alumni Council Award. The following year, President Obama appointed her to the Board of Directors of the National Board for Education Sciences. And she is the 2020 Brock Prize in Education Innovation Laureate; the honor cites Yazzie-Mintz’s “culturally relevant, responsive, and asset-based approach” and says that her Wakanyeja initiative has reached almost 4,000 children, 2,400 families, and 1,200 teachers across the nation.

As co-founder and principal consultant of the First Light Education Project, Yazzie-Mintz is still engaged in efforts to help indigenous individuals, organizations, and communities across the country reach their educational goals through evaluation, assessment, research, data analysis, planning sessions, professional development, and coaching.

“I believe in creating opportunities for change to happen from within Native communities, doing this work with Native communities, not for them,” she has said. “It is powerful to work toward empowering historically underfunded and disenfranchised communities; empowerment is a sustainable action and impact on Native communities and children.” – Timothy Butterfield

Learn More and Connect

Explore this year's Alumni of Color Conference, at which Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz will be a keynote speaker.

Learn more about HGSE's student group FIERCE (Future Indigenous Educators Resisting Colonial Education).

Watch and listen to the 2017 Convocation speech by graduating student Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, which focuses on expanding educational opportunity and access across indigenous communities.

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