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Early Childhood Development in Indian Country

Strategies for tribal communities to enhance the well-being of their youngest members

September 23, 2016


Patrice H. Kunesh Former Assistant Vice President, Director, Center for Indian Country Development (2015-2019)
Rob Grunewald Economist, Community Development and Engagement (former)
Early Childhood Development in Indian Country

On Oct. 5 and 6, the Center for Indian Country Development will host its inaugural conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis on the critically important subject of Early Childhood Development in Indian Country. This conference unites the Minneapolis Fed’s decades-long work in both Indian Country and early childhood development.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis established the CICD last year with a mission to help American Indian communities throughout the United States attain their economic development goals. Education, one of the CICD’s primary areas of focus, is a fundamental building block for reservation workforce and economic development. Success later in life is directly tied to nurturing and attention at the beginning of life. Thus, it is fitting that the CICD launches its education work with a focus on early childhood development.

This work emerges from the Minneapolis Fed’s extensive research on the benefits of early childhood development programs. Since 2003, the Minneapolis Fed haspublished articles and hosted conferences about the direct influence of early education on children’s readiness to learn and the high economic payoffs of these investments for individuals, economies, and societies.

Research also shows that these benefits are more difficult and expensive to achieve as children get older. Moreover, children who face adverse experiences early in life are more likely to have difficulty learning and to suffer their own health and economic problems as adults. Indeed, neuroscience and the study of brain development are expanding our understanding of the importance of effective early childhood development programs.

With this conference, we will take a close look at early childhood development through the lens of culture, brain science, and economics. This is especially compelling because one of the most persistent challenges in Indian Country is historical trauma, the transmission of harmful stress from one generation to the next. The good news is that many tribes are making investments in their future by providing quality early care and education programs and by addressing systemic issues that impede healthy development and community well-being. Indeed, historical trauma is now firmly situated in the field of brain science, and extensive research is under way to understand the transmission cycle and ways to break it. We now have a clearer picture of the need, evidence, and solutions for expanding early childhood development programs throughout Indian Country.

The conference will bring together practitioners, researchers, and leaders working to support the health and development of young children in Native communities. Speakers will highlight both scientific research and successful early child development programs within the American Indian experience. Participants will also share strategies to elevate early childhood development as a policy priority in Indian Country and to sustain funding.

Space for the conference is limited, and registration is already closed. However, everyone can participate in the conference via live video web stream and social media. Visit the conference web page  for an overview of the conference and an agenda. During the conference, visit to watch the live video web stream. Videos of the presentations will also be available after the conference.

The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #NativeChildDevelopment. Social media participants are encouraged to share ideas and resources for early childhood initiatives in Indian Country before and during the conference.

For inquiries about the conference, please contact