Better Tribal Health Possible through FDPIR-Based Nutrition Education

(Left to right) Robin Green, Angie Longie, Pam Rainbow, Marcella Green, Eunice Green and her daughter Jazmyn show off new bakeware and cookware they received after completing the Nutrition Mission Lessons as part of the Spirit Lake Nutrition Passport program.

(Left to right) Robin Green, Angie Longie, Pam Rainbow, Marcella Green, Eunice Green and her daughter Jazmyn show off new bakeware and cookware they received after completing the Nutrition Mission Lessons as part of the Spirit Lake Nutrition Passport program.

Due to a variety of issues including inadequate funding, many of the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) outlets cannot provide nutrition education to their local communities or to the families who receive food packages, even though such education could go a long way toward improving health on the reservation while offering valuable information on different ways to prepare and serve the various foods. (FDPIR is available to Indian Tribal Organizations – ITOs – and state agencies, with about 276 tribes receiving benefits through 100 ITOs and five state agencies, according to the FDPIR website.)

Because of this situation, the “Nutrition Education for Native American Communities” project was created under First Nations Development Institute’s Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative. The project was generously underwritten by the Walmart Foundation.

Over the past nine months, 21 tribes across 12 states have designed, launched or expanded culturally- and community-based nutrition education projects that encouraged individuals and families to improve their nutrition and practice healthy habits, plus it has generally broadened much-needed access to nutrition education in Indian Country.

Individually, the “Nutrition Education for Native American Communities” projects determined what they were going to focus on and how to make their projects culturally specific, whether it be nutrition workshops, cooking classes/food demonstrations, healthy recipe development, creation and dissemination of educational materials, and more. The FDPIR programs at the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota are highlighted here as excellent examples of creative and culturally-focused nutrition education programs engaging with their tribal communities.

Seminole Nation of Oklahoma

Outdoor cooking demonstrators Sue Givens and Veronica Givens prepare recipes with food items from the FDPIR traditional foods basket for the Seminole Nation's Food and Nutrition program.

Outdoor cooking demonstrators Sue Givens and Veronica Givens prepare recipes with food items from the FDPIR traditional foods basket for the Seminole Nation’s Food and Nutrition Services.

The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma is located in south-central Oklahoma, approximately 45 miles east of Oklahoma City, and it includes most of Seminole County, according to the tribe’s website. In other words the Seminole Nation is vast – and the majority of its tribal members are spread out across the county and the state. This might have proved a challenge for some, but Tod Robertson, the Seminole Nation Food and Nutrition Services Director, and his staff saw it as an opportunity to bring tribal members together in various settings.

The Seminole Nation has a transit service that is free for tribal members and provides transportation to and from tribal programs, which are spread out across 633 square miles. The food demonstrations were held at various locations to give tribal members the opportunity to attend and experience the many different cooking options.

Seminole Nation youth, Leland age 7 and Isabella age 8, learn how to prepare a skillet peach cobbler as part of the Seminole Nation's Food and Nutrition program at the Cvfekne Wellness Center.

Seminole Nation youth, Leland age 7 and Isabella age 8, learn how to prepare a skillet peach cobbler as part of the Seminole Nation’s Food and Nutrition Services activity at the Cvfekne Wellness Center.

The Wellness Center at the Mikasuki Mission (Chief’s House) was used to show how to cook on an outdoor, open flame such as those found at traditional ceremonial grounds or powwows. Outdoor grilling over charcoal on picnic and commercial grills was shown because the tribal housing authority has grills for the community to access. The tribe’s historic Grisso Mansion was used as well and drew large crowds. For one event, 56 people registered and, with the drop-in attendees, the number rose to 65. Word spread quickly across the community about all the good cooking that was happening, or perhaps it was the aroma of the delicious food.

Show Me the Salmon

“The recipes used some of the new traditional foods such as salmon, wild rice, blue corn and bison, which are available in the new FDPIR traditional foods basket. Salmon was cooked in a cast-iron skillet over an open flame, over a charcoal grill, and on the stove top. The participants were excited to get those, but they wanted to know how to cook them, very quickly. In the cooking demos for one day it was not on the agenda, but the cook loves to cook salmon filets, and everyone was excited about them, so we had to send for the salmon filets. We cooked those, too, because we knew we had a captive audience,” said Robertson.

The approach of cooking in three different types of settings encouraged attendance and left people asking when the next demonstration was going to be held. The participation crossed generations and at some outdoor events there were three generations of families in attendance – learning together.

“Elders were out there looking for things to do and it was an enjoyable event for them. It gave them the opportunity to get out. They prepared dishes. They were interested. It was great to let them share with each other. It brought out a number of different people, young people, too. We always had people interacting and sharing their stories,” said Robertson.

Salmon filet and chicken cooked in a cast-iron skillet along with rice, cabbage and hominy with pork. All the recipes were cooked over an open wood flame outdoors by the Seminole Nation's Food and Nutrition program using food items from the FDPIR traditional foods basket and FDPIR foods.

Salmon filet and chicken cooked in a cast-iron skillet along with rice, cabbage and hominy with pork. All the recipes were cooked over an open wood flame outdoors by the Seminole Nation’s Food and Nutrition Services using food items from the FDPIR traditional foods basket and FDPIR foods.

While the cooking and food drew the people, it was what they were cooking with that stirred up the storytelling and memories that go along with cooking in a communal setting.

“The cast-iron skillet – when they would see it – it would remind them of the many times they used it previously. Participants would say ‘I’ve got one of those at home’ and it brought back memories of what was cooked, and that helped us to say you’ve eaten cooked food before,” said Robertson.

Easier to “Eat Unhealthy”

One challenge that Robertson and his team worked on with the participants was how to fit cooking into their day, and the benefits of making time to cook healthy food versus the alternative.

“The participants remarked how easy it is to eat unhealthy. They didn’t consider that they have time to cook. The demonstrations showed that if you don’t have much time, well here’s how you can prepare a nutritious meal to eat later. Unfortunately the convenience of store fried foods and fast foods have taken the role of the cook. We’re showing them that they do have time with the use of a slow cooker.”

The demonstrations also gave the participants the opportunity to try unfamiliar foods available to them in their FDPIR food baskets. No longer the “commods” or “commodity food” their great-grandparents or grandparents grew up on, the program now offers healthier food staples along with fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, beans and much more.

“We definitely appreciate First Nations for obtaining the funding from the Walmart Foundation. It was great because it wasn’t federal dollars. It gave us the freedom to be creative,” said Robertson.

Sharing Knowledge of Food

Lenore Johnson and her daughter Briana, age 12, prepare citrus salmon, using food items from the FDPIR traditional foods basket as part of the Seminole Nation's Food and Nutrition program at the Cvfekne Wellness Center.

Lenore Johnson and her daughter Briana, age 12, prepare citrus salmon, using food items from the FDPIR traditional foods basket as part of the Seminole Nation’s Food and Nutrition program at the Cvfekne Wellness Center.

Another goal of the Seminole Nation’s program was to share the recipes and cooking demos with not only their tribal members in person, but to go virtual with the information with 12 videos, which will be posted to the Seminole Nation website and its official Facebook page, according to Robertson.

“You see everybody walking and sitting around and they have their phones, so if we do it (the demonstrations) just for people who are physically able to participate, then we’ve left out the rest of the world. With social media there is no limit to the access.”

Spirit Lake Tribe

Mary Greene Trottier grew up having family meals around the dinner table. She knows how important that is to keeping connected to family and community.

“The concept of sitting at the table as a family has diminished. Many are connected to their phones and you lose that family bond. Often times, young people think having a family meal means eating out of a bag while driving down the road.”

Elisha Poulsen, Spirit Lake FDPIR Nutrition Educator, shows participants Marcella Green and Eunice Green how to prepare a stir fry recipe as part of the Spirit Lake Nutrition Passport program.

Elisha Poulsen, Spirit Lake FDPIR Nutrition Educator, shows participants Marcella Green and Eunice Green how to prepare a stir fry recipe as part of the Spirit Lake Nutrition Passport program.

As the Spirit Lake Tribe Food Distribution Program Director and a grandmother, Greene Trottier thinks about the young ones in her tribal community and wants better health and nutrition for them and their families.

“The uniqueness about FDPIR is that participants have to see us to receive their food – see us face to face – and that provides us with an opportunity to provide educational materials and answer questions,” she said, noting that while the program provides a much-needed service to the community, there previously “was nothing specific as far as nutrition education to food distribution. Prior to this grant, the last nutrition person from North Dakota State University Extension Service was only available four hours a week.”

However, with funding from the FDPIR nutrition education grant, Elisha Poulsen was hired as a Nutrition Educator full time for the Spirit Lake Food Distribution Program. Together, Greene Trottier and Poulsen collaborated and applied for the “Nutrition Education for Native American Communities” grant from First Nations. Poulsen, who has her bachelor’s degree in nursing, and is a tribal member, says Greene Trottier’s vision for the community is motivating, and that once the project was funded, they had to work fast to accomplish their goals.

Passport to Better Health

The Passport booklet

The Passport booklet

Taking a cue from her grandson, who enjoys reading books about his favorite show – Little Einsteins, who go on missions to learn about new things – Greene Trottier thought why not create “a journey to better health using a passport so they can share create a diary to track their changes on their own personal journey.”

The Nutrition Passport program created by the Spirit Lake Food Distribution Program and the North Dakota State University Extension Service focuses on the five food groups of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy. There is a section where participants can list their goals for each food group, and something new they learned in the nutrition classes and from the cooking demonstrations. The last section of the passport features “Fun with Family Meals” to help participants focus on eating together and enjoying healthy nutritious meals they can cook themselves.

“With the passport and the adults, we asked questions like: ‘How would they like to change their eating habits in the food group? How has the lesson impacted you?’ We asked them to think about and reflect on it, their food journey. Each lesson prepares them, and there are four different recipes included in the lesson,” said Greene Trottier. The passport was available for participants to take home to remind them of what they were learning in the nutrition classes. The demonstrations incorporated the FDPIR foods available to them.

Traditional Foods and Storytelling

“Bison, salmon, wild rice recipes, blue corn meal, are all offered in the new FDPIR traditional foods basket. The participants liked bison/buffalo, which are predominant to where we are. Throughout the nutrition education we try to showcase different food that are not familiar to the area, too. We’re close to Minnesota, so the wild rice chicken soup is good for those cold winter days. The salmon was not familiar to our area, so we served up that recipe, too,” said Greene Trottier.

As the nutrition educator, Poulsen said the passport was key to helping participants see how much of each food group they may or may not have been eating and the serving size for their age group. While healthier eating was the goal, making sure the information and recipes also made a cultural connection was incorporated throughout in the form of storytelling.

“Each lesson has different recipes and we try to relate them back to our culture and the story behind it. We talked about gathering together around traditional foods, and we told the stories of the three sisters – corn, beans and squash,” said Poulsen.

Also, with wojapi – a traditional Dakota berry desert served in the region, Greene Trottier and Poulsen showed the participants how they could use the cranberries supplied in the FDPIR traditional foods basket, and not add a lot of sugar, as fruit becomes sweeter as it cooks and boils down.

Cooking and Sharing

spiritlaketribesignThe passport helped participants track their nutrition mission, and the recipes that were demonstrated (and taste tested) showed how easy the FDPIR foods can be to use to prepare nutritious meals at home. However, if one is looking at food insecurity, you might only think about the lack of food itself. Sometimes what is standing in the way of creating more nutritious meals is the lack of the proper equipment.

“The participants were so happy to receive the cookware or bakeware. They were crying and hugging us. It was emotional. We purchased different colored sets so they would get to choose the color they wanted. They have ownership in it now, and they were so excited.”

Greene Trottier and Poulsen say the incentive of completing the courses and earning the new kitchen tools made an impact on the participants and the staff. Newsletters were also sent out after each lesson providing more tips to stay on track with their nutrition changes, along with more recipes, and just to remind the participants they had support on their nutrition journey.

“We’ve provided a reason for them to use it (the cookware) and we’ve emphasized the nutrition,” said Greene Trottier. “Now we can move forward with future series, provide more lessons and continue them in the spring. We learn from sharing … nutrition education is fun.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Board Vice Chair Marguerite Smith: Values & Respect

Marguerite with First Nations President & CEO Michael Roberts at the organization's 35th Anniversary celebration in 2015

Marguerite with First Nations President & CEO Michael Roberts at the organization’s 35th Anniversary celebration in 2015

At an early age, First Nations Development Institute Board Vice Chair Marguerite Smith learned the importance of the natural world. As part of her “life’s training” before her formal training, she grew up knowing that this natural world extends to all life – people, animals, water, land and plants – and that everything in this world should be protected and respected.

This foundation has set a course for Marguerite’s life, and has driven her desire to always be an advocate for rights – whether they are human, Native, or women’s. It has guided her as a girl “on the Rez” and in New York City, and as a passionate attorney, educator, and consultant.

Raised to Speak Out

Marguerite grew up “in regular transit” between New York City and the Shinnecock territory on seaside Eastern Long Island. She had the experience of both being an “urban Indian,” attending New York City public schools, and knowing reservation life, surrounded by family and the natural world’s abundance of plants, animals, birds and sea life that form the heart of Shinnecock culture.

But as she grew up and the years passed, Marguerite saw first-hand how her people could speak out – and had to speak out – as Shinnecock lands were slowly absorbed by American land barons. Marguerite remembers her grandmother going to New York City to testify in land claim cases. And she remembers her mother being an unshakeable advocate for her children, despite only having a 9th grade education.

“I came from a family of very strong women,” she says. “There was never a sense of ‘I can’t do it because I’m a girl.’ Instead I said, ‘I have to do it because I’m a girl.’”

Marguerite Smith

Marguerite Smith

And there was a lot to do. At that time, the Shinnecock was not a federally recognized tribe, and as such received no federal funding. The tribal community was small, existing on a shoestring with occasional state grants and money raised through an annual powwow. With no federal treaty in place, the Shinnecock struggled to lay claim to their land, water, shores and air space. Asset control was an issue. The lack of rights was pervasive: Their land for farming, revenue from shell-fishing, access to the whales for ceremony and food, and even the energy-producing potential of their wind had all been compromised.

Meanwhile, much of the ancestral Shinnecock territory had morphed into the affluent Hampdens, and their sacred burial ground had become the setting for golf courses and luxury estates. The Shinnecock continued to find themselves in servant status, working in support of the leisure class.

Cultivating a Voice

Growing up, Marguerite knew money was tight, and the need to be able to make a good living to fuel her advocacy efforts was imperative. In college in the 1960s, she discovered how the law could be a very important tool for securing better lives for people who had been discriminated against or denied respect. She says, at the time, doors to law careers were just beginning to open for women and for people of color, and she decided she could do it.

“I thought of my mother,” she says. “She had a voice and she used it. I got the chance to put some credentials with that voice. It was her voice and her spirit that guided me.”

Marguerite says she got the chance to pursue higher education, and she took it. After college, she worked in human resources and economic research, and then went on to law school at New York University. As a lawyer, she worked in government, for corporations, and in private practice. Through the years, one of her areas of focus was labor law, based on the high unemployment rate of Indians. She pursued jobs that would allow her to advocate for better labor practices. She has also lent her legal skills to support tribal recognition, resource rights, and Indian health care and family wellness.

Coming Home

SealAs her career continued, Marguerite came back to Shinnecock Indian Reservation, where challenges had evolved. On October 1, 2010, the tribe became federally recognized, but unfortunately it was not recognized in time for the tribe to immediately access significant federal funding for many departments.

And while in 2017, money is now coming in, so are the issues surrounding governance, federal requirements and reporting. The tribe must define its principles and develop policies. “There’s a lot of community education, and funding, and lawyering needed,” she says.

Just like the many tribal communities that have become federally recognized, the rights came, but the resources did not. It’s a win that the government now recognizes the Indian Child Welfare Act and allows tribal intervention in the placement of Native children out of child protective services. “That’s a good responsibility,” Marguerite says, “But it takes staff to send a lawyer to court. It takes staff to run a child welfare department.”

Having operated for decades by a few volunteers, the Shinnecock now must create a local infrastructure. Marguerite says they are still in the learning process, but it’s an area where she’s happy to contribute her skills and background. “It’s new territory, but the Shinnecock are a resourceful group of people,” she says.

Meeting Ongoing Challenges

A scene from the Shinnecock Indian Powwow

A scene from the Shinnecock Indian Powwow

Back at home, Marguerite is also focusing her efforts on the health of the tribe. She is coordinating a community health assessment, and evaluating the health status and needs of the people. In addition, she says, there are always ongoing battles concerning resources such as wind and sea, cultural ceremonies involving their honored whales, and access to food.

“It’s absurd,” she says. “We once had the land, but now we have diabetes. We have to be able to reclaim our land and look at approaches to food sovereignty and better health.”

She says it’s an issue common in Indian Country, and many tribes experience the same challenges in different ways. They are seeking solutions for food, their economy and health, all while trying to preserve and honor their Native ways. And this is the reason she’s been involved with First Nations.

She says she was introduced to First Nations by Gelvin Stevenson, who knew Rebecca Adamson, First Nations’ founder. Gelvin was an Oklahoma Cherokee economist who was active in the American Indian Community House, a key urban Indian Center and intertribal gathering place in New York City since the 1970s.

“First Nations is about culturally appropriate community development,” she says. She refers to an approach that ensures people don’t have to live in poverty, and can still be true to their Native roots. “Some might say it’s holistic economy building. They’re changing the economics, but not the value systems.”

She says First Nations is also able to highlight Native innovation and articulate its value to the broader financial community. First Nations is a good translator and broker. It is able to explain the Native circumstances. For example, how can the Shinnecock live in the Hampdens, but not be able to pull cash out of their homes? How can they live in houses, but not have equity? First Nations lets funding communities understand these barriers and the circumstances of Native people, while also conveying the strengths of Native people that would give investors assurance.

For the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, progress is steady but apparent. At the same time, Marguerite is excited about the ongoing role of First Nations in advancing the food sovereignty movement, and promoting financial literacy and strong business practices. She’s equally excited about how this knowledge will improve Shinnecock Nation.

A lifelong advocate, she stands by First Nations in knowing that Indians can continue to honor the natural world. They can do business in a responsible manner. They can create industries. And they can do it in a way that benefits present and future generations.

“They say Long Island is built out. Every tree is uprooted and paved over,” she says. “But this is our paradise. They aren’t making new land, so you have to respect the land you have.”

By Amy Jakober

TCEMP’s Stwyer: Business-Bound Cultural Ambassador

Aurolyn head sho 600pxt

Aurolyn Stwyer

Aurolyn Stwyer grew up on the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs reservation in Warm Springs, Oregon. Whatever she has done over her life and career has been for the benefit of her tribe and other Native American communities. She served as a cultural ambassador when she served as Miss Warm Springs in 1977; and later she worked for her tribe, then went on to complete her undergraduate degree in accounting and finance from Marylhurst University in Oregon in 1990.

She had never intended to go further with her education, but her academic advisor suggested she consider applying to graduate school since she had earned 15 credits toward a master’s degree and had a high grade-point average. The advisor encouraged her to find funding for school, and that’s just what Stwyer did.

“That little advice energized me to get out there and look for some fellowships and scholarships,” said Stwyer. “Back then there was no Internet, so I went to the library and looked things up. There was a lot of information on scholarships, and I read magazines, whatever popped up. I made copies of what I found, took notes, researched information and I made phone calls.”

By chance, Stwyer attended a conference where Sherry Salway Black was giving a presentation on finance. Salway Black was then a top executive with the First Nations Financial Project, which would soon be renamed First Nations Development Institute. Stwyer learned about First Nations’ Tribal Commerce and Enterprise Management Program (TCEMP), a Native professional development program. (TCEMP was originally based at Yale University from 1986 to 1988, but had been moved to the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. TCEMP was generously underwritten by the Carnegie Corporation of New York from 1991 to 1994.)

“I went to a conference where Sherry Salway Black was giving a presentation on finance and she talked about TCEMP. So it materialized that I met Sherry before I even applied for the TCEMP fellowship. She (Salway Black) became my idol after that,” said Stwyer.


Aurolyn on horseback at Brasada Ranch in 2017

Aurolyn on horseback at Brasada Ranch in 2017

Stwyer appreciated First Nations’ efforts to reach out and support the TCEMP students in not only their educations, but on personal, cultural levels. “Sherry Salway Black, she took us to dinner and for us, being away from home and for me being a single parent, it was a little care package. That helped a lot.”

However, it was not only a drastic change in weather from Warm Springs, Oregon, to city life in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but an introduction into a whole new way of doing business.

“I really appreciated the esteemed alumni. They described their business value system, and we learned about the corporate culture. I had spent 12 years in finance with the tribe prior to going to school at UMN, and I had never worked off the reservation. It was an eye-opener. The ideas we discussed in class were the latest in business. It was fascinating,” said Stwyer.

The TCEMP fellows supported each other inside and outside the classroom. They held regular study times with each other where they practiced their presentations, and it’s a time Stwyer fondly remembers.

“It was our support system to lean on each other as we were doing the same tasks, and with a multitude of assignments, we’d bounce ideas off each other. We took it upon ourselves to give each other the extra help when we needed it.”

Finding and Creating Community

“There is a large Native American population in Minneapolis – that was a nice surprise. We’d go to the Native American student center at the University of Minnesota and hang out with the other Native American students. There was support there. Any conferences that we wanted to go to they’d figure out how to get us there,” said Stwyer.

Terry Mason Moore

Terry Mason Moore

Stwyer and TCEMP fellow Terry Mason Moore (Osage, UMN alumna, MBA 1992) also had to figure out how to get support for the conference costs that the university did not cover. They took the initiative upon themselves to get out and knock on a few doors, and not just any doors.

“Terry and I, we made a list of the businesses in the area and we’d solicit the Fortune 500 companies for whatever we needed to get to a conference. Nobody turned us down and that’s how I landed an internship at 3M. It was amazing, experiencing all the buzzwords that we were learning in the textbooks. It was a great experience to have. I didn’t feel like the little fish in a big sea,” said Stwyer.

Stwyer and Mason Moore were catching the attention of not only major corporations, but also the news media as well. A New York Times article published in May 1991 covered Stwyer and Mason Moore’s personal journeys and motivations for moving from their home reservations to Minneapolis to earn the MBA. It was the communal and cultural experiences from home that they brought into the classroom.

Class Project Becomes a Job

Stwyer’s communal focus and approach to her course work did not always mesh well with her fellow classmates, some of who were competitive and had financial advantages.

“We were working in teams and my team was all type A – they had all the tools – the computers, they had time to keep up with all the faxes. I had to go to the bookstore and pay for all my faxes per page. I knew the team that I was on was not working for me, so I decided to create my own team. So along with two other students, we worked on a financial strategy for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Mystic Lake Casino.”

Stwyer’s decision to create her own team and focus on what was important to her – Native American communities – proved fruitful.

Mystic Lake

Mystic Lake

“Shakopee hired me as their Director of Strategic Planning and they were one of largest casinos at that time, and while I was there they went from 350 to 1,800 employees,” said Stwyer, who was in charge of the casino’s expansion. “I held weekly meetings to see where we were at it with things. It was phenomenal to see and experience that rapid development at an unbelievable pace.”

Shakopee’s Board of Directors at the time gave her the title of Special Assistant to the Board of Directors. Within half a year, Stwyer was promoted to Vice President of Strategic Planning.

While being inside the corporate culture was what Stwyer did on the job, she made sure to stay connected and grounded by dancing in powwows for her family and her son. She also went to events in the Twin Cities that had received sponsorship from Shakopee. She enjoyed being a part of the Minneapolis Native American community, staying grounded and meeting new people. Working with and establishing a relationship with one of the tribes at the forefront of tribal gaming allowed Stwyer a career entry she could not have foreseen when she left Warm Springs.

Reflections on TCEMP Impact

Stwyer worked for Shakopee for two years and went on to be a consultant for the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon, First Nations reserves in Canada, and many other tribes. Her consulting had her working in a variety of industries and projects from the hydroelectric power utilities, tribal gaming, and she co-authored the “Indianpreneurship” curriculum for ONABEN (Our Native American Business Network) of which she is on the board. She helped co-found the Potlatch Fund, and served on numerous boards. She owns the Red Skye Trading Post and Pawn Shop in Warm Springs, and is an accomplished artist of beadwork, jewelry, and other textiles. She also served on the 24th Warm Springs Tribal Council as Vice Chairman from 2007 to 2010.

All that Stwyer has created and mastered have contributed to her returning home to work for her tribe, just as she had hoped when she completed the TCEMP fellowship.

“Working off the reservation prepared me to go home to do the work to develop our businesses and to do the work I’m doing today with the myriad businesses here at Warm Springs. The TCEMP experience made me ready to take on the challenges here on my own reservation with a level of confidence, to articulate and communicate ideas for Warm Springs.”

Stwyer currently serves as the Business Development and Marketing Manager with Warm Springs Ventures and is working in the developing field of drones. Warm Springs has the only tribally owned, national test site for drones or “unmanned aerial systems.” The industry is booming and Stwyer is once again navigating new territory – this time her tribe and other tribes are seeking out her advice and expertise. She contributes her success back to that fateful chance to hear Sherry Salway Black speak and the opportunity that First Nations offered her with the TCEMP fellowship.

“I love my work. I’m very happy in my job today. I’ve been in positions where there are threats to management, possible threats to jobs whether it’s politics, females in the workplace, or industry changes, etc. I had to make decisions to get to the next step or plateau. Then my tribe recruited me home – when they saw what I could do.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Southwest Tour Provides a Deep, Personal Experience

The tour group at Nambé Lake

The tour group at Nambé Lake

First Nations Development Institute’s (First Nations) recent multi-day Southwest Tour gave some of the organization’s supporters the chance to personally witness the tremendous impact their investments are having on Native American communities, as told through the eyes of First Nations’ community partners. The tour participants saw first-hand the remarkable work Native community partners are doing at the grassroots level.

The Southwest TourExperience the Rich Cultures and Traditions of the Pueblo Peoples of New Mexico – was held June 11-16, 2017. It was 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.

Red Turtle Dancers drummer

Red Turtle Dancers drummer David Trujillo

The Inn of the Governors on the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe provided a comfortable place to rest and relax at the end of each day. The 12 participants visited some of the 19 Pueblos and experienced their unique cultures, and were welcomed by the Red Turtle Dancers and a private tour of the Poeh Cultural Center in Pojoaque Pueblo, along with a dinner on the first day of the tour.

An early start to the next day began with a visit to the Nambé Pueblo Community Farm and Gardens, and later a hike up to Nambé Falls for a picnic lunch. The opportunity to take in the breathtaking views of northern New Mexico was just the start.

Hiking to Nambé Falls

Hiking to Nambé Falls

After lunch, the participants took a hay ride to the Pueblo of Pojoaque Bison Ranch where they saw the buffalo herd and learned about the Tewa Farms Crop Expansion Project. The day capped off with a delicious farm-to-table dinner prepared by Tewa Farms.

First Nations Board Chairman Benny Shendo, Jr. (Jemez Pueblo), who is a New Mexico state senator, visited with the participants at the Sandia Pueblo Feast Day on Tuesday, along with Tom Vigil (Jicarilla Apache/Jemez Pueblo), who is First Nations Chairman Emeritus, and Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), First Nations President and CEO.

“We are very fortunate to be able to support the exciting and innovative work taking place in tribal communities,” said Roberts. “The tour gave us the opportunity to have our donors see for themselves the impact their support is having in the development and sustainability of programs and projects created by our community partners on their own terms. Also, to meet the people directly in their tribal communities gave us all a chance to connect with each other on a personal level.”

Pojoaque Bison

Pojoaque Bison

While at Sandia Pueblo, everyone got to experience the heat of the summer along with the traditional dances and the Pueblo feast-day foods of green and red chile stews, tamales, and feast-day cookies and pies. A visit to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque allowed for a break from the heat, with a tour of the IPCC museum exhibits. Some also enjoyed an afternoon bite at the Pueblo Harvest Cafe.

Pueblo de Cochiti Visitor Center

Pueblo de Cochiti Visitor Center

On Wednesday, participants visited the Pueblo de Cochiti and its new visitor center, the Cochiti Youth Experience, Farm Mentorship Program, and they toured the Community Farm. A hike up the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument gave everyone a chance to experience the Southwest cultural landscape before a lunch at the home of renowned Cochiti Pueblo potter Maria Romero, who is known for her storyteller pottery. A surprise drum-making demonstration by Dave Gordon “White Eagle” of Cochiti furthered the cultural experience before participants visited the Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC). The center’s staff and parents talked about how the young ones of the village are learning Keres, the traditional language, at KCLC and the positive impact it is having their families and community.

The exciting day wrapped up with presentations by 23 youth attending the Santa Fe Indian School’s Leadership Institute Summer Policy Academy. The event was held at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (MIAC) on Museum Hill in Santa Fe, and dinner after the presentations allowed everyone time talk and connect one to one.

At Nambé vineyard, with George Toya at far left

At Nambé vineyard, with George Toya at far left

On the final day of the tour, a visit to the Healing Foods Oasis and lunch with Tewa Women United in Española gave everyone one last visit to northern New Mexico before returning to Santa Fe. A private tour of the Institute of American Indian Arts’ Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) allowed participants to see and experience the vast collection of Indigenous art and hear from area artists about their work. The tour concluded with a farewell dinner at a Santa Fe culinary favorite, the Blue Corn Café.

Eileen Shendo (Jemez/Cochiti Pueblos) escorted everyone on the tour, and her connections to the places and communities was invaluable. Also, George Toya (Jemez Pueblo), a noted artist and longtime supporter of First Nations, provided on-the-ground support with everything from coolers to chairs, and making sure everyone had a great experience at Nambé.

First Nations Development Associate Jona Charette (Northern Cheyenne/Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) served as the tour organizer, and Eileen Egan (Hopi), First Nations Associate Director of Development and Senior Program Officer, was also on the tour.

Tour Testimonials

Any surprises you could not have foreseen without having gone on the tour and experienced it in person?

“There is no substitute for being on the ground. It is easy to limit one’s expectations and to be cynical about results and impact. My “surprise” is that the quality of the people and programs is so high, the realized and potential impact so great, and the integration of program staff and beneficiaries into a strong team all seeking to achieve the best results possible.” – Frances Reid, England

What part of the tour left the most lasting memory?

“What struck me the most was the sense of empowerment by the people with whom we met and their determination to take ownership over their lives and the lives of their children. Every community should be blessed with people with such vision and determination. Also, the desire to preserve past traditions while moving forward to a better future was really inspiring to me. It’s not easy to accomplish this dual goal, but the groups we met with seem to be doing it.” – Mark Habeeb, Virginia

How did the tour expand your awareness of First Nations Development Institute’s work and the communities it serves?

“It is clear that First Nations is considered a vital partner by communities in achieving critical social and economic objectives. The organization does a great job – listening, partnering and supporting local projects with financial and technical assistance, which is worth its weight in gold. The staff is first-rate.” – Wendy Mills, Virginia

Ways You Can Support First Nations Development Institute

See the Ways to Give page on the First Nations website, or you can contact Jona Charette, First Nations Development Associate, at or by calling us at (303) 774-7836. Also, read additional testimonials about our work.

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Meskwaki’s Pinnacle Bank a Key Part of New Network

NFLN logo

What do Iowa, baseball and banking have in common?

The classic sports film Field of Dreams tells the fictional story of an Iowa farmer who is divinely inspired to build a baseball diamond in a cornfield. In 2009 the Meskwaki Nation purchased Pinnacle Bank, a nearly 100-year-old community bank with a proud history of serving local farmers and families. The tribe’s move was a play right out of Field of Dreams – with the Hawkeye State as the setting for both stories.

Nestled in the central plains of Iowa, the Meskwaki Nation is home to the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, a vibrant Native community of more than 1,400 enrolled members. “The Meskwaki Nation has made huge strides in economic development over the past two decades,” explained Pinnacle Bank Trust Administrator Jody Fank. “The bank acquisition is a testament to that progress, with much of the motivation for choosing a banking venture to promote financial literacy for tribal citizens. It’s amazing what a powerful vehicle a financial institution can be when driven toward community and cultural objectives.”

Financial literacy workshop participants at the Meskwaki Settlement School in July 2011

Financial literacy workshop participants at the Meskwaki Settlement School in July 2011

Headquartered a few miles west of the Meskwaki Settlement, in Marshalltown, Iowa, Pinnacle Bank offers a diverse line up of banking solutions in addition to active trust management, investments, financial empowerment training and other services designed to meet the unique financial needs of Native American tribes across the country. In less than a decade it has become a respected player in the Native banking big leagues with a growing list of tribal clients who appreciate an appealing blend of professional expertise, dedicated personal service, and honest Midwestern values. Moreover, the bank has a solid record of partnering with First Nations Development Institute (First Nations). Working alongside a community financial literacy committee, the two organizations helped host one of the first $pending Frenzy reality fairs at the Meskwaki Settlement School five years ago. In 2011 First Nations assisted Pinnacle with a summer financial skills workshop for youth. Since then, enough Pinnacle and Meskwaki tribal staff have become certified trainers in the Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families curriculum to make a pennant run. And they keep their skills sharp with a steady schedule of financial education workshops and classes.

Recently, Pinnacle Bank became one of six Native-led organizations to sign on with the newly-formed Native Financial Learning Network (NFLN), a capacity-building and peer-learning project co-managed by First Nations Development Institute and First Nations Oweesta Corporation (Oweesta) with funding from Northwest Area Foundation. In May, the collaborative officially kicked off with a two-day planning meeting hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

“Pinnacle Bank is a progressive and focused financial institution and we’re thrilled to assist it and the Meskwaki Nation with a longstanding financial empowerment mission,” commented Sarah Dewees, First Nations Senior Director of Research, Policy, and Asset-Building Programs. “The Native Financial Learning Network will be a fantastic framework for Pinnacle to share and learn with our other partners while developing innovative strategies to foster and scale up financial empowerment.”

Pinnacle Bank staff, Meskwaki Financial Literacy Committee members, and partners pose with the 2012 Financial Literacy Program of the Year Award from the Native American Finance Officers Association in April 2012

Pinnacle Bank staff, Meskwaki Financial Literacy Committee members, and partners pose with the 2012 Financial Literacy Program of the Year Award from the Native American Finance Officers Association in April 2012

As part of the two-year NFLN project, Pinnacle Bank takes its financial empowerment efforts to the next level. Its plan consists of a community assessment to identify future financial education programs, services and resources, along with a messaging campaign to promote healthy financial lifestyles among tribal youth. The campaign will feature posters, rich media content, and a team of Meskwaki youth ambassadors serving as financial empowerment role models and coaches.

“I’m really excited to be a part of this undertaking,” explained 21-year-old Morgan Bear, a Meskwaki citizen and future youth ambassador. “It could bring a lot of change to our community in terms of better preparing young people for financial independence and responsibilities that come with living on your own.”

It’s summer time and baseball season is on! Keep your eye on Pinnacle Bank and our starting line-up of NFLN partners: Bii Gii Wiin Community Development Loan Fund, People’s Partner for Community Development, NimiiPuu Community Development Fund and I-Vision, Northern Eagle Federal Credit Union and Bois Forte Housing Department, and Leech Lake Financial Services.

For more information on how your program can join a winning team of financial empowerment heavy hitters, contact Sarah Dewees at or (540) 371-5615.

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant

Tribe or Nonprofit? We Have Resources for You

Grantseeker Resources

One of First Nations Development Institute’s focus areas is strengthening tribal and community institutions. As such, we provide direct grants, training and technical assistance to our grantees under various programs, plus we offer numerous other free resources on our website to help any tribe or Native nonprofit organization.

Recently our experts pre-recorded a webinar called Government Grantwriting from A to Z. It was made possible through generous support from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians as part of its ongoing commitment to capacity building for Native nonprofits and tribal government programs, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Catalyzing Community Giving initiative. The webinar is part of the First Nations Knowledge webinar series. It features presentations by First Nations Development Officer Alice Botkin and consultant Marian Quinlan, CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive).

Logo JPG largeThe webinar recording, a copy of the PowerPoint (PDF), and the handouts (PDF) can be accessed at this link: The handouts include links to online resources, relevant email lists, logic model resources, a sample logic model, data resources, a sample budget form and other items.

The webinar is set up in four sections. For ease in navigating through the recording, here are the times when the various sections begin and end:

  • Introduction and Account Setup: Webinar Beginning to 11:15
  • Finding and Applying for Federal Grants: 11:15 to 21:10
  • Application Forms and Documents: 21:10 to 55:00
  • After the Application: 55:00 to Webinar End


You can also find other valuable webinars on the page (click on the “Previous Webinars” link for any given year) as well as other important free resources in the First Nations Knowledge Center at

Other Helpful Materials

We also have specific, written “grantseeker” resources that are freely available on our website. They are here: and they include information that is specific to applying for grants from First Nations, plus additional information that is relevant to seeking grants from any foundation or organization.

Partnership Positively Impacts 6,000+ in Native Communities

Seeds of NH Imp Report 2015-2016 (LoRes))

First Nations Development Institute recently published a new report – Growing Food Sovereignty in Native Communities: Impact Report 2015-2016 – that illustrates the significantly positive impact its work has had on Native American communities under First Nations’ participation in the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s (SMSC) Seeds of Native Health campaign.

First Nations was the largest of the SMSC’s inaugural partners in its groundbreaking Seeds of Native Health campaign, which was launched in 2015. Because of First Nations’ “longstanding expertise in efforts to eliminate food insecurity, build the health of communities, and support entrepreneurship and economic development,” it received $1.4 million from the SMSC for re-granting to and management of projects relating to food access, food sovereignty, and capacity building. During 2015 and 2016, First Nations managed 30 separate grants under the program, supporting tribes and Native organizations in numerous states across the U.S.

SMSC_Logo_1“Most of Indian Country is in a dietary health crisis. Supporting local efforts to build community gardens and provide access to fresh foods for vulnerable populations is critical to improving Native peoples’ well-being,” said SMSC Chairman Charles R. Vig. “First Nations’ incredible expertise in this area has made them an ideal partner to help tribes and communities address this crisis.”

Growing Food Sovereignty in Native Communities finds that the grants from First Nations led to the community partners/grantees generating 63,613 pounds of harvested vegetables, 56,385 pounds of harvested wild rice, 1,572 pounds of harvested fruit, and 102 pounds of grown medicine, in addition to the more than 250,000 fish that were harvested. Fully 89 percent of these foods and medicines were donated to community members for subsistence purposes. The estimated food revenue that was saved and/or earned was $1.75 million, with the local communities leveraging an additional $1.56 million to support their community projects. These efforts served a total of 6,319 people, including 1,386 elders and 2,555 Native youth.

Efforts included community gardens and smoke houses, farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs, classes, workshops and other activities. In addition, 129 new jobs and 859 food-related businesses were created or supported, nine new tribal food policies were developed, and two new traditional foods curricula were prepared. First Nations also provided technical assistance and training to grantees to assist with the long-term sustainability of programs, including topics such as strategic planning, business planning, financial recordkeeping, project management, and various specialized technical trainings. The report also highlights lessons learned from community partners that can further food sovereignty and nutrition for Native communities and other partners, including funders. The complete numbers can be found in the report.

Print“There is a vibrant and active food sovereignty movement taking place in Native communities, and the Seeds of Native Health campaign has been a tremendous asset in furthering the work of this dynamic, Native-led movement,” noted Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Vice President of Grantmaking, Development and Communications. “The Growing Food Sovereignty in Native Communities report documents Native innovation when it comes to community-led solutions to improving local food systems and Native nutrition. First Nations is honored to be a partner of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the Seeds of Native Health campaign that will have a lasting impact in growing strong and healthy Native communities.”

Growing Food Sovereignty in Native Communities is available as a free download from the Knowledge Center on First Nations’ website at (Note: The Knowledge Center requires a free online account in order to download the report and access numerous other free resources.)

The full list of grant recipients can be seen in the report or at

Hopi Artist Wins National Veterans Art Contest

“Homage to Hopi Code Talkers"

“Homage to Hopi Code Talkers”

Filmer Kewanyama is a humble person who enjoys drawing and painting about his life as a Hopi. Kewanyama, who lives in Prescott, Arizona, also spends his time hiking with his good friend James Heuerman.

Filmer Kewanyama with his winning artwork

Filmer Kewanyama with his winning artwork

Heuerman, a generous supporter of First Nations Development Institute, contacted First Nations President Michael Roberts about Kewanyama’s entry into a national art competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Kewanyama was selected out of 1,600 entries as the national winner for his painting titled “Homage to Hopi Code Talkers” that tells the story of the Hopi’s involvement in the U.S. military during the first two world wars. Kewanyama, a U.S. Army veteran of 21 years, will be traveling to the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in Buffalo, New York, in October 2017 to receive his award.

Two news stories offer different and unique perspectives on Kewanyama’s life and work. One story in the Hopi Tutuveni newspaper offers cultural insight into his family and life in Hopi. A profile of Kewanyama and his military career is featured in Vantage Point, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (Click on the links to read the stories.)

Filmer Kewanyama

Filmer Kewanyama

Heuerman says Kewanyama’s tribute to the Hopi Code talkers is important in raising awareness of the fact that there are high numbers of Native Americans who have served and are serving in the U.S. military.

The National Native American Veterans Memorial website page  – “Our Heroes Native American Soldiers in Our Midst” – cites that currently there are more than 31,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives who are active military, and that Native Americans have historically served in higher numbers than other groups, prior to 9/11. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Indian was given the task by the U.S. Congress to create the memorial in Washington, D.C., by 2020.

First Nations hopes you enjoy reading more about the fine artistic work of Filmer Kewanyama, and learning more about the service of Native Americans in the military. Again, a big thanks to our friend and supporter James Heuerman for bringing us this story.

Boys With Braids & REDCO Make a Healthy Foods Connection

Boys with Braids Rosebud members (left to right) DJ, Cayden, Mason and Yamni, with Mike Prate, go over list of ingredients for smoothies.

Boys with Braids Rosebud members (left to right) DJ, Cayden, Mason and Yamni, with Mike Prate, go over list of ingredients for smoothies

One of First Nations Development Institute’s grantees under its recent “Nutrition Education for Native American Communities” grant program is the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), a tribally-chartered corporation of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. REDCO’s Community Food Sovereignty Initiative received the funding from First Nations as part of First Nations’ Nourishing Native Foods and Health program area. The nutrition education program was generously supported by the Walmart Foundation.

“Partnerships are essential to creating a stable and deep learning environment, especially when youth are involved,” says Wizipan Little Elk, REDCO Chief Executive Officer. “First Nations’ investments and technical support have helped us further develop our partnerships and move the Community Food Sovereignty Initiative forward.”

The “Feeding the People: Strengthening Family and Community Health through Shared Meals and Nutrition Education” project brings together REDCO’s Community Food Sovereignty Initiative and a group known as Boys with Braids Rosebud to address “the effect of food on individual and community health” that is often absent from discussions around food sovereignty.

Boys with Braids Rosebud members Clayson (left) and Darin (middle) – with the rutabaga – listen as JR White Hat, one of the Boys with Braids Rosebud mentors, explains how to weigh vegetables and determine the price by weight at the Turtle Creek Crossing Super Foods

Boys with Braids Rosebud members Clayson (left) and Darin (middle) – with the rutabaga – listen as JR White Hat, one of the Boys with Braids Rosebud mentors, explains how to weigh vegetables and determine the price by weight at the Turtle Creek Crossing Super Foods

Boys with Braids Rosebud brings together families from the Rosebud community who are dedicated “to teach the sacredness of hair, foster a sense of pride using education as a way of interrupting teasing,” according to its Facebook page.

Boys with Braids Rosebud approached REDCO about partnering on a project, and both groups realized they could do more than talk about the state of healthy eating in their community. They could put their energies toward “integrating nutritional food into both their programming and their homes.”

Empower Healthier Choices

The activities created as part of the project’s goals were to “expose the families to new and healthy foods, to empower the families to make healthier food choices at the grocery store, and to be food advocates.”

David Espinoza is a Rosebud Sioux tribal member and one of the Boys with Braids Rosebud volunteer mentors. He along with JR White Hat, also a tribal member, support Lakota males in becoming grounded in cultural knowledge of their language and identity to counter the bullying and teasing they may experience due to having long hair.

“The group – it’s an entry point to engage the youth through different activities – meets once a week. We were super excited to partner with REDCO and Mike on the food activities. Food is intertwined with community. A lot of the kids are low income, they live with grandma or single parents, so healthy eating is not a reality for the boys,” said Espinoza.

Mike Prate is the Food Sovereignty Coordinator for REDCO. He sees partnering with Boys with Braids Rosebud as a way to expand the discussion and practice of healthy eating in a community that is working to reconnect with cultural traditions around food and creating new habits around food.

“I see Boys with Braids developing healthy and holistic young men. They are supporting them in their masculinity and to be culturally grounded. As far as food sovereignty initiatives, healthy foods are often overlooked in most things. Half the time the youth are eating unhealthy foods. So there’s a disconnect between what we say and what we do,” said Prate.

Going Grocery Shopping

The partnership between REDCO and Boys with Braids is working to make healthy connections with food the new normal. But changing the eating habits of the youth took more than discussions about food choices. It took having the boys do the grocery shopping for meals they would cook and prepare for their families.

Yamni checks out the food label for the yogurt ingredients for the smoothies that he, Darin and the other Boys with Braids Rosebud members will make

Yamni checks out the food label for the yogurt ingredients for the smoothies that he, Darin and the other Boys with Braids Rosebud members will make

Prate reached out to the Turtle Creek Crossing Super Foods, one of REDCO’s enterprises. Turtle Creek has an ongoing focus of “Food is Good Medicine” with informational signs indicating healthier food items and recipes to promote healthy eating. In January 2017, Espinoza, Prate and White Hat, along with some grandpas, uncles, dads and one mom, went to Turtle Creek to help the boys shop and be role models. For most of the boys it was their first time at a grocery store.

“Most boys don’t get the opportunity to shop, some never get to do their own shopping and they don’t see dad in the store shopping for healthy meals,” said Espinoza.

Each of the boys had a budget of $25 to spend toward their healthy meal shopping. They had to make sure to read the labels and the cost of each item. It was a teachable activity as the boys learned that produce costs per pound. They learned to weigh the produce and to use their math skills to keep track of how much they were spending.

The boys had two choices: make either chicken fajitas or baked chicken. They learned to make the choice of brown rice over white rice or potatoes, and how to incorporate vegetables into the meal. One unexpected hit of the shopping trip was when the boys learned what a rutabaga is. They wanted to try it and include it in their meals.

“When we went shopping in the store, it was really fun and I enjoyed shopping with the boys. I also enjoyed going home, cooking and eating with my family,” said Yamni, a Boys with Braids participant and Rosebud Sioux tribal member.

Cooking in Action

After the shopping activity, each of the boys went home and cooked the meal for their families, some took pictures and made videos of themselves cooking in action, which can be found on the Boys with Braids Facebook page. Kayden, another Boys with Braids participants and Rosebud Sioux tribal member, particularly enjoyed the creative side of the cooking process.

Darin and DJ, Boys with Braids Rosebud members, have fun making smoothie samples for Turtle Creek Crossing Super Foods shoppers

Darin and DJ, Boys with Braids Rosebud members, have fun making smoothie samples for Turtle Creek Crossing Super Foods shoppers

“My favorite experience was when we made the chicken. When we put the sauce on the chicken before we cooked it, and I got some sauce on my fingers,” said Kayden.

More shopping expeditions were held at Turtle Creek, with one recent excursion where the boys shopped for fruit, vegetables, yogurt and other ingredients for smoothies. The boys made different smoothies and handed out free samples to Turtle Creek shoppers.

The mentors explained to the boys why they want them to focus on healthy food and the growing of food. They want the boys to see the traditional connection of how it is the young men’s responsibility to bring home and provide food for the family. The cultural connection of providing food also supports the young men in their development into manhood and prepares them to be leaders.

Some of the other activities have included preparing a meal to feed the community, which Boys with Braids Rosebud did during the last St. Francis Indian School high school basketball game. The boys prepared chili and passed out the food to the elders first, and then the rest of the community during halftime. The goal of having the boys “see the value in providing and serving the community” has been successful.

Rights of Passage

Boys with Braids Rosebud members cut up buffalo meat from their first buffalo harvest

Boys with Braids Rosebud members cut up buffalo meat from their first buffalo harvest

“Another community feed is planned for May 24 with REDCO, Boys with Braids Rosebud, and Tiwahe Glu Kinipi, the local horse therapy group, all partnering to put on a community social dance event. The boys are going to cook using buffalo from the harvest they participated in earlier this year,” said Prate.

Another key activity – which was done in addition to the Community Food Sovereignty Initiative activities – was the harvesting of a buffalo and the rights of passage for one of the older boys.

“The rights of passage and the taking of the buffalo, the continuation and the relationships to the buffalo, and praying. We did it in an honorable and respectful way. We wanted the boys to know the history and the cultural processes today,” said Espinoza.

The boys learned to skin and gut the buffalo and process the meat. The mentors talked about the traditions of sharing food among the generations and the community.

After a busy winter and spring, the Boys with Braids Rosebud youth, Espinoza, Prate and White Hat are busy gearing up to produce a short video and a poster on the importance of healthy food and the cultural connection of traditional foods to the community. What the group has experienced and learned over the eight-month project was shared at a community roundtable event this spring. Prate says they are grateful to First Nations for the support in making this project happen.

Engaging Families

DJ, Boys with Braids Rosebud member, catches the ground buffalo meat, while Cedar, another member waits his turn

DJ, Boys with Braids Rosebud member, catches the ground buffalo meat, while Cedar, another member, waits his turn

“I’m excited for this work, to see it go forward. To see a parent group take the initiative of what their sons want to grow and know, to hear parents talk about what they eat, where the food is from – it influences and affects the boys. Then they bring it home – where it impacts and engages the families.”

The work of REDCO and its partnership with Boys with Braids Rosebud will continue into the upcoming seasons. Just as the seasons are about growth and harvesting, so it is with the partnerships being built said Prate.

“We have recently received an additional grant from First Nations to partner with Boys with Braids Rosebud this summer. This will go toward growing gardens in each of the boy’s homes, taking them on traditional foods harvests, and completing a second buffalo harvest. This will be a way to continue the conversations held this winter into the summer in a tangible and concrete way.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

First Nations Board Profile: Susan Jenkins

First Nations Board Member Susan Jenkins

First Nations Board Member Susan Jenkins

When it comes to serving communities and driving change, First Nations Board Member Susan Jenkins is inspired by a quote she learned from her tribe, the Choctaw Tribe of Oklahoma: “You must listen to understand rather than listen to respond.”

It’s a mantra that’s guided her throughout her life, career and leadership with First Nations Development Institute. “You have to listen to what people need, and be sensitive about their experiences in order to implement solutions,” she says.

Today as a member of the Choctaw Nation and an advocate for the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, she continues to listen, always drawing from the insights she hears to enhance the quality of life of others.

Experience in Education

Susan grew up with her twin brother in rural Oklahoma at a time when being Native was not something to be “proud of.” She says that while she knew her family was Native American, she didn’t fully get to know her culture until she was an adult, when lessons of racism had become more apparent.

In her teens, Susan’s family moved to Ohio, and without enough money for both twins to go to college, Susan pursued nursing school after graduation. She worked briefly as a nurse, but soon realized it wasn’t the job for her. “It was a time when nurses had to stand up and give the doctors their chair,” she remembers.

She left nursing to pursue a bachelor’s degree in health education at Ohio State University, and then a master’s at the University of Kentucky and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Georgia. At Georgia, she began working with the university’s extension service, and was deployed to Athens to set up wellness programs for underserved communities.

Susan (right) with Valorie Johnson (left) at a October 2016 tribute dinner for Val after she retired from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Susan (right) with Valorie Johnson (left) at an October 2016 tribute dinner for Val after she retired from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Through the University of Georgia, she also did outreach work in Western Africa, engaging communities in Burkina Faso and Mali in setting up a health system. “We were there to help them, but they helped us a lot more,” she says.

Indeed, through her experience in Africa, and then later as a program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, she realized the importance of listening to others. “All those experiences culminated in making me much more sensitive,” she says. “You have to go through some of that. You have to look for opportunities that are quite uncomfortable so you can learn.”

She learned through every visit. She was able to see firsthand how differences divide people and how racism has manifested in America, internationally and, ultimately, in her own Native culture.

Understanding at Every Opportunity

To Susan, racism is a direct result of not taking the time to learn from other people and accept each other as they are. Because of this, there is a tendency to assert one’s beliefs on others, thinking they know the “right way” to do things. Susan experienced this herself on one of her trips to Western Africa. As rural health specialists, they were there to set up medical institutions as they would in the United States. But they quickly learned that their way of doing things wasn’t the way of the African people.

“In Burkina Faso, it is customary to hire health or medical professionals, train them, and send them out into the villages to help people,” Susan explains. “But in the U.S., we will put up medical buildings, create pharmacies, and expect people to come to us.”

Understanding these differences, she says, changes how you provide services to people, and how you support them in their development. As a direct result, Susan made taking time, asking questions, and visiting with all stakeholders in a community key to her career.

Getting on the Agenda

After her time at the University of Georgia and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Susan went on to work as a senior program officer for the Hitachi Foundation in Washington, D.C. From there, she was recruited to come to North Carolina to set up the Cherokee Preservation Foundation.

Susan at the Cherokee Preservation Foundation office

Susan at the Cherokee Preservation Foundation office

Starting out, there was no structure and no staff. While the tribe was recognized as a tribal nation, it lacked the education and resources and even the general knowledge of what a foundation is. It was Susan’s job to establish operations, and the first thing she did, as always, was start listening.

She says while the tribe was fragmented, there were community clubs, which met once a month to discuss challenges and opportunities. “I made sure I was put on their agenda,” she says. “I wanted to hear what the people wanted, as well as what the chief wanted. Unless you do that, it is really hard to hear what the community truly was looking for.”

As executive director, she began her focus in three areas: cultural preservation, economic preservation, and workforce development. By listening to the tribal members, she was able to develop solutions specific to the Cherokee community. And by calling on her experience in Georgia and at the W.K. Kellogg and Hitachi Foundations, she had a good idea of what would work and what wouldn’t, and how to direct dollars.

During her 12 years at the foundation, Susan helped establish programs in each focus area. These included leadership and cultural tourism initiatives and the Revitalization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources, which works to teach, protect and promote Cherokee art, resources and land care. She helped form the Certified Financial Development Institute, known as the Sequoyah Fund. She also led a downtown revitalization program that resulted in a 25% business improvement for tribal retailers.

Perspective that Empowers

Susan’s appreciation of other cultures, global view of the effects of racism, and hands-on experience helping people thrive has drawn her to the work of First Nations Development Institute. She says it’s an organization that has always been on the cutting edge of community development. It is able to see the potential of projects and initiatives, and help them build the infrastructure to get on the radar of other funders. In addition, First Nations is able to recognize the grassroots efforts that result in large-scale, long-term change.

“First Nations brings a sensitivity to the work that I don’t think anybody else can,” she says. “They know Natives don’t need a hand out. They need a hand up.”

Moving forward, Susan shows no signs of slowing down. Active on several boards, and vital to the work of enhancing the lives of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, she continues to lend her experience and perspective. She continues to listen, and people continue to respond.

By Amy Jakober