Image of two rivers meeting with Camp Fire and NIEA logos

A Confluence of Two Rivers: Introducing a New Relationship with the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) and Camp Fire

When two or more rivers meet, it is often called a confluence. When this happens, the temperature and composition of the waters may change. The new river may adjust its course. But ultimately, both rivers are strengthened by this mutual convergence. The water continues on its way, newly defined, with added force and determination. Each new tributary adds to its story and becomes a part of the rivers’ ongoing journey.

Camp Fire and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) have spent the past year intentionally developing a relationship similar to that of two rivers converging. Both groups have long recognized that there may be natural points of intersection and alignment where their combined efforts could benefit each organization and yield a greater impact for young people and communities. Our programs are different in scope and mission, yet we are united in our dedication to youth. 

​​Camp Fire exists because growing up is hard. That’s why Camp Fire connects young people to the outdoors, to others and to themselves. But Camp Fire’s history of cultural appropriation has made growing up harder, not easier, especially for Native youth. And for that, we are deeply saddened and sorry. In looking at the cultural appropriation with our organization, we recognized this work will be waiting for us, whether we address it now or in 100 years. Thus began our journey from appropriation to reparations over the past years.

Today, as we find ourselves in a new relationship with NIEA, to build an ecosystem of abundance, where our strengths are not the same but are complementary and create a world where young people thrive. Our shared mission is to carry their hopes and aspirations and support them becoming their reality, now and in the future.

Older indigenous woman standing next to a student and helping her.

The ultimate goal of our collaboration is to create Camp Fire spaces in Native communities or increase access for Native youth to safely attend Camp Fire programming. This means:

  • Co-creating safe spaces for Native and non-Native youth
  • Co-creating place-based teaching and opportunities ABOUT and FOR Native youth
  • Supporting Camp Fire to create awareness of unique and complex Native youth identities that should be reflected our programming.

The Camp Fire/NIEA equitable partnership will focus on two areas: Environmental Education and 2Spirit youth. Through environmental education, we seek to understand stewardship of the Earth through a Native lens but doing so without borrowing or appropriating Native practices or traditions. We will also be expanding Traditional Ecological Knowledge through joint curriculum and program opportunities.

Environmental Education

Programming aimed to understand stewardship of the natural world through a Native lens, but without borrowing or appropriating Native practices or traditions.

Gold circle with leave in front

Objective 1: Create a framework for current and future environmental education programming, with focus less on nature-based activities, more on personal connections and understanding.

Objective 2: Co-develop a nature-based toolkit based on the framework.

Objective 3: Pilot a program using the new framework and toolkit.

Objective 4: Expanding joint curriculum to wider organizational networks.

In support of 2spirit LGBTQ+ young people, we will work to ensure the safety and positive identity development of 2S youth through youth participatory action research that starts with their voices around what they need and desire to feel safe and supported. We will amplify the stories of 2S young people who are thriving because representation matters. We will also be scaling community action clubs and affinity spaces that support the social and emotional well-being of young people.

Two Spirit, LGBTQ+ Youth Support

Ensuring the identity safety of 2SLGTQ+ youth through programs, resource development, and local and national policy work.

Gold circle with twig from pine tree

Objective 1: Develop or update wellness survey or needs assessment for national 2S youth (12-17) inclusive of the health of the environment in which the youth live

Objective 2: Create media content that captures stories of 2SLGBTQ+ young people and how they want to be supported.

Objective 3: Scale Camp Fire Green Country’s GSA model to tribal and BIE schools.

Objective 4: Co-develop a course for supporting and advocating for youth.

Objective 5: Develop indigenous-focused 2SLGBTQ+ policy/advocacy and programming toolkits for youth and educational leaders.

We are determined to elevate the voices of those who have been and continue to be, marginalized by a dominant culture. Our intention is to uplift, educate, listen, and learn. We look to each organization’s knowledge, skills, and advocacy to further improve our own.

“[This] relationship did not happen overnight. They took their time, getting to know each other as people and as organizations. Finding where they have common goals and discovering each organization’s strengths and how they could share those strengths to help one another. Camp Fire needed to show it was serious in order for Diana (NIEA’s CEO) to really let them in. So they did the work. And they kept showing up. And they offered what they had, and they earned Diana’s trust. In Diana’s words, it takes “grace, patience, and understanding” to develop true partnerships.

Reverend Jen Bailey, founder of the Faith Matters Network, says that: “Social change happens at the speed of relationships. And relationships move at the speed of trust.” And I’ve also heard Shawna [Rosenzweig, Camp Fire National Headquarters President] say that “partnerships move at the speed of relationships.”

Camp Fire and NIEA took their time to build that trust. Shawna has shared that this partnership is laying the blueprint for how they’d like to approach all partnerships – steeped in transparency, honesty and equitable power.”

Rebecca Goldberg (she/her), Impact Group Facilitator, Grantmakers for Education

Both NIEA and Camp Fire want to model how organizations can go beyond a transactional one-off partnership but work together with equity at the center––not only to address past injustices, but to provide the best possible programming for young people to be healthy, strong, and resilient leaders both today and in the future.

We’re excited to accelerate the flow of this river together, bringing new life and abundance to the ecosystem around it in the years to come.

November 7, 2023

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