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Indigenous Cultural Concepts Teaches Kids Traditional Diné Practices

Learn more about Indigenous Cultural Concepts and how you can support their mission.

Whenever kids join workshops through Indigenous Cultural Concepts (ICC), they tend to forget all about their cell phones and social media. In the outdoors with their peers, they’re immersed in gathering edible and medicinal plants, making kneel-down bread, tanning hides, building structures, processing and dying wool, and learning more traditional life skills

Started by youth educator Louise Benally, ICC is a Diné (Navajo) environmental education and advocacy group in northeastern Arizona providing this cherished hands-on learning. In addition to fighting extractive industries like coal and uranium, the nonprofit supports teaching around regenerative food harvesting and Indigenous food practices to help the next generations understand how environmental and cultural awareness connect to social justice issues.

“If you teach them about those understandings at a young age, they will carry that through their lifetime,” Benally said. “They will have something to stand on and go back to in times of need.”

Image courtesy of Louise Benally

In 2020, ICC joined the Outdoors Empowered Network (OEN) to establish a gear library to support their trainings, cultural programs, and partnerships with schools and community groups. The national network of youth-centered and community-led groups across the country works to increase access and diversity in the outdoors through gear libraries and educational programs.

The gear library supplies students with equipment for a range of outdoor activities, and the connection through OEN to other outdoor education groups has given them access to new opportunities. Benally said groups of Diné students have gone spider hunting in Michigan and scuba diving in Florida thanks to the collaboration with other OEN members.  

“Our ultimate goal is to try to let the younger generations know that the whole ecosystem, wherever you are at, has a life in it,” she said. “And from there, you have to treat it respectfully and honor it and not destroy it.” 

Image courtesy of Louise Benally

During the pandemic, Benally, who is To Aheedlíinii Nakaii Diné’e born for Tábaahá, started leading her grandchildren and their friends into the outdoors to teach them cultural concepts that she learned while growing up. The group has grown to include more members of the community. They start by understanding the four directions of native science—earth, fire, air, and water—which she said also represent different growth patterns during one’s lifetime.

They then learn food concepts, from identifying, harvesting, and processing different plants and animals found in their environment. Benally said they’re hoping to add farm animals to the program so youth can learn to be self-sufficient. 

And they also learn to create and build from materials in the environment, such as through sustainable building workshops and traditional crafts like natural wool dyeing and processing.

Benally’s long-term vision for ICC is to build a hiking and biking trail that stretches across Navajo and Ute Country, with electric bike charging stations, shelters, and other amenities for visitors. Cultural sites like Wupatki National Monument and Chaco Canyon would be significant stops along the way, and the trail would reconnect the tribal communities and provide economic stability. She foresees communities sharing knowledge, like basket weaving and pottery making.

“We have a bigger dream,” Benally said. “For now, it’s helping these little ones adapt to life.”

To financially support Indigenous Cultural Concepts, you can send a check to Louise Benally at 328 West Gilmore St., Winslow, AZ 86047. Read more about the nonprofit here.

Interested in building a gear library program in your community? Learn more about the Outdoors Empowered Network on their website, where you can become a member or a supporter. 

Image courtesy of Louise Benally


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