Wakanyeja – Early Childhood Education Initiative

Wakanyeja – Program Components

Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Early Childhood Education Initiative
Creating Systems of Care and Learning for Native children


Framework for Change

The Wakanyeja ECE Initiative engages a number of Change Levers to stimulate potential for educational equity and excellence, from birth to adulthood for Native children and families.


Over the period of five years, the Wakanyeja ECE Initiative seeks to strengthen early childhood education following a cycle of planning, development, implementation, assessment and reflection for improving program initiatives. The ideal outcomes, include engaged sustainability in generating improved early childhood educational opportunities.


Change takes time. For historically under-funded Native communities, change takes intentional planning, purposeful goal setting, and implementation of realistic expectations. To reach our best potential for measuring impact and change in Native early childhood programs providing services to Native children and their families, the process is gradual, with the hopes of transforming early childhood education.


Data Overview

The American Indian College Fund’s Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Early Childhood Education Initiative is funded by a $5,000,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Eighty-five percent of the total grant amount (approximately $4.2 million) directly supports tribal college projects, training directly impacting the tribal colleges and their partners, and supports grantees’ dissemination and networking at an annual meeting of grantees and national/international conferences. The remaining 15% of the total grant ($765,500) supports expenses incurred by the Fund such as, personnel, travel, and evaluation of the funded project, communications, and indirect costs.


Partnerships Toward Systematic Change

The Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Early Childhood Education Initiative supports tribal college’s plans to develop partnerships. The partnerships are critical to developing early learning and schooling experiences that take into account the knowledge and experiences needed for strong academic transition into K-3 and beyond. Four tribal colleges have been awarded a Wakanyeja ECE Initiative grant. Plans for partnerships include:

  • developing culturally-based curriculum that supports learning among Pre-K, K-12 and post-secondary education
  • developing strong instructional focus on American Indian and Alaska Native child development in cognitive and non-cognitive skills.
  • developing advocacy skills for parents and communities regarding education for Native children (in all three areas of education, Pre-K, K-12, and post-secondary)
  • developing assessment of cognitive and non-cognitive skills using standardized tools of measurement (locally developed or national standardized assessments). This activity will draw upon knowledge in K-12 settings to inform pre-K education
  • developing opportunities for teachers to strengthen and deepen their cultural knowledge, so that they may infuse this knowledge in classroom instruction


Documenting Progress – Five Domains Overview

In order to measure child development progress, the Wakanyeja tribal college grantee teams needed to create, address, and engage a variety of critical components. These critical components were not initially operating when the funded project begin. Today, each grantee site is engaging and building stronger systems and partnerships to implement meaningful measurement of children’s developmental progress in Native communities.

The Wakanyeja ECE Initiative focuses efforts to strengthen early childhood educational opportunities on five domains; each domain is essential to building systems of care and learning for Native children and families.


Continued Need

Strengthening early childhood educational opportunities with the visionary goals of tribal college readiness and success by third grade requires support. Tribal colleges and universities are well situated to lead for change in their respective Native communities. The American Indian College Fund continues to seek funding to support the Wakanyeja ECE Initiative, and other early childhood programming at tribal colleges. We know we can make a difference with small grants to multi-year funding. Take a look at what can be accomplished!