Ponca Pork Project to Provide for the Elderly and Help Youth

First Nations Development Institute, in association with AARP Foundation, is working to eliminate food insecurity among American Indian senior citizens. With support from the foundation, First Nations recently awarded grants of $25,000 each to four tribal projects that will go far toward meeting that goal. By way of alliteration, one of those efforts is the “Ponca Pork Project.”

With help from the First Nations grant, the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma will raise natural pork and provide it to tribal elders through its local food-distribution program and senior citizen center. The tribe will provide land for the effort and manage the venture.

The pork will be raised free of antibiotics, hormones or other growth aids. According to the tribe, the goal is to ensure that its elders not only have access to a sufficient amount of food, but that they also begin to adopt healthier diets, including the natural pork.

Further, the tribe will involve its youth in the project – from caring for the pigs to helping with the food- distribution process – as a way of introducing them to the world of animal agriculture. In many tribes across the U.S., traditional methods of raising livestock or growing crops have diminished significantly, which has helped erode many of the food- and agriculture-related cornerstones and customs of tribal culture. Getting youth engaged in the process will help revitalize the tribe’s connection to the land and agriculture.

“First Nations is happy to support this effort by the Ponca Tribe,” said First Nations President Michael Roberts. “Eliminating food insecurity is a critically important issue for many Native communities. Our partnership with AARP Foundation will support the development or expansion of locally controlled and locally based food systems while providing for senior members of Indian communities.”

National statistics document that Native Americans continue to experience high rates of poverty, which contributes to significant food insecurity. According to the most recent American Community Survey, about 26% of American Indians live at or below the poverty line. The same survey indicates that roughly 12% of all Native Americans living in poverty are age 55 and older. Other studies conducted by the National Resource Center on Native American Aging note that Native American seniors suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes and other negative health indicators when compared to other senior
groups in the United States.

Cochiti Youngsters Enjoying a Healthy Experience

One of First Nations Development Institute’s focus areas is Native American foods and health. Our work here is crucial; we know that agriculture and food systems can be significant keys for tribal economic development, while at the same time helping restore healthy Native diets and reconnecting us to our cultural traditions and lifeways. Our effort is formally called the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, or NAFSI.

A recent grantee under NAFSI, through generous funding provided by Walmart, is the Pueblo de Cochiti Food Project or, in particular, the Cochiti Youth Experience (CYE). First Nations provided a grant of $32,179 to support the Cochiti Pueblo in 2012.

Originally founded in 2001 as a 4-H club, CYE was reorganized in 2008 as a nonprofit, community based organization aimed at creating opportunities for youth that encourage healthy life choices. Motivated by the fact that American Indian children have high rates of diabetes, obesity and other health problems, CYE’s primary goal is to empower youth to make positive changes for themselves and their community.

CYE believes one way to empower youth is through the reinvigoration of farming and traditions of healthy food preparation. The group believes in the power of farming as an important process for learning core Pueblo values and healthy living, including a healthy diet.

Once a highly agricultural people, recent generations of Cochitis have not experienced the benefits of traditional farming. This has occurred because of the tragic loss of farmland from seepage from the Cochiti Dam in the early 1970s. Despite this, Cochiti remains a culturally strong community guided by a traditional calendar that regularly brings people of all ages together for events such as baptisms, ceremonial dances and annual feast days. These gatherings are centered on food and include communal meals, the giving of food as gifts, and the exchanging of food.

Historically, these events and family subsistence revolved around the maintenance of family farming plots that provided access to naturally grown foods for both consumption and sharing with others. But the loss of farmland, coupled with the widespread introduction of unhealthy, inexpensive store-bought food choices (e.g. potato chips, sodas and sugary drinks, fatty quick foods and candy) and a reduction in physical activity, have all contributed to the alteration of Cochiti diets. CYE seeks to reintroduce and
encourage healthy foods for daily and traditional gatherings, reinvigorate farming as a basis for local economic development and social learning, and support the healthy lifeways of Cochiti people.

The Cochiti Pueblo Food Project is designed to reinvigorate farming in the Cochiti Pueblo community, a 900-member agricultural community in rural New Mexico. Its primary goal is to create a localized food system by supporting existing farmers who are all over the age of 45, teach Cochiti youth ages 10-18 traditional farming techniques, and recreate the tradition of farming that, in turn, strengthens the invaluable social institutions of the Cochiti people. Its secondary goal is to encourage Cochiti youth to find ways to merge modern economic systems with the traditional farming systems by creating opportunities for them to establish food networks, such as farm-to-table programs, with the primary food programs in the Cochiti community, such as the tribal elders program and the local school district. The young farmers will learn farming and economic systems while being empowered to control the resources of our community.

You can help First Nations in its work and mission of strengthening Native American economies by giving generously online or by mail.

First Nations to Present Recent Findings on Predatory Lending

On September 26, 2012, First Nations Development Institute consultant Shawn Spruce will appear in front of New Mexico’s Indian Affairs Committee to discuss tax time predatory lending practices. The meeting, at the University of New Mexico-Gallup, is to make key legislators and tribal leaders (as well as tax-preparation businesses) aware of how firms take advantage of Native American taxpayers within and around communities with high Native populations.

Consistent with First Nations’ mission to advocate for Native peoples, Spruce will emphasize the need for consumer protections for Native American taxpayers and enforcement of existing legislation, since some tax-preparation firms are exploiting Native American taxpayers. In his presentation, he will draw primarily on data collected by First Nations that captured the experiences of Native American filers at for-profit tax-preparation businesses in New Mexico. With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation, First Nations carried out a “mystery shopper” study in New Mexico this past tax season, which culminated in a report titled More Tax Time Troubles (publication forthcoming).

The comprehensive report highlights a number of deceptive practices and poor quality preparation that Native tax filers encountered. The most troublesome finding was that some tax preparers manipulate clients into signing up for costly products like the Refund Anticipation Check (RAC) or Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL). Three of the 10 participants in our 2012 study were automatically signed up for the RAC option by way of questionable methods used by the preparers. Furthermore, seven of the 10 were offered a RAL loan and all 10 shoppers had some type of exposure to this expensive option through aggressive marketing.

Spruce will present at length about one shoppers whose experiences were especially problematic. One tax-preparation firm made a refund anticipation loan to our mystery shopper several days after the IRS website indicated that her refund had been issued to the firm. She was later told that the refund was, in fact, deposited in the firm’s account on the IRS indicated date, but that they only have one person who processes checks and it had taken that long to cut a return check. This ordeal resulted in the mystery shopper filing a formal complaint with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.

Sarah Dewees, First Nations’ senior director of research, policy and asset-building, said, “We acknowledge that tax-preparation firms can provide a valuable service, but we expect them to act ethically and in the best interest of their customers. Our research suggests this is not always the case, and instead tax preparers are taking advantage of some Native American tax filers.”

She continued, “This presentation before the Indian Affairs Committee will be crucial to fight for consumer protections for Native Americans. Our More Tax Time Troubles report will provide legislators and tribal leaders with solid evidence that predatory lending continues to be a problem in many New Mexico communities.”

The More Tax Time Troubles report will be available in October 2012. Please check www.firstnations.org for updates on its release.

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At First Nations, we strive for Native American economic justice to retain and rebuild the economies of American Indian tribes and communities. We do this through several tactics along many fronts.  Key support areas are providing technical assistance and training, advocacy and policy work, and direct financial grants, with a focus on the areas of financial and investor education, combating predatory lending, Native American business and asset development, strengthening Native American nonprofit organizations, and dealing with Native foods and health issues.

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Addressing Native Food Issues on the Colorado Plateau

First Nations Development Institute has long been addressing Native food issues nationally as a path to better health and nutrition for tribal communities, as a way to reconnect to Native culture and lifeways, and with the added benefit of creating or stimulating much-needed economic development in those areas, many of which can be classified as “food deserts.”

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Western Shoshone Youth Learn About $$$ During Spending Frenzy

First Nations, in partnership with the Office of the Special Trustee, provided financial education and counseling during October 2012 to more than 100 Western Shoshone youth in Nevada who will be receiving trust payments as part of the resolution of an historic claims case. The Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act of 2004 was enacted to provide for the use and distribution of the funds awarded to the Western Shoshone under the Indian Claims Commission. Enrolled members of the tribe have already begun receiving lump-sum payouts, and youth under the age of 19 will begin receiving payouts over the next few months.
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First Nations Schedules 17th Annual L.E.A.D. Conference

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) today announced it has scheduled its 17th Annual First Nations L.E.A.D. Institute Conference for September 26 – 27, 2012, at Gila River’s Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino in Chandler, Arizona.

The annual event is a component of First Nations’ innovative “Leadership and Entrepreneurial Apprenticeship Development” (L.E.A.D.) program, which is designed to provide training, mentorship and networking opportunities to Native American nonprofit and philanthropic professionals. Conference attendance – which is open to the public – is appropriate for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian nonprofit professionals, as well as tribal government leaders and staff, people involved in tribal economic development, or anyone interested in Native nonprofits and philanthropy, both Native and non-Native alike.

The professional tracks at this year’s conference include nonprofit capacity building, asset building and food systems. Attendees have the option of attending sessions in just one track, or they may customize their experience by selecting from any of the sessions.

Through August 24, 2012, an early bird discounted rate of $375 is available for conference registration. After August 24, the rate increases to $450. Registrations can be taken online at www.firstnations.org/lead.  (After September 20, those wishing to attend the conference must register on site, and on-site registrations must be paid by check only. Credit cards will not be accepted for on-site registration.)

The Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino is also offering a special $99 nightly room rate for conference attendees, but the hotel stay must be booked directly with the hotel by August 27. The hotel reservation line is 1-800-946-4452 and the online link is here. The hotel code to use is “First Nations Lead Conference.”

About First Nations Development Institute
For more than 30 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage, or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves rural and reservation-based Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information about First Nations, visit www.firstnations.org.

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New U.S. Senate Bill Takes Aim at Online Payday Lending

On July 24, 2012, three U.S. senators introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate that would crack down on the worst practices of the online payday lending industry.  In a press release, it was announced that Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, New Mexico Senator Tom Udall and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin had introduced the “Stopping Abuse and Fraud in Electronic (SAFE) Lending Act.” Besides cracking down on the worst practices of online payday lending, the release noted, it would give states more power to enforce already-existing rules to protect consumers from predatory loans.
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