Native American Baby

Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

Children are sacred and the hope of each nation. To many Native Americans across Indian Country, children are viewed as sacred beings. They are earth’s most recent inhabitants and have a close connection to the Creator. Please join ZERO TO THREE in celebrating and honoring Native children, and the caregivers who support them, not only during Native American Heritage month, but every day.

Our mission at ZERO TO THREE is to ensure all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life. We envision a society that has the knowledge and will to support all infants and toddlers in reaching their full potential. For Native American communities, this strong start includes enriching practices that respect and embrace their heritages, languages and cultures. These practices are the heartbeat of tribal nations and weave together multi-generations and build strong foundations for Native children, the future leaders of each nation.

In honor of our Native children and the adults who support them, ZERO TO THREE is providing early childhood educators and professionals complimentary access to some of our favorite resources on serving American Indian and Alaska Native families.

Resources from our Programmatic Assistance for Tribal Home Visiting (PATH) team

Our Programmatic Assistance for Tribal Home Visiting (PATH) team supports Tribal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (Tribal MIECHV) grantees by increasing their capacity to implement high-quality home visiting programs within tribal communities and develop integrated early childhood systems serving American Indian and Alaska Native families (AIAN).

There are few moments in life as precious as the birth of a child. Many AIAN people honor babies as sacred gifts from the spirit world. With curiosity and deep respect for generations past, a growing number of AIAN families are reconnecting with cultural traditions and ceremonies and incorporating these into their preparations for childbirth and early parenting. From home births to naming ceremonies, cedar baths, and cradleboards, families connect with their cultures as they welcome their babies into the world. Support from tribal elders, doulas, midwives, and home visitors ensures that families have the care they want during these precious moments of their parenting journey. This issue brief—based on information from seven Tribal Home Visiting grantees—describes how Tribal Home Visiting programs support AIAN families during pregnancy and postpartum, or the perinatal period.

The sharing of AIAN cultures and lifeways provides opportunities for helping young children form deep connections to their community, which, in turn, aids in the development of their early language and literacy skills. With these integral connections, children see eagle feathers in a dancer’s bustle at a powwow, they hear creation stories laced with life lessons, they smell sage or other medicines used in ceremonies, and they learn to dance as a way of celebrating life. In all of these respects, tribal cultures and lifeways provide an authentic platform for supporting children’s early development and learning.

This issue brief—based on interviews with eight Tribal MIECHV grantees— focuses on the ways in which home visiting programs can promote the development of early language and literacy skills, which are important aspects of child development.

Through the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) Elder Interview project, implemented under a grant from the Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF’s) Tribal MIECHV program, Cherokee elders are sharing cultural stories and beliefs around pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. During interviews, elders answered questions about accepted treatments and taboos during pregnancy (“What was considered ’taboo’ for pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding? What were considered remedies for pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding?”). Responses to questions like this will be compiled in a booklet to preserve cultural teachings for families in the community. ) 

And so, this journey to collect elder stories on pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing— known as the Elder Interview project—began. Every step of the way, from planning to conducting interviews, the project team engaged in a thoughtfully iterative process that draws on community collaboration and respect.

Journal Articles

Ekaterina Zoubak

What key ingredients are needed to effectively promote the mental health and resilience of young children in American Indian and Alaska Native communities? What should non-Indigenous allies know when working with Indigenous communities and partners to support young child wellness? What elements and contexts should be taken into consideration when designing and funding such efforts? The following article examines these questions and shares insights and perspectives from those who are working toward better outcomes for young children and families in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.


Lee Hinton, Erin Lucas, and Ekaterina Zoubak

Leadership in infant and early childhood mental health must take into consideration issues of diversity, historical context, power dynamics, and difference in worldview and experiences. This article describes the importance of equitable and effective partnerships with rural/remote, underserved, and Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada. It is important to build strong, foundational, respectful relationships rooted in humility, mutual learning, and trust. Effective leaders must also consider diverse concepts of children, childhood, and mental health as they are understood by different communities. All strategies, decisions, and activities that are brought into a community must be adapted in partnership with members of that community and also must be culturally grounded and aligned with the philosophies and practices of the community.

Conference Sessions

Culturally Grounded Approaches to Support Children and Families in American Indian and Alaska Native Early Care and Education: Lessons Learned From Project LAUNCH and Head Start

Strengthening Home Visiting and Early Childhood Program Implementation Through Cultural Grounding and Responsiveness

Partner Resources

American Indian and Alaska Native Programs

Head Start launched 34 American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Head Start programs in the summer of 1965. Today, there are around 44,000 children of AIAN heritage served, both in AIAN and non-tribal programs. The Office of Head Start (OHS) honors the rich cultural heritage of AIAN children, families, and communities. Based on the needs of local communities, Head Start programs offer traditional language and cultural practices to provide high-quality services to young children and their families.

Office of Head Start Tribal Language Report 2012

Head Start programs serve approximately 42,500 children of AIAN heritage. More than 23,000 of those children are served in the 152 AIAN Head Start programs; the rest are served by non-tribal programs . Over the last decade, there has been a steady decline in the number of Head Start children who speak a tribal language at home. According to 2009 Head Start Program Information Report (PIR) data, less than 4% of Head Start children speak Native North America/Alaska Native Languages—a 10% decrease from 2001.Learn about the successes, progress, and challenges faced by tribal communities in various stages of preserving, revitalizing, or reclaiming the many tribal language.

Making It Work: Implementing Cultural Learning Experiences in American Indian and Alaska Native Early Learning Settings for Children Ages Birth to 5

Traditional lifeways, languages, and cultural heritages are important components of young children’s school readiness. Making It Work helps American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) early education staff meet these goals as they teach children about their traditional cultural skills, values, beliefs, and lifeways.

The National Museum of the American Indian has been steadfastly committed to bringing Native voices to what the museum writes and presents, whether on-site at one of the three NMAI venues, through the museum’s publications, or via the Internet. The NMAI is also dedicated to acting as a resource for the hemisphere’s Native communities and to serving the greater public as an honest and thoughtful conduit to Native cultures—present and past—in all their richness, depth, and diversity.

Working with Heart: Meet the Home Visitors of Tribal Home Visiting

This video highlights the ‘Heart Work’ of home visiting teams as they provide support and education to the families enrolled in Tribal Home Visiting. Working With Heart features seven home visitors who share their thoughts about their personal experiences walking alongside families on their parenting journeys. We extend a special thank you to the families who are featured in this video, and to the seven home visitors who provided testimonials for this project: Gail Fitka (Cook Inlet Tribal Council), LaCosta McGhee (Crow Creek Tribal Schools), Shawna Trancosa (Pueblo San Felipe), Adele Stokes (Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe), Anna Hamilton (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma), Cheyenne Gould (Native American Health Center, Inc.), and Laila Longshore-Smith (South Puget Intertribal Planning Agency). This video was produced by Programmatic Assistance for Tribal Home Visiting (PATH) for the Administration for Children and Families under contract #HHSP233201500130I – HHSP23337001T.

Resources for Parents

Molly of Denali

Available on PBS Kids, this animated series features Molly, an Alaska Native girl. She’s joined by her dog Suki, and friends Tooey and Trini on adventures in epically beautiful Alaska. The series is the first American nationally distributed children’s show to feature an Alaska Native as the lead character.

Preserving Languages

Despite the growing awareness of these cultures, Indigenous languages face the danger of extinction. In 2018, over 3,000 languages were at risk of being lost forever. To help protect these endangered languages, apps have been stepping up over the years. Young children and their families can use tech to help preserve one of the many diverse Native American languages.

ZERO TO THREE Resources for Parents