Allicia Martinez: Honoring Native American Culture Through Nature and Storytelling

Allicia Martinez: Honoring Native American Culture Through Nature and Storytelling

Allicia Martinez, Associate Director of School Operations at KIPP Adelante Preparatory Academy, has always proudly identified herself as Native American. 

Martinez is Native American on both her parent’s sides — her mother’s side of the family is from the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians, while her father’s side is from the Pueblo of Picuris, New Mexico. But throughout her life, most people would never guess Martinez is Native American. 

Martinez is also a quarter white on her mother’s side and half Spanish on her father’s side. So even though Martinez identifies as Native American, she isn’t afraid to acknowledge that her background and appearance stem from colonialism. 

She admits that previous generations of her family embraced their non-Native background to assimilate with the prominent white culture in America. For example, when Martinez’s paternal grandparents moved from New Mexico to San Diego, they deliberately suppressed their Native American identities and vowed never to teach their children Spanish. 

Martinez confesses her family has lost a little bit of their culture as generations have passed because of this. However, she also acknowledges that recent generations have been curious to learn more about their Native heritage. 

Martinez’s father, for instance, commits to staying in touch with his Native heritage by visiting sweat lodges, collecting sage on Native lands, fishing, and participating in cultural ceremonies.

Martinez’s entire family also frequently takes camping trips to pay homage to the land and appreciate nature together. They also visit grave sites where their ancestors are buried since both sides of the family have native land designated for their ancestors. 

“What’s strongest within our family is being in touch with mother nature. Our family really celebrates life by being a part of nature and understanding how nature has such a huge impact on our intuitions and emotions,” she said. 

Martinez’s maternal aunt, who is currently building out their family tree, recently discovered U.S. Department of the Interior records dating back to 1865 that show their third-great grandmother owning property on the Pechanga reservation and state the land allotment number. They also recently uncovered the name of their third-great grandfather, a colonizer who married their grandmother for her land, which the government later seized in 1915.

Despite her family’s experience of displacement and suppression, they have never truly lost touch with their Native culture. Instead, their collective curiosity about their history and generational stories continues to connect them to their culture.

“There’s nothing I love more than sitting around a table and listening to our elders tell stories,” she said. “It’s great to hear these stories so that we can learn and take pride in where we come from. It kind of roots you to have that sense of self.” 

Martinez believes it is essential for our students to share and listen to each other’s individual stories that honor and embrace their cultural heritage, as storytelling has always been prominent in native culture and used as a way to understand, communicate and connect.

“If students regularly hear stories from their classmates, it will help us learn more and appreciate the people we go to school with or work with,” she said. 

She hopes we can continue being intentional about celebrating our diverse school communities and sharing their stories all year long so that we never stop learning, understanding and growing with one another.

Learn more about how KIPP SoCal honors our communities' histories and legacies