By Kelsey Kennedy
Thursday morning, a meeting room at the Indiana Convention Center was full of FFA members, staff and members of Connecting cultures in FFA the Native American community. They had traveled from all over the country to discuss the future of Native American students in FFA and how to help other FFA members learn more about their culture. While Flores and Moore expected around 30 people to come, more than 100 people made their way to the round table over the course of the morning.
The discussion was engaging for everyone, but the event had an especially large impact on the students. “These kids, they realized what they’re a part of,” Moore said. “It brought that sense of belonging that a lot of these kids crave.”
Hipp agreed. “There are just so many students who are hungry for an FFA or a 4-H.”
Coming to the round table was an easy choice for Hipp.
“I was immediately on board,” she said. For her, getting Native American FFA members is of the utmost importance and is key to the long-term success of students and FFA. She said, “We’ve got to get the next set of ag educators to reach out to Native students. It has to be embraced as a part of the FFA curriculum and delivery model.”
Montana chapters have been integrating Native American education into their state activities for the last six years with the FFA/American Indian Program. The project was started in 2006 by Bill Jimmerson, Montana’s state FFA advisor, as an educational program to help students share their culture. Each year, chapters from across the state prepare PowerPoint presentations and dances highlighting different traditions. The winning chapter would often present at national convention, but now they are working with the diversity program at the national level. The changes in Montana have been noticeable. “After three years of this program, kids were interspersed among all of the kids because they felt like they were a part of the group. To me, that’s the best part,” Jimmerson said. While the FFA/American Indian Program is creating momentum in Montana, it is just one small step forward. Jimmerson said, “We still have a long way to go, even in Montana.”
Flores hopes to bring Montana’s spirit to the national level. With 210 chapters across the country serving students who identify as Native American, bringing together chapters that feel isolated have helped people to connect and “be with those they identify with,” said Flores. “From the start, it was about engaging those that typically aren’t.”
Flores and her team put together a video and other material to be used by chapters and advocates for education both on the local and national level. The materials can even be used for states to have their own heritage celebrations.
The events at national convention were just the beginning. Flores said, “The whole process has been transformational,and I know the real transformation hasn’t even begun.”