‘70s Flashback: Mescalero Apache Youth Made Movie Magic

George Torres at Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico, at the BNC Training in July 2017

George Torres at Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico, at the BNC Training in July 2017

Every summer First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) conducts at least one Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families (BNC) Train-the-Trainer Workshop. The culturally-based financial education curriculum is enormously popular throughout Indian Country, drawing a wide array of trainers from tribal housing entities, community-based nonprofits, federal partners and other groups dedicated to financial literacy. With the hundreds of people who have completed BNC during its nearly 20-year history, you never know who you might encounter at a BNC workshop. Here’s a story by Shawn Spruce of a recent BNC participant who holds a connection to the classic Bad News Bears movies from the seventies.


Like legions of kids who grew up with disco, ringer tees, and flashy Aaron Spelling dramas, I adored The Bad News Bears. A memorable sports comedy showcasing the rebellious antics of a Southern California little league baseball team. With potty mouths to sting a roughneck’s ears, the unlikely band of pre-pubescent anti-heroes satisfied the raucous cravings of a generation starving for a bite of crudeness missing from Ajax clean The Brady Bunch reruns and mushy after-school specials.

The original film, released in the summer of 1976, is a classic underdog story: a ragtag team of misfits led by an alcohol-fueled curmudgeon of a coach, played by the late Academy Award winner Walter Matthau. Parading to the opening bars of Bizet’s opera Carmen, the Bears make it all the way to the league championship and stole their way into the hearts of every Gen Xer who ever stepped inside a batter’s box. The movie spawned two sequels, a TV series, and a 2005 remake featuring Billy Bob Thornton. Along the way characters like Engelberg, Tanner, and Kelly Leak became household names and the chant “Let them play!” an anthem to recalcitrant sports fans everywhere.

So what does any of this have to do with Indian Country?

Breaking TrainingIn the first sequel The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, abandoned by their manager and unchaperoned, the Bears travel in a stolen van for a showdown against the Texas little league champs in the Houston Astrodome. En route the team makes a pit stop near the New Mexico-Texas state line, where a parking-lot run-in with a rough crew of Native kids leads to an anything-goes sandlot challenge. What ensues is a bona fide rez ball smack down nearly two decades before the Schimmel sisters were born.

While the film might not stand up to present-day standards of political correctness, it routinely airs on cable where I’ve watched it at least a dozen times over the years. Curious about the origins of the young extras who racked up 15 runs on the Bears before blasting a mercy-rule homerun into a graveyard. Who said Indians always lose in the movies?

At a First Nations-sponsored Building Native Communities train-the-trainer workshop in Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico, last summer, my questions were finally answered by a retired Mescalero Apache police officer named George Torres. During a morning icebreaker Torres casually revealed that he had played one of the uncredited extras in question. Dismissive, he said it wasn’t any big deal. Everyone in the room begged to differ and, after some cajoling, Torres opened up. This is his story.

First off, the rez wasn’t the rez. The scene was actually filmed in El Paso, Texas, during the summer of 1976, about the same time the first Bad News Bears movie was taking the country by storm. Back then the closest federally recognized Native American community was two hours away on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in south-central New Mexico. Producers from Paramount Pictures reached out to the Mescalero schools that connected them to a tribal little league team on which Torres, who was 15 at the time, played with most of the other extras in the film.

“They didn’t tell us a whole lot about what we were going to film” he explained. “I hadn’t even seen the first Bad News Bears movie so it was all new to me. But we were excited to take a road trip.”

Real life mimicked the movie when, like the Bears’ stealthy sojourn, the Mescalero kids traveled under the radar. Torres’s stepmother, Glenda Brusuelas, elaborated.

“We were told about the movie but didn’t believe it until the boys actually left,” Brusuelas recalled when I reached her by phone. “They didn’t give us much information about where they were going, so I got worried and tried to track them down.”

Filming of "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" in El Paso, Texas, in 1976. George Torres is pictured second from left, facing camera.

Filming of “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training” in El Paso, Texas, in 1976. George Torres is pictured second from left, facing camera.

Frantic, Brusuelas finally located the hotel where her stepson was staying and called to check on him. A desk clerk told her the teen was resting and offered to take a message.
“They were really acting like he was some kind of celebrity,” she giggled. “When he finally got home he didn’t say much about the trip other than to say he missed my cooking.”

I quit beating around the bush. “So how was the money, George?”

“I don’t remember how much we were paid, but I’m sure I bought a house or a Cadillac or something,” Torres joked.

According to a 1978 People Magazine interview with Liz Keigley, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training location casting director, the going rate for movie extras in the late seventies was $60 a day. I’m thinking Torres’s Hollywood payday pocketed him about enough to buy a new bicycle and some chrome polish to shine the handlebars – genuine Cadillac-dealer chrome polish maybe?

I was also hoping for some juicy tattle. Did he play cards all night, talking trash with Chris Barnes aka hot-tempered Tanner Boyle? Was Jackie Earle Haley, who went on to such notable roles as masked vigilante Rorschach in Watchmen, as supremely cool in real life as his character Kelly Leak?

“You know we didn’t really mingle with the Bears on or off the set. We pretty much kept to ourselves. What I remember most was staying in a nice hotel and eating really well. That’s what I enjoyed the most.”

Come on, George. Work with me here. I’m trying to write a story.

Jeff Starr, who played the Bears’ corpulent catcher Mike Engelberg, confirmed there wasn’t much off-camera interaction between the two groups.

“I can’t remember the (Mescalero) kids too much” he said in a phone interview from the car dealership he manages in his hometown of Anna, Illinois. The former child actor spoke with a hearty, shallow Southern drawl. “I talked to some of the guys briefly but that’s about it. What I remember most about that scene was the old lot we filmed in and all the rocks. I was glad we didn’t have to film there long.”

Starr was excited I had met Torres and sent his regards and a compliment to his on-screen adversaries.

“In the movie they sure made it look they stomped us – and they probably would have in real life, too,” he chuckled.

Native teen extras share an on-screen laugh at the expense of the Bad News Bears (left to right are George Lester, Ronnie Thomas and George Torres)

Native teen extras share an on-screen laugh at the expense of the Bad News Bears (left to right are George Lester, Ronnie Thomas and George Torres)

Torres commented that people in those days didn’t carry smartphones and taking pictures was a mild luxury. Therefore, he doesn’t have photos or mementos from the trip. He remembers going to see the movie in the neighboring town of Alamogordo after it came out, but doesn’t recall much of a fuss about it in the Mescalero Apache community. However, Torres did go on to a stellar 12-year Major League career as a shortstop with the World Series Champion New York Yankees. Ah well, not exactly.

While pro baseball wasn’t in Torres’s future he did enjoy distinguished careers in the military and law enforcement, beginning in high school when he worked as a dispatcher and part-time jailer. After graduating in 1981 he enlisted in the Army. Stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he served four years in the elite 82nd Airborne Division. A Jumpmaster, Torres was an expert paratrooper who trained other paratroopers and managed airborne jump operations across all branches of services, an accomplishment he is especially proud of. After the Army he fought forest fires with the Mescalero Hot Shots before spending four years as a corrections officer at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Las Cruces. In 1992 he signed on with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, first as a police officer on the Mescalero Reservation and later in Artesia, New Mexico, as an instructor and member of an Interior Special Response Team.

“We traveled out to different reservations and assisted with uprisings and natural disasters – hurricanes in Florida. Things of that nature,” Torres explained.

Torres closed out his federal law enforcement career with the Department of Homeland Security. His main duties were as a specialist and trainer. Although he was assigned to Washington, D.C. after 9/11 — time that included a three-month stint as an Air Marshall guarding flights out of Dulles Airport. In 2013 he retired, or pulled the ripcord as he put it, to spend more time with family and enjoy hobbies like hunting, fishing, biking and running. He has a teenage son, two grandchildren, and a grown daughter who enjoys saying “You were a movie star, Dad!”

This past June, at the age of 55, Torres returned to the workplace and joined the Mescalero Apache Housing Department. A tenant service representative, he primarily assists with compliance and record-keeping.

Torres said he keeps in touch with some of the other kids from the movie, now grown of course, although sadly at least one has passed on. He was a bit reluctant when I requested this interview. You don’t say! But I persisted and hopefully didn’t upset him too much. He repeatedly said his on-screen appearance in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training was not a big deal, but I’d like George Torres and his co-extras to know that for many Native Americans it was and still is a big deal.

Although brief, your roles made a lasting impact in a charming movie that still entertains 40 years after its release. That says something when today, fast-paced digitized special effects and wizardry render most summer blockbusters out of date in the time it takes to chug down a few collectible plastic drink cups. And more importantly, you gave movie audiences a contemporary peek at Indian Country long before it was trendy. In those days, and even now, rarely did Native Americans casually appear in a mainstream film, much less serve up an old school butt kicking to its stars.

We all have brothers, cousins, nephews, sons and grandsons who once looked and acted just like you. The seventies, while not perfect, were fun years to grow up and remain a wistful source of nostalgia for millions of aging latchkey kids. America maintained its semblance of innocence, and baseball was still our national pasttime. You made us smile, you made as laugh, and you made us proud. But most importantly, you made us realize, win or lose and just like George Torres, we could all be home-run hitters in life.

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant

First Nations Reaches Northernmost Alaska by way of Iḷisaġvik College

Preparing caribou kabobs at the day cooking camp program

Preparing caribou kabobs at the day cooking camp program

Barrow, Alaska is a very long way from Longmont, Colorado, where First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is headquartered. Nonetheless, one of First Nations’ grant programs is having a positive effect in the northernmost point of Alaska.

In April 2016, First Nations announced the selection of 13 tribes and Native American organizations to receive grants through its Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) for the 2016-17 funding cycle. The grants totaled $355,717. NAFSI is designed to help tribes and Native communities build sustainable food systems such as community gardens and kitchens, traditional farms and ranches, and other agriculture- and food-related projects that will help eliminate food insecurity and enhance economic development in rural and reservation-based Native communities.

Iḷisaġvik College is located in the northernmost point of Alaska. It is a two-year tribal college offering quality post-secondary academic, vocational and technical education aimed at matching workforce needs. It is “dedicated to perpetuating and strengthening Iñupiat culture, language, values and traditions.”

Iñupiat youth learn cooking and nutrition skills as part of the "Healthy Futures Program” at the Iḷisaġvik College in Barrow, Alaska

Iñupiat youth learn cooking and nutrition skills as part of the “Healthy Futures Program” at the Iḷisaġvik College in Barrow, Alaska

Iḷisaġvik College received $30,000 for the “Healthy Futures Program,” which was established in 2014 and delivers quality, hands-on instruction in nutrition, basic cooking and household budgeting to the Iñupiat people in seven remote villages of the North Slope Borough. Instructors traveled to the villages over the period of March 1, 2016, to February 28, 2017, and provided instruction specifically for Iñupiat youth ages five to 25, and included cultural instruction from village elders. The youth engaged in workshops that integrate traditional foods and knowledge, with the aim of addressing high rates of diabetes and obesity in arctic Alaska.

Amon Barry is the current Healthy Futures Program Coordinator, and he has seen the impact of the program on the seven North Slope villages over the many months since the grant concluded.

“The healthy futures program is imperative for the villages here in the North Slope,” Barry said. “I’ve seen many light bulbs light up when the participants are shown how to make some of their favorite foods or things they’ve always wanted to try. Some like the smell and taste of the food and that keeps them engaged, while others are fascinated by the science of why certain illnesses are spreading and the solution of how to prevent them through a change of diet. Some of these things are taught in school, but only for a day or so. This program is a great way to bring the youth closer to a healthier future through interactive cooking activities and fun-based instruction methods.”

Ilisagvik5_600pxThe Healthy Futures Program also focused on increasing awareness of what food choices are available, and introduced hybrid meal planning to the participants.

“We were successful with introducing hybrid meals and partnered with the school to promote and add more fruits and vegetables into the student’s daily diets. Adding subsistence foods was definitely something new for the program here and it was received well by the community as a whole.”

Barry says the impact of incorporating traditional foods into the student’s diets made a big impression when it was held in an outdoor setting.

“My first workshop featured tuttou, which is Iñupiat for caribou. There was a day-camping trip in the mountains where we prepared caribou kabobs over an open fire with onions and peppers. The students really enjoyed themselves, and the elders and instructors had a good time as well. Many asked why we didn’t do programs like this all the time. If we can continue to create new and exciting ways to bring healthy alternatives into the kids’ lives, we will be able to help prevent diet based illnesses in the children and the adults,” said Barry.

Ilisagvik3_600pxAlong with incorporating traditional foods such as salmon, caribou and tundra plants, some participants requested the use of a traditional knife known as an ulu, instead of a kitchen knife. Other traditional foods and traditional-cooking tools were incorporated into the program.

“Salmon berries were a big hit for our summer programing here. It’s very sweet, full of nutrition, and part of the traditional diet. We also used various plants indigenous in the area to make salves and lip balms that can help with various lip and skin problems. Ulus were used in our classes, especially for our outside activities such a preparing seal skins to make clothing, and butchering a caribou to make soup for the evening meal.”

Barry says they were most successful at the hybrid meals when the elders were along to help navigate the program, as they offered wisdom and knowledge and were often the first to try new foods.

Ilisagvik4_600px“The elder involvement was essential for me to make any meaningful impact in the community. They are your eyes, ears and library of the town. We depend heavily on the elders to guide us to the right plants to cook and which plants to dry for later use. They have shown us the proper way to clean a fish and what kind of rock you can use to sharpen your knives when you are out camping. The elders, for me, made things a lot easier and prevented us from doing things incorrectly or irresponsibly. As long as you were prepared to listen, you were going to receive something priceless from them,” said Barry.

The community, the college and Barry are aware that the funding provided by First Nations furthered the Healthy Futures Program in ways they could not have foreseen.

“The support from First Nations has propelled the program to reach for new and exciting ways to catch the attention of the youth and introduce to them an alternative way to look at food and how it affects their bodies in the long run. In my time running the program here, I’ve seen a lot of change in the way some of my class participants approach food. I see some of them in the store reading the back of everything (labels). We might not be able to reach everyone with our message, but we are planting seeds that we will see grow strong.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Board Profile: Gelvin Stevenson on Coming Together

Gelvin Stevenson

Gelvin Stevenson

Gelvin Stevenson has served on the Board of Directors of First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) for more than 35 years, drawn to the organization by the Cherokee philosophy of people helping people. Through a career in business, finance, journalism and leadership in the Native community, he said he is proud to play a “small part” in bringing this philosophy to life and working with like-minded people to strengthen Native communities.

A Cherokee Heritage

Gelvin was born in Chelsea, Oklahoma, where his Cherokee grandparents had settled after moving north from Texas. His grandfather had been the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1941 to 1949, working to rebuild the tribal government that had been terminated by the federal government in 1898. Gelvin says that in his own modest way throughout his life, he has tried to continue the tradition of working together to support Native American people and institutions.

In Oklahoma, Gelvin and his mother stayed with his grandparents while his father served as a flight instructor in the U.S. Navy during World War II. When his father returned, the family moved to the farming community of Tarkio, Missouri, where his dad joined his brother to help run the family banking and farming businesses.

Gelvin went north to attend Carleton College in Minnesota, and then went on to get his Ph.D. in economics from Washington University in St. Louis.

Gelvin’s wife, Clara, whom he met one summer in California, joined him in St. Louis, where they both completed their Ph.Ds. Then, the couple moved to New York City to be closer to Clara’s family and her “hometown” of the South Bronx.

Returning to Roots

Gelvin2In New York, Gelvin embraced both his wife’s Puerto Rican culture and his Cherokee identity. He got involved with the American Indian Community House, where he served on the board for many years. He also consulted with the Committee for the Title IV Indian Education Act, ensuring Native students in city public schools got access and representation. In addition, he served on the council of a local Cherokee Society, where he and his family learned some of the language and participated in Cherokee rituals. This is when Gelvin developed an interest in string figures, the art of weaving a circle of string on your fingers, which he said is common to many Indigenous peoples.

Responding to Challenges

During this time, Gelvin was invited to join the board of First Nations. While on the board, he began writing about financial management. He also began providing training for several tribes as they began managing significant amounts of money that resulted – for some tribes – from the passage of the Native American Gaming Act.

“All of a sudden, a number of tribes had money, which they had never had,” he said.

Gelvin focused on consulting, setting up conferences and speaking with individuals and tribes about investment principals and managing “sudden wealth.” He also wrote a series of booklets and several articles for First Nations publications, including Indian Giver.

At the time, a challenge for the Native community was how to best handle financial resources. But he said tribal communities, whether or not they had gaming wealth, were also wrestling with how best to manage their often underappreciated non-monetary wealth of culture, spirituality, community, language and world view.

Here he sees the power of people helping people on a grassroots, local level, the way First Nations does. First Nations continues to provide technical assistance and hands-on training to help Native communities. He is proud that the organization has also evolved to address other serious issues in Native communities: food sovereignty, financial literacy, and youth engagement and leadership.

Gelvin during the December 2014 Board meeting in Longmont, Colorado

Gelvin during the December 2014 Board meeting in Longmont, Colorado

Gelvin said a strength of First Nations is the organizational sustainability. “We run a tight ship financially, with metrics, accountability and sound decisions about the ways we help,” he said. “We’re able to develop effective and creative programming that has impact for people and organizations on the ground.”

Moving Forward

Gelvin is confident that, going forward, First Nations will continue to keep its focus on the reason it began: empowerment of Native people.

He sees First Nations expanding in areas where it is already active: organizational development, Native food, strengthening Native cultures on reservations and in urban areas, strengthening Native economies, and performing impactful research.

He also sees new needs developing in Native communities, which First Nations could help address. Challenges for Native people remain surrounding food and natural resources. There are also environmental issues: making homes and other buildings energy efficient; helping bring low-cost and renewable energy to reservations; cleaning up pollution from old mines, industries and waste storage; and improving water quality in waterways and in homes.

Gelvin asserts that as long as there are problems in Indian Country, there will be opportunities for First Nations to help strengthen Native communities.

To him, the work of First Nations all comes down to Gadugi – the Cherokee word meaning “coming together for the common good” or “people working together to help other people.” After all, he added, Digadatsele’i (“we belong to each other”).

By Amy Jakober

Read the “Voices” for Native American Heritage Month


November is Native American Heritage Month in the U.S. As part of our observance, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) asked some Native leaders to share their thoughts and observations relevant to Native American heritage in a short essay series called Voices from Native Communities. We’ve started publishing one new article each week during the month, and so far two of the eventual four blog essays are available at this link: https://firstnations.org/Voices

One is by Carnell Chosa, Ph.D., who is Co-Director of the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute. He is from Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico. The other is by Jerilyn DeCoteau, who is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She is on the board of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.

Two more blogs will be posted yet this month, including one by Valerie Segrest, who is a Native nutrition educator and and enrolled member of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe; and another by Michael Roberts, President & CEO of First Nations Development Institute, who is Tlingit. Be sure to check the webpage later during the month to see these additional essays.

For Native American Heritage Month in previous years, First Nations has featured books by or about Native Americans, Native recipes and cookbooks, must-see movies and even famous Native quotations. You can find them at these links:

First Nations Nabs Top 4-Star Rating for Sixth Straight Year

Charity Navigator 4 Stars 600px

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has once again received the highest rating of four stars from charity watchdog agency Charity Navigator, making it the sixth year in a row that First Nations has achieved this distinction. Only 5 percent of the charities rated by Charity Navigator can claim the honor of receiving this top rating for six consecutive years.

Charity Navigator is America’s largest and most-utilized independent evaluator of charities. The coveted rating is recognition of First Nations’ “strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency,” according to the rating agency.

Certificate 500pxIn a November 1, 2017, letter from Charity Navigator President & CEO Michael Thatcher to First Nations President & CEO Michael E. Roberts, Thatcher noted: “We are proud to announce First Nations Development Institute has earned our sixth consecutive 4-star rating. This is our highest possible rating and indicates that your organization adheres to sector best practices and executes its mission in a financially efficient way. Attaining a 4-star rating verifies that First Nations Development Institute exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in your area of work. Only 5% of the charities we evaluate have received at least 6 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that First Nations Development Institute outperforms most other charities in America. This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator sets First Nations Development Institute apart from its peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness.”

Gail Clauer, a generous donor to First Nations, shows her appreciation of our 4-Star rating

Gail, a generous donor to First Nations, shows her appreciation of our 4-Star rating

“We are extremely honored to receive this top rating again this year, especially since so few nonprofit organizations achieve it,” said First Nations’ Roberts. “I strongly believe it reflects our dedicated accountability to all of our constituencies – our generous donors and the Native American communities that we serve – and it demonstrates our commitment to pursuing our important work in a clear, honest and fiscally responsible manner, using good stewardship of charitable contributions while maintaining the public trust.”

Those interested in supporting First Nations in its mission can do so by clicking here. To see First Nations’ profile on Charity Navigator, click here.

Celebrating are (L to R) First Nations President Mike Roberts (Tlingit) and staffers Ime Salazar (Taos Pueblo/Santa Ana Pueblo), Kendall Tallmadge (Ho-Chunk), and Jona Charette (Northern Cheyenne/Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa)

Celebrating are (L to R) First Nations President Mike Roberts (Tlingit) and staffers Ime Salazar (Taos Pueblo/Santa Ana Pueblo), Kendall Tallmadge (Ho-Chunk), and Jona Charette (Northern Cheyenne/Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa)

Make a Difference through an IRA Charitable Rollover

IRA Rollover

You may be looking for a way to make a big difference to help further First Nations Development Institute’s mission. If you are 70½ or older you may also be interested in a way to lower the income and taxes from your IRA withdrawals. An IRA charitable rollover is a way you can help continue our work and benefit this year.

Benefits of an IRA charitable rollover include:

  • Avoid taxes on transfers of up to $100,000 from your IRA to our organization;
  • Satisfy your required minimum distribution (RMD) for the year;
  • Reduce your taxable income, even if you do not itemize deductions;
  • Make a gift that is not subject to the 50% deduction limits on charitable gifts; and
  • Help further the work and mission of our organization.


How an IRA charitable rollover gift works:

  1. Contact your IRA plan administrator to make a gift from your IRA to us.
  2. Your IRA funds will be directly transferred to our organization to help continue our important work.
  3. Please note that IRA charitable rollover gifts do not qualify for a charitable deduction.
  4. Please contact First Nations if you wish for your gift to be used for a specific purpose.


To learn more click here. We strongly recommend that you seek the advice of your financial advisers prior to making an IRA Charitable Rollover donation, as personal circumstances can have a significant impact on whether such a contribution would be advantageous to you. In order to benefit from an eligible IRA Charitable Rollover donation this year, contact your IRA administrator as soon as possible, as some administrators may place a deadline on requesting transfers.

Please feel free to contact our Development Office at (303) 774-7836 or at info@firstnations.org if you have any questions or to learn more about how you can redirect unneeded IRA income to First Nations, help further our mission, and enjoy valuable tax-savings this year.

Leech Lake Kids Getting to Know Their Foods

The Leech Lake Boys & Girls Club youth in their gardens

The Leech Lake Boys & Girls Club youth in their gardens

In 2015, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded 15 grants totaling $523,000 under the Seeds of Native Health campaign. Seeds of Native Health was created and funded by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC), and is a major philanthropic effort to improve the nutrition of Native Americans across the country. First Nations was one of SMSC’s inaugural strategic partners in the effort.

Through First Nations, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Cass Lake, Minnesota, was awarded $33,743 for its project that focused on the creation of a community garden at the tribal school, with the aim of highlighting healthy and local meal choices. The Naajimijime Project garden at Leech Lake Early Childhood Headstart was started with the Seeds of Native Health funding.

The tribe purchased and developed a greenhouse and garden beds for students and community members to cultivate traditional crops, and conduct classroom lessons, workshops, trainings and other activities aimed at developing a holistic approach to wellness.

The following article and photos originally appeared in the Leech Lake SNAP-ED’s This Month in the Garden, August 2017 newsletter, and are reprinted here with permission.

Leech Lake Early Childhood

We have continued the harvest of peas, green and black beans, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, cayenne peppers, bell peppers, onions, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow (summer) squash, kale, lettuce, kohlrabi and our herbs. At the beginning of August, we were also able to help create an opportunity for the youth to see a local farm that produces food for the locals of Solway.

We are very excited to watch our melons and winter squash grow while our early childhood kids have had the last part of August off. We are also very excited to show them the corn and eggplants that are growing! We will start fall classes with them when school starts up again on September 6th!

Leech Lake Boys & Girls Club: Cass Lake Unit

The Boys & Girls Club gardens have been maintained wonderfully by their devoted youth. They have been producing a lot of yellow (summer) squash which we were able to use in a cooking demonstration of a Three Sister’s Succotash, which all the kids really ended up enjoying and even more so that they were able to take something from their garden and create something delicious.

When the youth return for the school year (Sept. 6th) they will be able to finally pick some of their melons that have continued to grow in their absence.

Cass Lake Community Gardens

The Cass Lake Community Gardens that were planted with the help of University of Minnesota extension coordinator, the Cass Lake-Bena Elementary School Summer Program and the Boys & Girls Club, produced a lot of radishes! Youth were able to go and pick the radishes that made it through all the grass! The garden also produced several pear tomatoes and onions! Their squash also looked to be doing very well. However, the carrots and beets did not make it and the Brussels sprouts looked to be struggling. Remember to go down and check it out, pull some weeds, take home some onions!

Please Join Us for #GivingTuesday or Colorado Gives Day!

Giving Tuesday

First Nations Development Institute is participating in two separate giving campaigns in the next couple of weeks. We would be delighted if you would join us by making a donation to First Nations during the nationwide #GivingTuesday campaign on November 28, or a week later during Colorado Gives Day on December 5.

First Nations is an organization based in Colorado but which serves Native communities, nonprofits and tribes throughout the U.S., so it makes sense for us to participate in both events. In both cases, anyone anywhere can donate on those days.

For #GivingTuesday, donors can simply visit the First Nations donation webpage here. #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

CGD 2014_Master(WORKING)For Colorado Gives Day, donations are processed through ColoradoGives.org and gifts to First Nations can be made at this link. You can “schedule” your donation ahead of time and it will be “delivered” on December 5. Colorado Gives Day is an annual statewide movement to celebrate and increase philanthropy in Colorado through online giving (but you don’t have to be in or from Colorado to give). Presented by Community First Foundation and FirstBank, Colorado Gives Day is powered by ColoradoGives.org. This year it features a $1 million Incentive Fund. Every nonprofit receiving a donation on Colorado Gives Day will receive a portion of the fund, increasing the value of every dollar donated. Colorado Gives Day has grown to be the state’s largest one-day online giving event, raising more than $200 million since it began in 2010.

Thank you!

Foundations Aim to Help Revitalize Languages

HumanitiesCommunities Badge 600px

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) earlier this month acknowledged three additional underwriters for its recently-announced project to revitalize Native American languages.

In August, First Nations announced a three-year project that will support language immersion education programs in tribal communities. This $4.2 million project will aim to leverage a $2.1 million National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) challenge grant with an additional $2.1 million in support from other private funding sources.

On November 1, we were excited to announce we have received a total of $700,000 in matching funds for year one of this project from the following funding partners.


“We are thrilled that these visionary organizations have stepped up in a big way to make this project happen, and we’re sincerely grateful for their support in helping retain and revitalize Native languages,” said Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Vice President of Grantmaking, Development and Communications. With these funding partners matching NEH’s contributions, First Nations will kick off year one of the project in 2018 offering nearly $1 million in direct grants to Native communities actively engaged in language immersion efforts.

“Language is a vital asset for Native people and communities,” Foxworth added. “It defines who we are, where we come from, and value systems that, in many ways, cannot be translated into English. Besides these generous supporters, we welcome additional funding partners to join us in protecting languages as a vital asset.”

“Kalliopeia Foundation has worked with First Nations for 15 years with their Native Youth and Culture Fund, and this new collaboration presents an extraordinary opportunity to deepen our commitment to language immersion,” said Sohrob Nabatian, Program Officer at the Kalliopeia Foundation. “Native languages are powerful agents of cultural, spiritual and ecological renewal, and we consider it a true privilege to contribute to their revitalization.”

There are currently about 150 Native languages spoken in the U.S., many of them spoken only by a small number of elders. Without intervention, many of these languages are expected to become extinct within the next 50 to 100 years, which means a significant loss of cultural heritage. Under the project, First Nations will provide grant support for curriculum development, technology access, and recruitment and training of teachers for 12 Native language immersion programs a year during the three-year project period.

Language retention and revitalization programs have been recognized as providing key benefits to Native American communities by boosting educational achievement and student retention rates. They also support community identity, Native systems of kinship, and management of community, cultural, and natural resources.

Through new initiative, First Nations seeks to stem the loss of Indigenous languages and cultures by supporting new generations of Native American language speakers, and establishing infrastructure and models for Native language immersion programs that may be replicated in other communities.

Aetna Foundation Grant Helps Cultivate Health

Aetna Foundation

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has received a $100,000 grant through the Aetna Foundation’s Cultivating Healthy Communities program to conduct a new project titled “Bridging Native Producers to Retail Outlets in Native Communities.” The project aims to increase availability of healthy and fresh foods, particularly those from local Native producers, at retail outlets in three Native American communities. The project runs through March 2019.

The Cultivating Healthy Communities program awarded over $2 million in grants to 25 nonprofit organizations in 14 states to advance the Aetna Foundation’s mission to improve health at the local level. Grantees are working on projects that will address social determinants of health such as improving access to healthy foods, promoting biking and physical activity, and reducing exposure to air and water contaminants. The grantees were chosen based on the strength of their strategies to improve the health of their communities in at least one of five domains: healthy behaviors, community safety, built environment, social/economic factors, and environmental exposures.

Through financial grants of $15,000 each, plus capacity-building technical assistance and the design of an evaluation system, First Nations will support the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance (serving the Navajo Nation) and tribally-run retail outlets associated with Cochiti Pueblo and Red Willow Center (serving Taos Pueblo), both in New Mexico. The grants will be used for marketing, food-storage infrastructure, food sourcing from local producers, or other needs to increase the retail sales of healthy and fresh foods. Through these activities, First Nations hopes to address those communities’ status as “food deserts” and the Native population’s higher-than-average rate of diet-related diseases.

“Native American communities in New Mexico – and others nationally – are in food deserts where access to healthy and nutritious food is difficult at best, and this contributes to high food insecurity and a prevalence of issues such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity,” noted Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Vice President. “This project hopes to accomplish several things: improve access to healthy foods and increase healthy consumer behaviors, incentivize local retailers to carry and promote more fresh and nutritious food items in their outlets and, finally, to boost local economic development by expanding nearby market opportunities for local producers growing healthy food items, especially since much of the food sold on tribal lands is brought in from outside sources. It’s ambitious, but we feel it can succeed and perhaps become a model for other Native communities facing similar issues around the U.S.”

“The Aetna Foundation is committed to addressing the social determinants of health in order to reduce health disparities,” said Dr. Garth Graham, President of the Aetna Foundation. “By identifying community-specific challenges, and unique ways to combat them, this year’s grantees are a shining example of organizations who strive to make a measurable and positive local health impact. We are honored to contribute towards the great work they are doing in pursuit of health equity.”

Ahead of the project launch, a professional evaluation consultant will collaboratively develop evaluation tools and processes to assess progress, outputs and outcomes. During the effort, First Nations staff members and consultants will provide technical assistance. After project completion, a nationally-disseminated report will be issued that shares project learnings and best practices.