New Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative Will Elevate Culturally Relevant Research Grounded in Native Communities


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March 5, 2021

headshot of Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz
Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz

The Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC), located at Boston Children’s Hospital, is partnering with First Light Education Project, a Native-owned consulting initiative, to lead a national Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative (IELC) that will facilitate locally driven, community-based inquiry that is led by Native communities in order to advance high-quality early care and learning opportunities for Native children and families.

The IELC will use a process of research/inquiry that is driven by parents, teachers, centers, and community, prioritizing Indigenous knowledge and frameworks. The Collaborative will

  • address systemic barriers that currently impede Native/Indigenous communities from designing high-quality, culture- and language-rich, early childhood development programming for Native children, families, and communities;
  •  rely on Indigenous research and knowledge generation as a foundational component toward achieving racial equity in early learning and care systems; and
  •  lead to stronger early learning interventions and opportunities for Native children and families by advancing family and community engagement in designing culturally-grounded early childhood development systems, interventions, and knowledge.

“Native communities have the ability to identify areas of strength, need, and challenge in their systems of early care and learning,” said Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and Founder and Principal Consultant at First Light Education Project, who will lead the project. “However, Native communities often don’t have the resources or knowledge about inquiry and research to study the issues, analyze evidence, and create their own long-term sustainable solutions. The Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative will solve this gap in knowledge and resources by providing training and support in community-centered, place-based inquiry to urban, suburban, and rural Native communities seeking to achieve equitable and vibrant communities.”

The project is funded by a two-year, $1.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich.

When local communities define and investigate their own questions related to their community strengths and needs, they develop culturally appropriate solutions that are more likely to be sustainable. The Collaborative will strengthen capacity in Native communities to

  1. define their own questions;
  2. conduct their own community-centered, place-based inquiry and research;
  3. design and implement their own evidence-based solutions to create more sustainably equitable and healthy communities;
  4. sustain this work beyond the initial training and work;
  5. develop the tools to engage larger efforts; and
  6. leverage success to access financial and material resources.

“Research impacting Native communities comes predominantly from outside of Native communities. This pattern feeds the perception that Native communities do not have research expertise and cannot find answers to their own problems, leading to the creation of research that is built on other people’s questions,” Dr. Yazzie-Mintz said. “The Collaborative aims to reverse the traditional process of outsiders doing research on Native communities by moving the origins and center of inquiry into Native communities. Native communities will be trained to be early learning research experts, defining the inquiry questions and issues, planning and conducting inquiry, and turning inquiry into action within their communities.”

The Collaborative will initially work with four Indigenous-led partners who are being trained in community-based inquiry techniques and in the Brazelton Touchpoints approach to strengths-based family engagement. The Touchpoints Approach has proven uniquely effective in bringing together diverse Native communities to find common ground and a shared set of principles for working with children and families, and strengthening the systems that serve them. Following training, each partner will identify and implement an inquiry related to their vision of high-quality, culturally-grounded systems of care and learning for their community. Partner selection prioritized communities that typically do not benefit from major Federal early childhood funding. In the future, the IELC plans to expand and disseminate its learning to more Native sites and communities.

The Collaborative builds on the collective strengths of BTC and First Light Education Project, drawing on both organizations’ expertise and shared commitment to Native early childhood development and education. For 20 years, BTC has been creating opportunities for learning and growth with Indigenous and Native communities through collaborative, strengths-based, culturally-affirming approaches and long-standing and trusting partnerships with Tribal and Native early learning centers, health care agencies, and Tribal Colleges and Universities.

In leading the IELC at BTC, Dr. Yazzie-Mintz brings more than 25 years of experience working within the field of Native education, teacher education, and community-based research to her role as Project Director. Yazzie-Mintz has worked with more than 30 Tribal communities, successfully contributing to direct training, community-based inquiry, and programming at local, Tribal, state, regional, and national levels. She earned a doctorate in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and serves on national committees and foundation boards, contributing to the broad knowledge of local to national systems impacting Native early childhood development and education.

About the Brazelton Touchpoints Center
The Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC) was founded in 1996 by world-renowned pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, MD, and colleagues and is based in the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. Together with families, providers, and communities, BTC develops and applies knowledge of early childhood development to practice and policy through professional and leadership development, organizational learning and change, research and evaluation, advocacy and awareness, and serving as a resource for proven practices. BTC is home to the Touchpoints Approach, the Brazelton Institute (Newborn Behavioral Observations and Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale), Family Connections, and the BTC Research and Evaluation team. For more information, visit

About the First Light Education Project, LLC
Guided by the principle, “Starting with What Works,” First Light Education Project, LLC, is a consulting and collaborative initiative providing leadership on projects of practice and inquiry in community and educational contexts. The company’s two founders and principals, Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz (Diné) and Dr. Ethan Yazzie-Mintz, bring extensive expertise and experience working with and within communities, Tribal nations and Indigenous communities, K–12 schools, non-profit organizations and foundations, and higher education institutions across a variety of social, political, and educational domains. Conceptually grounded in the idea that education is a fountain of enormous possibility and immense potential from prenatal development and continuing through adulthood, First Light Education Project uses a strengths-based and question-driven approach to create relationships, processes, and knowledge that lead to collective, transformative outcomes. For more information, visit

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal innovator and entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special attention is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit

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