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American Indian Center Fosters Appreciation of Indigenous Heritage

Meet Mary Puthoff.

Across the nation Native American Indians gather for powwows , attend cultural classes, take field trips and learn Native American dancing to celebrate and preserve their indigenous heritage.   Locally, Indian Education Program director Mary Puthoff, of the Livermore American Indian Center, located at Rancho Las Positas Elem. School, 401 E. Jack London Blvd., Livermore, works to foster appreciation for and create pride in Indian culture.

Puthoff, born on the Rosebud Lakota Reservation in South Dakota, was adopted at age five into a family that raised her in the Black Hills. Once married, she and her husband brought their young family to the Bay Area, and Puthoff received her degree from UC Berkeley.  

“One-third of Indians, nationally, haven’t been raised by birth families,” said Puthoff, referring to the Indian Adoption Project, a contract which existed from the 1950’s until about 1970 through the collaboration of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the Child Welfare League of America, allowing the adoption of Native American children to white families in the U.S.  The idea was to allow Native children to have a better life.

“The Livermore American Indian Center serves students of American Indian heritage in the Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore, Sunol Glen and Castro Valley school districts,” said Puthoff, who has held her Tri-Valley Program Specialist, Title VII, position since 1978.  “Families may sign up with the Indian center even with a small amount of Indian heritage, depending on the tribe.”

The museum exhibits a large collection of memorabilia and historical artifacts to promote understanding and respect for the heritage of our continent’s earliest inhabitants. 

“The facility is centrally located for those coming from out of town,” explained Puthoff.  “The museum was previously located at Junction Ave. K-8 School for over a decade, before moving here to Rancho Las Positas Elementary in 2011.”

The museum is federally funded through the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, which annually applies to the Office of Indian Education, U.S. Dept. of Educ., for a grant to operate the Indian program. The mission of the Office of Indian Education is to support the efforts of local educational agencies, Indian tribes and organizations, and postsecondary institutions to meet the educational and culturally-related academic needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“The family or guardians of kids of American Indian heritage fill out a form so the school can count each child for funding under the program,” said Puthoff.  The form asks for verification (if known) of the student’s Indian tribe, band or group.  Puthoff said there are over 100 tribes represented in California

Free services provided for participating students include genealogy research, tutoring, heritage enrichment, summer day camp, scholarships, tobacco prevention education, and referrals for social services and counseling.  At Christmas these students receive gifts from an American Indian Santa Claus, courtesy of donations the program receives throughout the year.

“Working with kids, in a variety of activities, is never boring,” said Puthoff.

The 2012 American Indian Education Program Summer Camp was held 9 a.m.-4 p.m., June 18-21 at Lake Del Valle, and Native American Day will be held in Sept. 2012 at Rancho Las Positas Elem. School in Livermore.

For more information about the museum, contact Mary Puthoff at mputhoff@lvjusd.k12.ca.us or call 925-606-4748 ext. 3.  Visit http://rancho.schoolloop.com/cms/page_view?d=x&piid=&vpid=1211910070914

Michael Austin July 27, 2012 at 10:31 PM
In South Dakota there were several Catholic Indian Mission Schools that boarded children nine months of the year. The only time the children were home with their parents is during the three summer months. These schools generally were grades one through twelve. Also, there were a few orphans in these schools that never went home.
Rich July 27, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Yellowbilled Tours of Pleasanton has a July 30 Monday morning beginners bird walk with The Livermore American Indian Educational Program W/ Mary Puthoff and Rich Cimino Field Guide Yellowbilled Tours in the Livermore Springtown Preserve. Call Mary to RSVP.
Lisa Young July 29, 2012 at 06:14 AM
Mary is wonderful! When San Lorenzo Title VII lost their grant, she immediately stepped in and invited our kids to her events until we could get one up and running again. Thank you Mary!

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