Recalling Our Roots: TCEMP Program Helped Boost Tribal Economies

TCEMP at Yale University (left to right) Leonard Harjo, Rebecca Adamson (First Nations founder and former president), Bruce King, Russell Red Elk, Richard Silverman (then director of admissions of the Yale School of Organization and Management).

TCEMP at Yale University (left to right) Leonard Harjo, Rebecca Adamson (First Nations founder and former president), Bruce King, Russell Red Elk, Richard Silverman (then director of admissions of the Yale School of Organization and Management).

In the 1980s First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) was on the ground in tribal communities and the work was “aimed at building tribal self-sufficiency through programs that are both economically viable and culturally sensitive,” according to the First Nations 1986-1987 Biennial Report.

The six organizational components of the First Nations Final Project from the1986-1987 Biennial Report.

The six organizational components of the First Nations Financial Project from the1986-1987 Biennial Report.

The First Nations Financial Project, as the organization was then called until the name was changed to the First Nations Development Institute in 1991, focused on six major program components: Technical Assistance, the Oweesta Program, the National Policy and Advocacy Arm, the Marketing Program, the Research and Data Bank, and the Tribal Commerce and Enterprise Program, which was later renamed the Tribal Commerce and Enterprise Management Program, or TCEMP. The six programs were seen as a wheel. The field sites were at the hub and were supported in movement by the spokes, which represented the six organizational components of First Nations, as outlined in the 1986-1987 Biennial Report.

Meeting the Need

TCEMP was conceived by First Nations in 1981 and then launched in the fall of 1984. The program was generously funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York with $264,250 from January 1985 through June 1987. The TCEMP fellows would attend Yale University for two years, then enter a year of service working for their tribal communities after graduation.

“The skilled management of natural and economic resources is a serious need of tribes today. Indian people need high-level training and education to be able to take over the business of directing and managing the reservation economy,” noted a quote from the Biennial Report.

Sherry Salway Black (Oglala Lakota), former First Nations Senior Vice President

Sherry Salway Black (Oglala Lakota), former First Nations Senior Vice President

Sherry Salway Black served 19 years as the Senior Vice President of, and on the boards of directors for First Nations and First Nations Oweesta Corporation. She holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In 2016 she received a Special Distinguished Leadership Award from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). She retired from NCAI in 2015 after seven years as the director of the Partnership for Tribal Governance.

Salway Black is Oglala Lakota and recalls the early years of TCEMP as exciting and energizing.

“The fellowship program was one part of First Nations’ overall strategy and focused on building capacity to manage Native assets. The master’s in public and private management (MPPM) at the Yale School of Organization and Management (YSOM, now the School of Management), offered a unique education that fit more closely to reality in Native communities – the “public and private” nature of Native economies. Students must know business and policy to overcome the structural barriers in reservation economies,” said Salway Black.

The TCEMP lecture series at Yale gave the fellows insight into reservation economic development, while connecting them with key policy and business leaders. The lecture series covered topics ranging from Indigenous international issues, to credit and finance, to rural business development and land consolidation focused on reservation economies.

Yale TCEMP Fellows

The TCEMP fellows each had to apply to Yale and be accepted into the rigorous and challenging program. The first TCEMP fellows who attended the program in the fall of 1986 were John Apple, Oglala Sioux Tribe, South Dakota, who assisted First Nations as a local organizer in the development of the Lakota Funds; Bruce A. King, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, who after graduation worked for First Nations as the first director of the Oweesta Program; Russell Red Elk, Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana; and Leonard M. Harjo, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.

Chief Leonard M. Harjo, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma

Chief Leonard M. Harjo, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma

According to the 1986-1987 Biennial Report, Harjo interned for Citibank in New York over the summer of 1987 and reviewed statutes and policies affecting the banking industry in Oklahoma. He completed TCEMP and graduated with a master’s degree in public and private management from Yale in 1988.

“Remember during that time period tribally owned businesses were just beginning to emerge. The law field was getting crowded, I knew if I had an MBA I could work just about anywhere in Indian Country. I tried a part-time MBA program, but soon realized with a family the only way for me to do it was to go to school full time,” said Harjo.

The experience at Yale was invaluable and challenged the fellows. Harjo also had additional responsibilities and commitments as a single father raising a four-year-old daughter while in graduate school. Born and raised on his grandfather’s allotment in Wolf, Oklahoma, Harjo left home for a period to attend his junior and senior years of high school at a prep school in the East. This experience prepared him for his undergraduate years at Harvard, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics, focusing on economic development, in 1979, and eventually Yale. Harjo could have landed a job anywhere, but he returned to Oklahoma to fulfill his year of service to his tribe and focus his energies on developing the tribe’s economy.

“It (TCEMP) gave me the confidence to take on the challenges we often face in Indian Country, and to not be afraid of them. Our people, Native people, do not always have the confidence to succeed, even when they are capable. This lack of confidence often means that we don’t assume responsibility for overcoming challenges in the workplace when things simply need to get done.”

Harjo held many positions, from tribal planner to director of economic development, and was appointed the first director of the Seminole Nation Development Authority. Harjo did whatever was needed for his tribe for the next 20 years. Fast forward to 2009, and Harjo decided to pour all his experience and leadership into a larger role and was elected the Principal Chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma in the fall of that year.

Chief Harjo credits TCEMP with providing him with the skills he needed to tackle the challenges his tribe has faced. He sees tribal members having to make the choice to find work outside the reservation due to a lack of professional skills needed to take advantage of job opportunities or to advance on the reservation, which leads to a loss of human capital, culture and community.

“A strong economy employs all people and maintains a community. But it is hard to maintain a culture and a community when people have to provide for their families. For culture to thrive, economies have to thrive. This is the hardest challenge for a tribe,” said Harjo.

TCEMP Minnesota Bound

University of Minnesota TCEMP Fellows (left to right) Mark Jacobson, First Nations staff; Terry Mason Moore, TCEMP fellow; Don Bell, Assistant Dean of the University of Minnesota MBA program; and Aurolyn Stwyer, TCEMP fellow.

University of Minnesota TCEMP Fellows (left to right) Mark Jacobson, First Nations staff; Terry Mason Moore, TCEMP fellow; Don Bell, Assistant Dean of the University of Minnesota MBA program; and Aurolyn Stwyer, TCEMP fellow.

After the first class graduated from Yale in 1988, TCEMP moved and was based at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota (UMN) located in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. First Nations felt the Yale campus did not have the Native support the students needed to succeed. The University of Minnesota campus had more Native students enrolled, and a large Native community in the area which provided cultural support for the students. Fellows also took classes at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at UMN for their policy education. The Carnegie Corporation of New York continued its support from 1991 to 1994 with a $96,000 grant for the three years.

Since its inception, TCEMP supported 14 students with a graduate-level management education across two major institutions. There were four fellows who started the original program at Yale, with two graduating. Ten students attended the University of Minnesota program, with eight graduating. Three of the eight UMN graduates were considered apart of the TCEMP program, but were supported by funding outside of the Carnegie grant.

One UMN TCEMP fellow supported by the Carnegie grant was Terry Mason Moore, who is from the Osage Nation. She graduated from the UMN Carlson School of Management with a master’s degree in business administration in 1992. Moore had already obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Northeastern State University, and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law before being selected as a TCEMP fellow.

Terry Mason Moore, attorney and tribal judge, Osage Nation

Terry Mason Moore, attorney and tribal judge, Osage Nation

“Looking back, I wonder how I was able to do it. I had small children when I went to Minnesota, ages three and five. My fellow mate, Aurolyn Stwyer (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and 1992 TCEMP alum) had a young son. This was before computers, so we had to write everything down, read real books, manage a home, and daycare. We had real challenges, but we leaned on each other, and others in the same situation in the Native community on campus and in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. We developed a network and support to be able to succeed and graduate,” said Moore.

After graduation Moore worked in the area of Indian child welfare. Later, she joined Kurt Bluedog’s law firm in Minneapolis and worked on commercial transactions and the business side of tribal gaming. She felt good about building on and combining her business and law degrees to assist tribes, and a number she worked with in the early days of gaming are doing well today, such as the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Prior Lake, Minnesota.

Watch for the May-June issue of Indian Giver, where we’ll feature profiles of Chief Harjo and Judge Terry Mason Moore.

She and her husband, Ted, who is an artist, and their four children returned to Oklahoma in 1999, and Moore went to work for her tribe, the Osage Nation. In addition to being an attorney, she served as a tribal judge for 22 years, the Assistant Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, and tribal council member, vice chair of the Osage Tribe Gaming Enterprise, and as the Osage Nation Gaming commissioner. Currently she is serving as general counsel to the Office of the Chief.

TCEMP’s Relevance Today

Both Mason and Harjo agree that a program such as TCEMP is still needed today. Chief Harjo sees tribal members every day who would benefit from the higher education and professional development. He says it’s especially needed by the smaller tribes.

“Some tribes don’t have the luxury to develop people internally over a period of time. There are probably only about 50 tribes who have that ability to hire someone at an entry level and train them over a period of years. For the rest of us, the individuals we hire are asked to perform at a high level instantly – often with little or no training or mentoring from within the tribe. There is still as great a need as before in expanding Native economies, to develop Native professionals capable of working in the public and private sectors,” said Harjo.

Moore sees the lack of business skills among the younger Native people and the need for another TCEMP.

“The need is real. There are a lot of attorneys, social service professionals and artists. But there is a need for young people to study finance, loans, mortgages, banking and credit unions. We need professional people to staff those higher-level positions. We need to utilize our own managers and tribal members. We need to grow our own.”

Editor’s note: portions of this article previously appeared in the First Nations Financial Project Report, 1986-1987 Biennial Report.

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

“Rodeo Bucks” Takes Las Vegas by Storm

Participants at "Rodeo Bucks 101"

Participants at “Rodeo Bucks”

Rodeo is much more than a sport – it’s also a business. That’s the thinking behind a timely workshop First Nations Development Institute and partners recently offered at the Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Many Native youth rodeo contestants earn large cash prizes while competing throughout the U.S. and Canada. In addition, managing livestock and participating in family farm operations requires a lot of financial savvy.

“Rodeo Bucks 101” is a workshop that makes financial education fun and simple. The workshop teaches the basics of money management from a rodeo athlete’s perspective. Featured topics include record keeping, money management, independent living, and fraud awareness. All of these topics are covered in an interactive training environment that encourages young people and their families to make the most of their rodeo and financial success.

pix 2On November 9, 2016, approximately 100 teenage cowboys and cowgirls gathered in the South Point Hotel and Equestrian Center, which was the venue for the 2016 Indian National Finals Rodeo. A lively 90-minute workshop was conducted by a team of financial literacy specialists from Chief Dull Knife College and People’s Partner for Community Development (both based in Lame Deer, Montana). First Nations Development Institute helped coordinate the event and provided facilitation.

“I’m highly pleased with the participation we had for the Rodeo Bucks 101 workshop,” said Sharon Small, Executive Director of People’s Partner for Community Development. “This training was a first at the Indian National Finals Rodeo and we’re extremely grateful to the Indian National Finals Rodeo commissioners for their support of youth financial empowerment.”

pix 3Native youth from more than a dozen states and several Canadian provinces spent the morning learning how to budget for rodeo expenses like entrance fees, gear and travel costs. This was reinforced with meaningful discussions about taxes, compound interest and credit. There were drawings for valuable door prizes, including a laptop from a local sponsor and gift cards.

According to Chief Dull Knife College Extension Service Director Henry Thompson, the plan is to scale up the Rodeo Bucks workshop, possibly in partnership with tribal colleges and high schools.

“We proved there’s a need and demand for a rodeo-focused financial skills workshop,” explained Thompson. “If all goes well, the next step is to formalize a curriculum and hit the road training!”

For more information contact:
Tommy Robinson
People’s Partner for Community Development
(406) 477-6215 ext 190

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant

Our Southwest Tour Will Be Unforgettable!

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This summer, First Nations Development Institute will host its exclusive Southwest Tour. This multi-day event will give you the chance to personally witness the impact your investment is having in Native American communities, as told through the eyes of our community partners. You’ll see first-hand the remarkable work they are doing at the grassroots level.

The tour, Experience the Rich Cultures and Traditions of the Pueblo Peoples of New Mexico, is an unparalleled opportunity to gain an insider’s perspective of First Nations’ guiding principle: We believe that when armed with the appropriate resources, Native peoples hold the capacity and ingenuity to ensure the sustainable, economic, spiritual and cultural well-being of their communities.

Sundesign2 500pxBetween June 11 and 16, 2017, from our accommodations at the Inn of the Governors on the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe, we’ll
become part of Native Pueblo cultures, from visiting a tribal bison herd, to watching children learning their Native language, to
witnessing the leadership development of Native girls and women, to participating in a traditional Pueblo Feast Day, to interacting with Native artists, musicians, cultural leaders and influential tribal advisors. Local guide Eileen Shendo (Jemez Pueblo) will personally escort you on a special journey to experience the spirit of Indian Country through this once-in-a-lifetime tour. You’ll see
first-hand how First Nations is supporting homegrown solutions to community needs. You’ll visit many successful projects funded
by First Nations and see how your investment is making a real impact in Native communities.

Space is limited! If you are interested in being a part of this wonderful experience and want to sign up, or have any questions, please contact Jona Charette (Northern Cheyenne/Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) at (303) 774-7836, ext. 221 or To view a flyer about the tour, click here.

The cost for this five-night and five-day tour is $2,795 for one adult, or $4,195 for two adults. Cost is all inclusive with the exception of airfare and round-trip transportation to/from Santa Fe (if you are flying into Albuquerque as opposed to Santa Fe).

We hope to share this unforgettable journey with you!

Shakopee Tribe Donates $100,000 to “Reclaiming Native Truth”


The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) recently made a $100,000 donation to the Reclaiming Native Truth project that is co-managed by First Nations Development Institute and Echo Hawk Consulting under a major grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The gift was part of a package of new SMSC donations totaling more than $4 million for Native American causes in several states.

Reclaiming Native Truth is a groundbreaking project that will consolidate and build upon previous research efforts in order to create a long-term, Native-led movement that will positively transform the popular image of and narrative about Native Americans. From 2016-2018, the project team is working with an advisory committee of Native leaders, stakeholders, and racial equity experts and advocates to understand the underlying reasons for society’s negative and inaccurate perceptions of Native Americans. Based on this improved understanding, the project will have the tools necessary to build consensus around tackling this long-standing problem. It is expected that the project will lead to the creation of a national campaign to achieve greater awareness, respect and equality for Native peoples.

SMSC_Logo_1“Launching an unprecedented national project like Reclaiming Native Truth requires farsighted dedication from planners and funders. The SMSC’s donation shows a long-term commitment to improving the lives of Native Americans,” said Michael Roberts, co-director of Reclaiming Native Truth and president and CEO of First Nations Development Institute.

“There are so many needs across Indian Country, and this new financial support will go a long way toward improving the lives of many people, especially children and future generations,” said SMSC Chairman Charles R. Vig.

The SMSC has donated approximately $350 million to organizations and causes since 1992.

The donation to the Reclaiming Native Truth project was made on the heels of a $200,000 gift the SMSC made to fund living allowances for AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers working to improve Native nutrition, as part of the SMSC’s $5 million Seeds of Native Health campaign. It was the first time in VISTA’s history in which a tribe provided funding to deploy VISTA members nationally. In an editorial lauding the SMSC’s Seeds of Native Health campaign, the Star Tribune – Minnesota’s largest news outlet – called the tribe a “philanthropic force.”

Funding Collaborative Helps Implement First Junk-Food Tax

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A unique funding collaborative formed by First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) came together recently to support the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance (DCAA) in its efforts to implement healthy foods legislation passed by the Navajo Nation. In 2014, the Navajo Nation passed two new and innovative policies to encourage healthy living and lifestyles on the Navajo Nation:

  • Navajo Nation Council Resolution CJA-05-14 removed the Navajo Nation 5% sales tax on healthy foods sold on the Navajo reservation, including fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, water, nuts, nut butters, and seeds, and;
  • The Healthy Diné Nation Act (HDNA) of 2014 authorized an additional 2% sales tax on unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages in all retail locations on the Navajo Nation, the first junk food tax in the United States.


Launched with a leading gift from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the funding collaborative will support DCAA with a combined gift of $262,000. This includes funding from:

First Nations is proud to support DCAA and this innovative legislation on the Navajo Nation. Revenue raised from the collected taxes is directed into a fund to support Community Wellness Projects at all 110 Navajo Nation chapters. “These two pieces of legislation really demonstrate the potential for Native nations to exert their sovereign powers to improve health and well-being in Native communities,” said Michael E. Roberts, First Nations President & CEO. “We are honored to be able to bring these needed resources to help with implementation efforts across the Navajo reservation.”

“To improve Native Americans’ dietary health, tribal communities must take control of their own destinies,” said SMSC Chairman Charles R. Vig. “We are pleased to have our Seeds of Native Health campaign work with First Nations and other funders to support the Navajo Nation’s groundbreaking policies to better the health of their people.”

With this support, DCAA will work with departments and chapters on the Navajo Nation to ensure that Navajo communities can access funds to create healthy living programs and ensure accurate tax compliance.

“This support is a gift to healthy future Navajo generations,” said Denisa Livingston of DCAA. “This unique collaboration is one vital component toward the movement to empower our communities to create positive, sustainable, healthy environments. The investments are an opportunity to build capacity both at the local level and at our tribal hill to expand toward improvement, efficiency and consistency. We look forward to continuing to improve the quality of life for our Diné people while creating lasting working relationships with our tribal government.”

“We are thrilled to support this initiative that models both the power of Indigenous communities to innovate precedent-setting global policy, and a pathway to resilient economies based on community and environmental health,” said Kyra Busch, Program Officer at The Christensen Fund.

Reports Detail Tribal Food Policy Efforts & Tribal College Impact

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First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently released two new reports that should prove valuable for tribes and Native organizations.

Roots of Change: Food Policy in Native Communities

Roots of Change: Food Policy in Native Communities looks at recent developments in tribal communities aimed at taking control of their local food systems.

“Far too often, tribal communities asserting control over their food systems feel alone. But they are not alone and can garner lessons from other tribal communities working on revitalizing their food systems,” said A-dae Romero-Briones, First Nations Associate Director of Research and Policy for Native Agriculture, and report co-author. “This report reviews recent and lesser-known food-reclaiming strategies and food system work.”

The strategies vary from reservation to reservation, with some tribes getting involved in food policy and legislation, land management, food gathering, traditional food access, and the business development of food retailers.

“Native communities are looking at different ways to exert food sovereignty to improve nutrition, health, economies and governance over local food systems,” said Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Vice President of Grantmaking, Development and Communications. “Moreover, different sectors within Native communities are involved, including grassroots and nonprofit organizations, businesses and tribal departments. This report highlights what Native nations can do at the policy and legislative levels to improve local food sovereignty.”

Some of the tribes featured in the report include Cheyenne River Sioux (South Dakota), Confederated Siletz Tribe (Oregon), Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (Michigan), Lummi Nation (Washington), Muscogee (Creek ) Nation (Oklahoma), Navajo Nation (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado), Salt River Pima Maricopa (Arizona), Sault St. Marie Tribe (Michigan), and the Yurok Tribe (California).

Roots of Change: Food Policy in Native Communities was funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and was created under First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, or NAFSI. The full report can be downloaded free from the First Nations’ Knowledge Center at (Note: In the Knowledge Center, if you don’t have one already, you will need to create a free online account in order to download the report. Your account will also give you access to numerous other free resources in the Knowledge Center.)

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Research Note: The Economic Impact of Tribal Colleges in the Northwest Area Foundation Region

The second report highlights the economic impact of tribal colleges in the eight-state region served by Northwest Area Foundation. It finds that tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) contribute significantly to both short- and long-term economic development in reservation-based Native communities.

The report – The Economic Impact of Tribal Colleges in the Northwest Area Foundation Region — is the first in a new series of short publications called Research Notes that will keep the field updated with timely research about Indian Country. This inaugural report in the series was authored by Benjamin Marks, First Nations Senior Research Officer.

The report illustrates that the 19 TCUs in the eight-state region of the Northwest Area Foundation serve as immediate economic drivers in reservation-based communities. These 19 TCUs accounted for an average of more than $217 million in revenue between 2010 and 2011, and more than $285 million in net assets. Furthermore, the 19 TCUs employ more than 4,200 individuals.

TCUs also contribute to long-term, sustainable economic development by providing a more skilled workforce, encouraging entrepreneurship and small business development through a range of programs and services, and even offering asset-building programs to all community members through financial education classes and financial coaching.

The new Research Note series serves to deliver short, periodic research updates when First Nations has important findings to present that may not require a full-length publication or requires further analysis for a larger publication. The reports will generally be less than 10 pages and feature an analysis of new or existing data. Findings presented in the Research Notes may lead to more extensive studies in the future.

“We’re excited to offer these to anyone interested in new research about exciting developments in Native communities and issues that concern Indian Country,” said First Nations President & CEO Michael E. Roberts. “First Nations has been a leader in producing publications about Native economic development and other efforts, and we wanted to provide even more timely updates whenever we discover significant information that is not suited for a longer report.”

Future Research Notes will include topics dealing with asset-building, Native food systems, giving to Native communities, issues with American Indian/Alaska Native Census data, and more. The Research Notes will be available from the Knowledge Center on the First Nations website at, where they will be individually categorized under the appropriate First Nations program area. (Note: In the Knowledge Center, if you don’t have one already, you will need to create a free online account in order to download the report. Your account will also give you access to numerous other free resources in the Knowledge Center.)

National Food Sovereignty Summit is Oct. 2-5 in Green Bay

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thumbnail2First Nations Development Institute and the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin again will co-host the national Food Sovereignty Summit October 2-5, 2017 at the Radisson Hotel in Green Bay, Wisconsin. This is a forum for sharing and collaboration to build healthy food systems within our communities.

Thumbnail 1This event is perfect for Native farmers, ranchers, gardeners, businesses, policymakers, tribal agriculture staff, Native nonprofits working in agriculture, small producers, tribal producers and tribal leaders.

The conference offers three training tracks as well as optional experiential learning sessions:


  • Track 1: Applied Agriculture
  • Track 2: Community Outreach
  • Track 3: Products to Market


Experiential Sessions
Tuesday, October 3, 2017, and Wednesday, October 4, 2017

  • Experiental Learning I:
    Tsyunhehkwa Organic Farm – Managed Grazing
  • Experiental Learning II:
  • Experiental Learning III:
    Environmental Restoration – “Trout Creek Headwater Tributary Restoration”
  • Experiental Learning IV:
    Apple Harvesting and Distribution



If you are interested in presenting at the conference, donating traditional foods or becoming a sponsor, please contact Autumn Romero at

For more information, please visit

To register now, please click here.

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Record Set with $2.8 Million+ in Grants


For the second year in a row, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) set a new organizational record in 2016 in grants and dollars awarded to Native American organizations and tribes during a one-year period. The previous organizational record was set in 2015.

The funding went toward projects aimed at grassroots economic community development efforts in Native communities, and covered areas ranging from agriculture and food systems, to Native arts-related efforts, to Native youth empowerment and culture preservation and revitalization programs.

During 2016, First Nations awarded a record 175 grants totaling more than $2.8 million. In the previous record year (2015), the organization awarded 107 grants totaling just over $2 million. Cumulatively, since it began making grants in 1994 through year-end 2016, First has successfully managed 1,238 grants totaling more than $27 million to Native American projects and organizations in 39 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. Territory American Samoa.

Press Release - 2016 Record Year GraphicAlthough First Nations has been able to increase capital for Native community-developed and led projects aimed at building strong and healthy Native economies, First Nations was only able to meet about 23 percent of the grant requests it received in 2016, leaving a significant unmet need.

“We are very fortunate to be able to support exciting and innovative work taking place in Indian Country aimed at strengthening economies and communities. Our ability to provide more grants speaks to the hard work of Native communities that are diligently seeking to develop and sustain programs and projects to meet the needs of their communities on their own terms,” said First Nations President & CEO Michael E. Roberts. “But the sheer amount of underinvestment in Indian Country by the philanthropic community continues. We’ll continue to work to increase investment in the dynamic work taking place in Native communities.”

Much of the funding that First Nations receives so it, in turn, can provide grants and other services to Native projects comes from foundations and individual donors. Overall, studies have shown that even though Native Americans make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, only three-tenths of one percent of private foundation funding goes toward Native American causes, even in light of the fact that Native communities generally face significantly higher economic, health and housing disparities than the general population.

Grantseeker Resources & Ag Training Available

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New Grantseeker Resources Available

First Nations has prepared numerous resources to help people who may be applying for grants, whether from First Nations or other organizations or foundations. Under “First Nations-Specific Resources” are documents to assist grantseekers applying for our funding. These include our previous year’s funding cycle, tips for creating successful applications and avoiding common rejection reasons, guidelines for using a fiscal sponsor, and frequently asked questions regarding First Nations’ eligibility and application process.

Under “General Grantseeker Resources,” there are items that will be helpful to applicants who may be new to the field of grantwriting and researching. These general resources provide tips regarding applying for and researching various funding opportunities.

Find all of these Grantseeker Resources at

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Upcoming Workshop: The Business of Indian Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Assessment

We have one of these workshops going on this week (March 21-23) in Albuquerque, but you can still register to attend our The Business of Indian Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Assessment training in Phoenix June 27-29, 2017. This three-day training combines both topics. The Phoenix session has a “train-the-trainer” focus but is still appropriate for individual producers, farmers, ranchers and others who might not necessarily be thinking of providing training on the topic.

The fee is only $100, which covers the cost of materials and any included meals (breakfast and lunch will be served on all three days). Participants will receive copies of First Nations’ The Business of Indian Agriculture curriculum and Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool.

Go here to learn more and register for the Phoenix training: Challenge Met!


Star 4 500pxWe are delighted to report that all eight cohort members met the $500 matching-gift challenge during the campaign period from December 2016 through January 2017. Congratulations to College of Menominee Nation, Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School, Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition, Oyate Teca Project, STAR School, Sustainable Molokai, Tewa Women United, and Zuni Youth Enrichment Project!

TWU group 500pxBecause of the generosity and commitment of so many individuals, the cohort collectively raised $17,827. With the $4,000 match ($500 for each of the eight participating organization) and six incentive prizes totaling $3,000, that’s $24,827 designated to the participating eight organizations that focus on supporting children and families. Your generous support will go a long way in furthering their critical work at the grassroots level.

Photo by D.Kakkak

Photo by D.Kakkak

Created by and for Native people, the giving platform exists to raise awareness of the remarkable initiatives making a real difference in the lives of Native children and families. All of the participating organizations are small, community-based nonprofits that rely on grants and generous donations to do good work in their communities. Consistent with Native American values of sharing and reciprocity, this unique website aims to increase Native philanthropic efforts by expanding the reach of these local efforts, with the general goal of improving overall charitable giving to Native causes.

DSCN3375 was developed and piloted by First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) because it recognizes that Native American youth are the very future of our communities. We would also like to thank the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the NoVo Foundation for their support of this project. You can learn more about the goals of here: