Bishop Paiute Expands Nutrition Education

Amaranth seeds

Amaranth seeds

For a 2016-2017 project, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) selected 21 tribes and organizations across 12 states to receive grants to support nutrition education, especially among individuals who receive food under the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Among those selected, under generous funding from the Walmart Foundation, was the Bishop Paiute Tribe of Bishop, California.

Walmart Fndtn report D(This story was originally published in the recent “Outcomes Under the Nutrition Education for Native Communities Project” report that First Nations prepared for the Walmart Foundation. The full report is available for free on the First Nations Knowledge Center at

The Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Food Sovereignty Program (FSP) has been working to expand its garden-based nutrition education projects to encourage healthy food and lifestyle choices by partnering with the Bishop Elementary School (BES), the Bishop Indian Head Start (BIHS), and the Inyo County Health and Human Services Department and its food initiative programs.

With the funding provided by First Nations and the Walmart Foundation, the Food Sovereignty program, now in its third year, worked to expand the tribe’s work and community outreach.

Families Learn Together

FoodCorps Service Member Shanae Vega works with Head Start youth participants in a hands-on cooking activity as part of the Bishop Paiute Tribe's Food Sovereignty Program nutrition education classes.

FoodCorps Service Member Shanae Vega works with Head Start youth participants in a hands-on cooking activity as part of the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Food Sovereignty Program nutrition education classes.

“We focused on increasing garden-based and nutrition education offerings for the fifth-grade classes at BES, and offered similar food related activities to BIHS students,” said Jen Schlaich, Food Program Specialist for the Food Sovereignty Program. “Additionally, in collaboration with our FoodCorps Service Member Shanae Vega, FSP staff held an eight-week nutrition education class for Head Start families with hands-on cooking activities for both parents and children.”

Each week the class featured a new fruit or vegetable in recipes that the FSP cooked in advanced to share with participants as a taste-test. Parents then went through the preparation steps for the featured recipe.

“BIHS already had a nutrition curriculum. However, in the evening classes, which involved both parents and their children, we were able to integrate foods that students were learning about during the day into their home lives,” said Schlaich.

Roasted beet salad is prepared as part of a hands-on cooking activity for Head Start parents participating the Bishop Paiute Tribe's Food Sovereignty Program nutrition education classes.

Roasted beet salad is prepared as part of a hands-on cooking activity for Head Start parents participating the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Food Sovereignty Program nutrition education classes.

While the parents were trying out the new recipes, the kids were engaged in simple cooking activities that incorporated the same fruit or vegetable that their parents were learning about. The class ended with a fun activity for the whole family such as painting clay pots and planting cooking herbs or designing a fruit basket to take home to an elder. Also, the parents who attended the class were able to take home the meal that had been prepared in class that day.

Plants Impact the Community

While the youngest students were cooking up fun at the Head Start kitchens, the middle school students were busy outside in the gardens tending their own growing plots, and learning about a plant not indigenous to their area. In the Fall of 2016, as part of a farmer-to-farmer cultural exchange supported by The Garden’s Edge, Quachuu Aloom, a Guatemalan Farmers’ Cooperative, visited the FSP gardens to teach community members about one of their important traditional foods – amaranth.

Bishop Indian Head Start youth processing amaranth at the Food Sovereignty Program's garden near the Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center.

Bishop Indian Head Start youth processing amaranth at the Food Sovereignty Program’s garden near the Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center.

Both the fifth-graders and the Head Start students visited the garden to learn about how to harvest and process amaranth, in addition to cooking with it and using it to make crafts. “We puffed the amaranth using a hot skillet and used it to make honey ‘granola’ bars that the students were able to taste. The seeds can be used in stews, ground into flour, or eaten like porridge. It is also a wonderful natural dye which the students were able to experiment with when making holiday gifts from plants to bring home to their families. The amaranth became so popular with the students that the small health food store in town ran out of amaranth. Community members requested seeds to plant along their fences as a usable barrier, and amaranth seed packets were distributed to those who were interested in it,” said Schlaich.



Other foods planted and harvested in the FSP’s family-demonstration garden included: Mohawk red corn courtesy of Rowen White from Akwesasne and founder of Sierra Seeds, tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, rainbow chard, leeks, radishes, acorn squash, herbs and flowers useful for medicinal purposes or for crafts, currants, gooseberries, beans, peas and bamboo.

Nutrition Education from the Ground Up

Shanae Vega, a Bishop Paiute tribal member, worked with FSP as the FoodCorps service member and served as the garden education mentor. Vega would provide support with the nutrition education lessons during the day with the Head Start students, and later in the evenings was involved in the eight-week cooking series for the Head Start families.

Bananas rolled in amaranth

Bananas rolled in amaranth

Schlaich says Vega was excited to be involved and connecting with community members around garden-based and nutrition education, especially with the kids. At every cooking class Vega was surrounded by kids, who were wondering what she was going to help them cook or what they might get to taste-test next. Vega was also excited to work with all of the fifth-grade classes in Bishop that included students from the reservation and from the City of Bishop. She also worked with all children at BIHS and their families from the reservation.

All of the project’s efforts, including the partnership with FoodCorps, provided over 127 BES students with 10 hours of nutrition education, and nearly 85 BIHS students with six plus hours of garden-based education. Schlaich and Vega worked to get the information out to the community through a variety of ways, via the tribal newspaper, KBPT Bishop Paiute tribal radio station, and through their partnerships with BES, BIHS, and the Inyo County Health and Human Services Department.

Schlaich says the partnerships, and the funding support from First Nations were key to their success. “We never would have had the resources for the eight-week nutrition education cooking classes without the support from First Nations. It was definitely a huge support that made the garden-based and nutrition education components of the Food Sovereignty Program much stronger. We’re excited and motivated to continue with cooking demonstrations during the third year of our community market.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

22 Native Youth Programs Get a Boost

NYCF 2017

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently announced the selection of 22 American Indian organizations and tribes to receive grants through its Native Youth and Culture Fund (NYCF) for the 2017-18 funding cycle. The grants total $410,000.

First Nations launched the NYCF in 2002 with generous support from Kalliopeia Foundation and other foundations and tribal, corporate and individual supporters. The NYCF is designed to enhance culture and language awareness, and promote youth empowerment, leadership and community building. To date under this fund, First Nations has awarded 351 grants to Native youth programs throughout the U.S., totaling $5.96 million.

These are the 2017-2018 projects:

  1. California Indian Museum & Cultural Center, Santa Rosa California, $20,000 – The project serves Native youth in the center’s tri-county, rural service area of Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino Counties. The youth, ages 11-18, are members of or descended from five tribes in the region, with the primary affiliations being Pomo and Coast Miwok. They work with Native elders and adults to produce K-12 curriculum videos for a program that serves all Native youth in the region.
  2. Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Odanah, Wisconsin, $18,200 – “Weshki Niigaaniijig – Young Leaders” serves tribal youth, ages 13-18, in developing leadership and role-modeling skills through projects focused on traditional Anishinaabe harvesting activities. The youth will teach cultural harvesting practices to other youth in four communities, thereby encouraging development of positive cultural role models.
  3. Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe, Hollister North Carolina, $20,000 – This project focuses on reclaiming traditional coming-of-age ceremonies for boys and girls ages 13-18 by connecting youth and elders, culturally and spiritually, to their history. By engaging the elders to share their wisdom and cultural knowledge, the youth participate in workshops that teach them fundamental lessons and help document disappearing cultural traditions. These youth will then teach the next generation.
  4. Hoopa Valley Tribe, Hoopa, California, $20,000 – The xo’ji kya’ project provides an opportunity for young Native women to work closely with female cultural experts/elders/regalia-makers to make ceremonial dresses and document the process to share with the community via videos and manuals. Each young woman is expected to pass on the knowledge to other young women.
  5. Iḷisaġvik College, Barrow, Alaska, $20,000 – During the summer, the college implemented three cultural camps for Alaska Native youth ages 13-25 on Iñupiaq Land Use, Values, and Resources; Iñupiaq Arts and Culture; and an Iñupiaq Immersion camp. The camps are focused on traditional hunting/camping/gathering skills; Iñupiaq language, grammar and linguistic development; and exploring art, history, culture and expression through an Iñupiat worldview.
  6. Lakota Cultural Center, Eagle Butte, South Dakota, $20,000 – This project passes on cultural arts and knowledge from the elder generation to the next on the Cheyenne River Reservation. A series of cultural arts courses will be held in order to begin building the next generation of culture bearers within the Lakota community.
  7. Lakota Language Consortium, Bloomington, Indiana, $3,300 – This project identifies young members of the Lakota Nation and trains them simultaneously as language learners and teachers. The Lakota Summer Institute is a four-week boot camp at Sitting Bull College, where youth learn Lakota language, phonology and teaching methods and, empowered with these skills, return to their communities where they will host and teach their own language workshops.
  8. Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Cass Lake, Minnesota, $20,000 – Our “Heritage, Culture and Traditions – Uniting Youth and Elders” pilot project will bring youth ages 14 to 24 and tribal elders together to plan, implement and evaluate a cultural (aanji-bimaadizi – change life) learning center program for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. This initiative will establish the foundation, tools and community investment required to develop a sustainable program and permanent site for future generations.
  9. Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Harbor Springs, Michigan, $18,300 – Because of a history of assimilation through education, youth are struggling emotionally and spiritually without purpose or place. Regenerating rites-of-passage ceremonies to connect youth to themselves and their purpose is critical. Because many families are disconnected from traditions, there is unfamiliarity with and lack of access to ceremony. This project addresses this, and will increase the number of youth ages 10-19 who demonstrate positive identity development and increased cultural knowledge.
  10. Medicine Lodge Confederacy, Garrison, North Dakota, $20,000 – The Arikara Tribe has historically had young men societies where they were mentored by older men. The confederacy is striving to revive these ways of teaching. The Star Boy Camp will recruit young men ages 12 to 15 and teach them the skills of leadership, communication, confidence and self-discipline. Those who excel will become peer counselors during the next year.
  11. Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, Eagle Butte, South Dakota, $20,000 – Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains has 24 members on reservations throughout the Northern Plains. There are 10 shelters for women and their children. The Empowering Children in Shelter project will focus on three of the shelters of the Santee Sioux Tribe, Oglala Nation and Rosebud Sioux Tribe. The project will enhance the environment for these children with cultural activities and ceremonies during their healing from trauma.
  12. Navajo Studies Conference, Inc., Albuquerque, New Mexico, $20,000 – The organization will work with youth and elders during the school year. The teams will form Diné Alliances and will be responsible for development of a cultural project that responds to a social issue. These partnerships will have a lasting impact for the next generation and will be recorded. The Diné Alliances will post their cultural projects online.
  13. Ogallala Commons, Inc., Nazareth, Texas, $14,000 – Since 2013, First Nations has funded 13 Native internships through the Ogallala Commons Community Internship Program. This grant will fund additional internships, one each on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, and one in North Dakota, as well as intern travel to attend the orientation retreat in Texas and the convening of two youth-engagement days for high school students at Sinte Gleska University and Oglala Lakota College.
  14. Osage Nation, Pawhuska Oklahoma, $19,800 – Trunks of culturally and spiritually significant items will be transported countywide by the Osage Nation Cultural Center staff (accompanied by tribal elders and youth to assist as curriculum guides and with interactive presentations) to schools and youth events. This will increase youth access to hands-on, multi-generational interactions that serve to preserve, strengthen and renew Osage traditions and beliefs.
  15. Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Nixon, Nevada, $20,000 – The Summer Cultural Day Camp and activities planned throughout the year will teach children their Northern Paiute culture and heritage through language immersion, traditional dances, oral history and the making of traditional Paiute beadwork. Elders and community members will share their knowledge in both hands-on and classroom settings.
  16. Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, Tama, Iowa, $16,600 – The grant will serve the cultural needs of youth through the creation of Iowa hand drums, one large drum, two-piece dresses, the learning of traditional Meskwaki songs and the learning of traditional Meskwaki dances. The grant will serve youth ages 10-18.
  17. Santa Fe Indian School, Santa Fe, New Mexico, $20,000 – The Leadership Institute will implement the 2017 Pueblo Convocation. The first Pueblo Convocation was held in 2012 and brought together more than 600 Pueblo people to learn about Pueblo priority areas. This project will add a youth track, where youth will be involved in organizing, planning, research and presentations.
  18. Suquamish Indian Tribe of the Port Madison Reservation, Suquamish, Washington, $19,800 – The Suquamish Tribe, in collaboration with tribal employees, community members and elders, will provide two one-week trainings to introduce tribal youth to traditions and practices regarding local subsistence foods. This programs will focus on how science and sovereignty support traditional tribal values as well as provide an opportunity for tribal youth to explore career paths within the tribe and develop their mentoring skills.
  19. TC Roughriders 4-H Club, Walthill, Nebraska, $20,000 – Children and young adults will learn to identify traditional foods and ceremonial plants that are important to the Omaha Nation. Tribal elders and other experts will conduct educational activities outdoors and in the kitchen. Participants will learn Omaha language words for the plants and food products. The youth will meet the elders and learn their stories of using these foods and of growing up Omaha. These activities will provide alternatives to unhealthful choices for at-risk children.
  20. White Mountain Apache Tribe – Water Resources, Ndee Bikiyaa, The People’s Farm, Fort Apache, Arizona, $20,000 – The summer farm camp is a learning opportunity for local tribal students ranging from grades 5 to 8. This serves as a bridge between youth and elders by providing hands-on cultural crafts, traditional farming techniques, Apache language, wild foods gathering, food preservation, and education on food sovereignty. All major communities on the reservation will be included.
  21. Woodland Boys & Girls Club, Neopit, Wisconsin, $20,000 – The project aims to “Build Brighter Futures through Language & Culture” by incorporating the use of the language in programs, teaching traditional songs and dances, and teaching hunting, fishing and gathering. This will help youth develop mind, body and spirit as Native people who understand the balance in their lives. The teaching of language and culture also helps with youth self-esteem and identity issues, and builds resiliency to negative behaviors.
  22. World Indigenous Nations University, Hula, Hawaii, $20,000 – The OPIO Leadership Academy will provide training by elders/cultural Hawaii Pasifika (WINU HP) mentors/master practitioners to 20 aspiring Native youth in Hawaii, in the traditional practices of Hawaiian healing arts. Training will incorporate traditional protocols, practices, performance and proficiencies specific to each healing art. Youth participants will demonstrate their understanding, knowledge and application of these principles and practices in family, school and community settings through a community-wide Hoike or public performance.

Agenda Finalized for Food Sovereignty Summit, Oct. 2-5, 2017

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The Food Sovereignty Summit is THE national forum for sharing and collaboration to build healthy food systems within our communities, and it’s scheduled for October 2-5, 2017, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. As always, it is co-hosted by First Nations Development Institute and the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.

The agenda has been finalized. You can see it and register at this link:

This 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. Optional experiential learning sessions are scheduled, and the main Summit offers three training tracks:

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

The planned Experiential Learning Sessions are:

  • Tsyunhehkwa Organic Farm – Managed Grazing
  • Aquaponics
  • Environmental Restoration – “Trout Creek Headwater Tributary”
  • Apple Production, Processing and Outreach
  • Husking Bee
  • Oneida Market and One-Stop Tour
  • Oneida Farm and Buffalo Lookout

It’s all happening October 2-5, 2017!

Radisson Hotel
2040 Airport Drive
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54313

New “Nourishing Native Children: Feeding Our Future” Grantees

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First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently announced its new grantees under its Nourishing Native Children: Feeding Our Future Project that is generously supported by funding from the Walmart Foundation. The 10 grants, of $15,000 each, total $150,000.

The effort provides grants to Native American communities to continue or expand nutrition resources for existing programs that serve American Indian children ages 6-14. For many Native children, meals provided by their school, nonprofit service provider, or through a take-home food program (often called “backpack” programs), may be the most consistent and/or nutritionally-balanced food they receive. The project’s two-fold goal is to support Native American community-based feeding programs, and to learn from these programs and other model programs about best practices, challenges, barriers to success, and systemic and policy issues affecting Native children’s hunger, and to foster partnerships among programs.

The grantees are:

  1. Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club, Akwesasne, New York – This program provides 100 children from low-income homes from the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation with hunger relief during weekends and for when school is out for breaks. The program benefits the neediest children attending Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club, St. Regis Mohawk School, and Akwesasne Freedom School as well as children receiving services through local domestic violence shelters. Educational outreach to families highlights other available food resources.
  2. Fremont County School District 38, Arapahoe, Wyoming – The program at Arapahoe School provides take-home backpacks each Friday at school dismissal, with nutritionally balanced food items. The program also provides family engagement opportunities that support household budgeting, health and wellness, as well as awareness of traditional foods. Educational lessons relative to the school’s greenhouse are provided.
  3. Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC), Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico – The “Nourishing Native Iiwas” program takes KCLC’s existing food and nutrition policies to the next level. It will raise awareness of health within the KCLC school community and in the broader Cochiti community, while emphasizing recipes prepared with fresh, locally grown and healthy produce.
  4. Lower Brule Community College, Lower Brule, South Dakota – The “Bountiful Backpack Program” improves the nutritional quality of meals eaten at home by children and their families by developing cooking, food safety and recipe-preparation skills for participants, and includes linking nutrition education and preparation with food that is sent home in backpacks.
  5. Lummi Indian Business Council, Bellingham, Washington – The “Lummi Kids First Community Garden” project is a collaboration among several entities that will benefit at-risk youth and families with access to seasonal fresh produce and vegetables, while increasing awareness of dietary needs, food preparation and food choices, including traditional foods.
  6. Moenkopi Developers Corporation, Inc., Tuba City, Arizona – The “Take & Make Healthy Foods Project” will provide the more than 150 students of Moencopi Day School with bi-weekly take-home packages of ready-to-make foods for them to prepare with their families. Each pack will utilize a minimum of one local traditional or student-grown ingredient. Students will assist in the preparation of the packs and will learn about the preparation and health benefits of each snack during weekly greenhouse classes. There will also be weekly garden/nutrition education provided.
  7. Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, Bayfield, Wisconsin – This project creates a food-delivery system to help alleviate hunger in children on the Red Cliff reservation in rural and remote northern Wisconsin. It will serve children from low-income families, and will leverage nutrition center staff and facilities with organic food from the tribal farm in order to provide healthy snacks each day the youth center is open. It will also provide simple, healthy food-preparation education.
  8. Rocky Boy Schools District 87 J&L, Box Elder, Montana – The current “Helping Hands Backpack Program” will be supplemented by the grant, and will serve students on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation. The district has a 100% free- and reduced-cost school lunch eligibility status. Despite that it already provides free- and reduced-price lunches (including during summer), students often go to homes where they are not guaranteed nutritious meals. The “Weekend Backpack” program that includes food and hygiene supplies will be expanded to additional students.
  9. The Center Pole, Garryowen, Montana – Center Pole’s existing efforts will add a food-recovery arm in order to provide more healthy, nutritious food for the Apsaalooke Nation’s (Crow Indian Reservation) children, where 25% of the population lives below the poverty line and face hunger on a daily basis. The recovery project will locate, transport and distribute foods that are being wasted in urban areas, providing a greater variety of healthy foods for children in this rural community.
  10. Yankton Sioux Tribe, Wagner, South Dakota – The “Bountiful Backpack Program” improves the overall nutritional quality of meals eaten at home by children and their families by developing cooking, food safety and recipe-preparation skills for participants. It links nutrition education and preparation with food sent home in backpacks. In addition, a pilot summer feeding program will serve additional youth.

In conjunction with these grants, First Nations will host a one-day convening with a representative of each of these organizations to gather information, provide a networking opportunity, and discuss promising models and practices. The convening will held during the national Food Sovereignty Summit October 2-5, 2017, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Summit is co-hosted by First Nations and the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.

NEH Pledges $2.1 Million to Revitalize Endangered Languages

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The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has entered a three-year partnership with First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) to foster the revitalization of Native American languages through language-immersion education programs within tribal communities.

There are currently approximately 150 Native languages spoken in the U.S., many of them spoken only by a small number of elders. Without intervention, many of these languages are expected to become extinct within the next 50 to 100 years, a significant loss of cultural heritage.

“When we lose a language, we lose not just a form of communication, but also the identity, traditions, customs, and history of a people,” said NEH Acting Chairman Jon Parrish Peede. “Through this partnership with First Nations, the National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to support an initiative that will safeguard endangered Indigenous languages and nurture vibrant communities by putting Native American organizations at the center of language retention and revitalization efforts.”

Language “Defines Who We Are”

“Language is a vital asset for Native people and communities. It defines who we are, where we come from and value systems that in many ways cannot be translated into English,” said Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Vice President. “First Nations believes that the preservation and perpetuation of Native languages leads to positive community outcomes, including the maintenance of traditional knowledge systems, Native youth empowerment and culturally relevant community development models. We are extremely humbled by the involvement of NEH and other private philanthropic investors who have made this possible for Indian country. This funding effort will make significant investments in language programming in Native communities.”

The $2.1 million in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities will be matched dollar for dollar by First Nations to support curriculum development, technology access and recruitment and training of teachers for 12 immersive Native-language programs a year. Language programs will be designed with input from an advisory committee of Native-language immersion practitioners and members of Native communities to incorporate Native cultural content and culturally appropriate ways of teaching and learning.

Colorado-based First Nations is a Native-led nonprofit that strengthens Native American communities through investment in innovative institutions and models that support economic development and sustain cultural knowledge and practices. Language retention and revitalization programs have been recognized as providing key benefits to Native American communities by boosting educational achievement and student retention rates. They also support community identity, Native systems of kinship, and management of community and natural resources.

Stemming Loss of Languages and Cultures

Through this cooperative agreement, NEH and First Nations seek to stem the loss of Indigenous languages and cultures by training new generations of Native American language speakers, and by establishing infrastructure and models for immersive Native-language programs that may be replicated in other communities.

This partnership is part of larger efforts at the National Endowment for the Humanities to preserve and document Native American language, history and culture. For the past 12 years, NEH, in cooperation with the National Science Foundation (NSF), has awarded Documenting Endangered Languages grants to preserve languages on the brink of extinction through linguistic research and documentation. NEH also regularly supports preservation projects, documentaries, exhibitions, research, and education initiatives that deepen our understanding of Indigenous American cultures.

The National Endowment for the Humanities was created in 1965 as an independent federal agency. It supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at

“Reclaiming Native Truth” Presents at National Media Conference


Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions – which is a joint initiative of First Nations Development Institute and Echo Hawk Consulting – was featured on a panel recently at a diverse journalism conference in California.

The Excellence in Journalism conference was held in Anaheim Sept. 7-9, 2017. It was a collaboration of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), and the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA).

The panel, titled Reclaiming Native Truth: Dispelling Myths and Overcoming Invisibility, featured Project Co-Director Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), president and CEO of Echo Hawk Consulting; Chiara Sottile (Karuk), producer and reporter, NBC News; and Mark Trahant (Shoshone-Bannock), independent journalist and a faculty member at the University of North Dakota as the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism. Trahant is also a member of the Reclaiming Native Truth Advisory Committee that comprises Native leaders, influential stakeholders, and racial equity experts who offer oversight, expertise and leadership to guide the First Nations/Echo Hawk project.

Reclaiming Native Truth is an effort to begin to dispel myths and misconceptions about Native Americans, plus address their invisibility. Reclaiming Native Truth is working to positively transform the popular image of and narrative on Native Americans to support social justice and positive, long-term change. This groundbreaking project is made possible by the following supporters: W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Comcast Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation, Fund for Shared Insight, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and the MAHADH Fund of HRK Foundation.

The panel drew a diverse range of attendees, from journalists to academics, and film artists to health professionals, many of whom took to social media in response to the panel. Here are some samples:

Carrie Buchanan 1

EIJ News 1

Chiara Sottile 5

Danielle Parenteau 3

Kris Rhodes 1

Jennifer Bell 2

Pablo Pena 4

Better Health Possible through FDPIR-Based 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 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