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Star Yellowfish: Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

 

Native American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, histories, and contributions of Native people. It is also an opportune time to educate the general public, our students and their families about the many tribes we have in the country and in the state of Oklahoma and to raise awareness about the challenges Native people have faced both in the past and in the present, and how they have overcome these challenges.


As we commemorate this important month, we also like to celebrate our Native staff members, some of whom in addition to celebrating their own culture, dedicate their daily work to helping our more than 2,700 Native American students understand and cherish their heritage.


Meet Star Yellowfish, OKCPS Director of Native American Student Services (NASS) who has been with the District for the past 11 years. A graduate from Arizona State University with a BA in Communications, Star also has a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Adult & Higher Education from the University of Oklahoma. A Keetoowah Cherokee and a mother of two young boys, Dr. Star Yellowfish not only practices her Cherokee traditions, but she also celebrates those of her husband, who is a member of five Native tribes: Otoe, Comanche, Osage, Pawnee, Sac & Fox.

 

Did you grow up in a family that followed your Native traditions? What are some traditions you practice? 

“Yes!  I did not grow up around my Cherokee Family/People who are from Tahlequah and Hulbert, so my dad made sure that we practiced and knew our Cherokee culture.  Some of the traditions my family still practices that I now practice with my own boys is cooking the foods, singing Cherokee Hymns, playing stickball and our favorite is competing and shooting Cherokee blow guns.”

 

Do you speak your tribe's native language?

“My grandmother and father are fluent Cherokee speakers. I am not, but I can understand and speak commands, foods, and animals.”  

 

Growing up, were you always proud of your Native American heritage? 

“Yes, I grew up in Arizona on the Navajo reservation where my dad was a teacher and coach for many years.  He still works there today. So growing up with Navajos, I had to be very strong in who I was as a Cherokee girl.

 

How do you feel about being Native American? Do you think it is important to cherish, celebrate, respect, and practice traditions?

“Being Native American is at the core of who I am.  My values and my view of the world come from those teachings and that connection I have to my ancestors.  I absolutely think it's important to know who you are and where you come from as a Native person.  Knowing who you are and who your ancestors are can change a person!  In working with our urban Native youth, I noticed that many of our OKCPS students who were Native American did not know what tribe they were or did not know any of their tribal practices. This was surprising to me since I was raised with such a strong sense of identity as a Native girl.  But what I did notice is that once they began to learn what tribe they were and who their people were, there was something that changed in them. The students became more confident, prouder and even happier learning that they have this connection to ancestors that runs deep within them.”  

 

How do you keep your Native heritage alive?

“I keep my heritage alive by practicing what my grandma taught me on what it means to be a Cherokee woman.  But I also embrace and learn about my husband's tribes so that my sons can be brought up with the same values and perspective of the world.”  

 

What is something you wish the general population knew about Native Americans? 

“What I wish the general population knew about Native Americans is that we are all different and we are still very much here.  We have 562 tribes in the US alone and each of them has their own history, language, and culture. As a people, we walk among the general population every day and we aren't something that is mythical or in storybooks.”

 

What is the importance of Native American Heritage month? 

“Native American Heritage Month is important because it is a recognition by the US Government of our people, culture, history, and contributions to the United States.” 

 

From what tribes are our Native students? 

We have more than 2,700 Native American students representing over 77 tribes.   

 

What are some of the services the District offers to our Native American students?

“Through our Title VII, we offer many services, programs, and events to our Native students, including ACT test fee assistance, Career & Higher Education information and workshops, cultural classes, OKCPS Native American student art show, Native American summer day camp for K-6 grade, and more. We also have services and programs offered through the Johnson O’Malley (JOM) Indian Education, including assistance with school uniform and basic school supplies, Senior Cap & Gown assistance, cultural nights, our OKCPS annual Pow-Wow and Stompdance.”

To see a complete list of programs and services available for Native students, please click here.

 

If you could retire in any place in the world, where would you like to retire? 

“I will retire here in Oklahoma as our family, cultural practices and tribes all take place here in OK.”