Awards Programs

Patches are one of the primary methods in which the program can commemorate participation in events and also serve as awards of merit or achievement. Other forms of awards may include beads, claws and feathers just to name a few. Patches may be awarded for participation in the major program events and at times as special awards. At other events such as a museum visit, if not included in the event cost, patches may be available for separate purchase. Your local program will probably have an outline of the awards program that is in place.

Guidelines Concerning Awards Programs

  • Awards should serve as reward for accomplishment. Handing out awards just for the sake of it reduces the meaning of the award. Each award should have some meaning. Accomplishments can be very simple such as a participation award, to something challenging that is worked towards.
  • Recognition for accomplishments builds self-esteem, especially at the young ages. The ages and skill levels of those involved should be carefully considered when developing award plans. Do not overemphasize awards to be given at the expense of enjoying the experience.
  • “Honor in giving”, and “honor in receiving” is a part of North American Indian culture. Try to make the presentation of awards a memorable and honorable experience.
  • Awards for members can serve as important tools to encourage participation in events, whether on the tribal level or on the longhouse (nation) level.
  • Awards can be structured to the individual, tribal, and leadership levels of the program.
  • Remember that there is no standard format. Creativity and flexibility are keys to success.


Awards programs that honor achievement can be structured in many ways. Some programs have progressive awards structured so that each year, a different set of goals is presented. This system is geared mostly for tribes/clans that start as a fully new group in their first year, and continue as that group for the entire stay in the program.

1st example of a progressive achievement awards structure

1st Year – A series of different colored feathers is earned for achieving a specific goal for each feather.

2nd Year – A series of different colored bear claws is earned for achieving a specific goal for each claw.

3rd Year – A series of different colored beads is earned for achieving a specific goal for each bead.

2nd example of a progressive achievement awards structure

Could be used as awards for good deeds, attendance or even time spent in the program. A series of special colored/tipped feathers is earned with each part of the mapped out progression. Each feather has specific meaning or challenge to earning it. Feathers can be earned at an individual’s pace or that set by the tribe. A special feather or award is usually given once the entire group has been earned/achieved. Feathers could be replaced by beads, claws, etc., or even a combination of items along with a method for mounting, wearing or displaying them.

Note: Some programs purposely choose not to create awards programs that can become overly competitive. Limited competition and competitive spirit can be healthy to a child’s development, even healthy to the parent/child relationship. Great care must be taken that the program awards not be allowed to lose the focus for the goals of the awards system, by getting carried away with the competitive side of the system.