Passing Down Art and History at the Tulalip Tribes

Weaving Workshop at the Hibulb Cultural Center

At a Weaving Workshop, participants Bonnie Juneau, Glee Tolliver and Shelly Williams are shown working on their projects as Anita Keeta Sheldon (far right) assists. Bonnie is a member of the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors (the tribal governing body).

Generations ago, art was everywhere in the Tulalip culture, represented in its tools, clothing, food and ceremony. After years of outside stressors chipping away at the tribes’ artistic soul, the Hibulb Cultural Center is working to bring art back. Since 2011, the center has invested in culturally-significant educational programming. And now with funding from First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative, it is bolstering its classes, reaching more people and fostering even more pride in the craftsmanship and elegance of Tulalip art.

Knowledge Beyond Each Craft

The passing down of artistic skills has always been a calling of the Hibulb Cultural Center. Through the years, it has seen how art education has strengthened the culture and the community. People have sought opportunities to learn about carving, weaving, knitting and jewelry making. The center has responded with monthly demonstrations and workshops. Art has been honored as a form of storytelling, and in demonstrating their crafts, local artists have been able to pass down a legacy of the elders.

Still, as with many Native organizations, the Hibulb Cultural Center faced an issue of capacity. The workshops had been serving roughly 50 artists monthly. But an increasing number of individuals throughout the community were calling for ways to explore their artistic sides and express their cultural identity. Another issue was that the center’s education and youth services departments offered art lessons for children, but there were not many learning opportunities for adults. And, the workshops offered were only scratching the surface of artistry. The community wanted longer, more in-depth and hands-on lessons.

A Strategic Response

A Beading Workshop intensely focuses the attention of participants.

At a Beading Workshop, participants Laini Jones, Sara Andres, Dawn Sallee, Erin Lopez-Yazzie and Katie Curless work on their projects as instructor Richard Muir Jr. (second from right) assists.

It was a good problem to have – a demand for more art and more opportunities to strengthen the Tulalip culture. The Tulalip Foundation sought funding for the Hibulb Cultural Center through First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative, which is designed to stimulate long-term perpetuation, proliferation and revitalization of traditional artistic and cultural assets in Native communities.

With the grant, the center designed and implemented a series of five six-week-long workshops exploring various art forms, including contemporary beadwork, cedar weaving, cradle board making, drawing and painting, and cedar carving. Each class delved into the history of the art form and the traditions and practices surrounding it – an illustration of how art was a part of Tulalip everyday living. For example, explained Tulalip Foundation Executive Director Nicole Sieminski, classes taught how a beautifully-woven fish basket represented the art of weaving and the functionality of carrying food. A story pole depicted ornate carvings and shared a life lesson to be handed down.

Key to the workshops was the focus on teaching Coast Salish art versus the more well-known Northwest Coast style. The classes stressed the differences between the styles and promoted the perpetuation of the Coast Salish form, which is core to the Tulalip Tribes.

The classes also taught students about the wood used for carving: Cedar, which is an important material to the Tulalip people. “The classes let us pass down traditional stories and teachings about cedar: how to harvest it, how to process the wood, how to treat the trees,” said Sieminski. “It’s not just about carving. It’s about how to be environmentally sensitive.”

The new artists were given opportunities to work hands-on and create pieces. Through the grant, all staff time, materials and work space were provided. And throughout the entire project, over 50 community members completed one of the five workshops.

Displaying with Pride

At the end of each of the workshops, an event was held to publicly recognize the artists and their work. Mytyl Hernandez, marketing and membership manager for Hibulb Cultural Center, said the artists were naturally humble, and many were embarrassed to show their work. But all could appreciate their role in continuing the ways of the Tulalip people.

Hernandez said that the displays helped people recognize their ancestors’ elegance, quality worksmanship and care for their community. “It is something they learned as a virtue to continue,” she said.

“We discovered so many talented artists in our community, but the most important thing was the historical value behind their work – and passing down the history and the culture,” added Sieminski. “Becoming an artist is just a bonus.”

A Lasting Curriculum

Drawing Workshop

At a Drawing Workshop, instructor Steven Madison is shown presenting.

Throughout the project, Sieminski has witnessed the growing interest in the community, and the power of giving people opportunities to explore their artistic side. “When we’re able to say here are some tools, they listen and they learn.”

Sieminski said the support from First Nations gave them not only the financial backing to go forward, but also validation about the importance of art. With the funding they were able to develop five more class curriculums that they can build on, share with others, and continue to offer going forward. The project has yielded incredible art and a boost to the artist population.

But more than the ability to do art, Sieminski said, the workshops have met the overall goal of education. “We’re reaching a new generation,” she said, “but it is not important how many of them will become artists. What’s important is how many will have the knowledge or experience to share or to teach.”

The Native Arts Initiative perpetuates Native art, whether by investing in new projects or by helping organizations that are committed to art to go further. For the Tulalip community, it has led to a continued sharing of cultural traditions and practices. Hernandez reported that more community members are sharing their family history and techniques, young ones are learning about their talented grandfathers and grandmothers, and students are using art for contemporary purposes, while still recognizing its legacy.

In a world where their culture is vulnerable, and where old ways are too easily forgotten, an excitement is building and new art is being created. A statement by Hernandez may say it best: “Their ancestors would be proud.”

By Amy Jakober

Yankton Sioux Tribe and the “Bountiful Backpacks”

yankton6 500px

The Yankton Sioux Tribe, located in South Dakota, and the “Bountiful Backpack Program” (BBP) received support from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) under its “Nourishing Native Children: Feeding Our Future” project that was generously supported by the Walmart Foundation.

The Nourishing Native Children: Feeding Our Future” project provided grants to Native American communities to continue or expand nutrition resources for existing programs that serve American Indian children ages 6-14. The project’s goals were to support Native American community-based feeding programs, and to learn from these efforts and other model programs about best practices, challenges, barriers to success, and systemic and policy issues affecting Native children’s hunger. It also aimed to foster partnerships among programs.

The BBP was aimed at improving the overall nutritional quality of meals eaten at home by children and their families by developing their cooking, food safety and recipe-preparation skills. The BBP linked nutrition education and preparation with food sent home in backpacks, and the program was held in two locations during the summer and school months of September to November 2017.

1,227 Backpacks/8,073 Meals

In addition, a Pilot Supper Meal Program was held at the Lake Andes Public Library and Community Center that fed an additional 830 youth meals from June to August 2017. Overall there were 182 participants with the Bountiful Backpack program, and 1,227 “backpacks” sent home with students that provided 8,073 meals, according the BBP.

Yankton Healthy Meal 500pxThe BBP furthered the working relationship between the Yankton Sioux Tribe and the South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension. The program required coordination and involvement from the Yankton Sioux Tribe; the SDSU Extension staff; Andes Central Elementary, Marty Indian and Wagner Elementary school administrations; and the Lake Andes Public Library and city staff.

Samantha Dvorak is the Family and Community Health Extension Associate with SDSU Extension focusing on systems, policies and environmental change in these communities.

“All the partnerships were critical, especially the schools – which were great to work with. The local grocery stores were also very helpful to this project. I think the partnership with the tribe and SDSU was strengthened – communication-wise and just being able to successfully complete this project together,” said Dvorak.

Robert Flying Hawk, Chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, noted this about the effort: “Unki-ye Wo-i-ha-bde Kin Ogna Oyate Zani Mani Pi Kte,” which translates in English to “Our vision: Our people will walk with good health.”

Following a Recipe

The BBP focuses not only on providing food to the youth and their families, but teaching youth how to follow a recipe, food safety and basic cooking skills.

Yankton Healthy Meal Prep 2 500px“The Bountiful Backpack project provided nutrition education to 4th, 5th and 6th graders through hands-on cooking demonstrations. During the lessons students would learn how to read nutrition facts on the food labels, how to read a recipe, and then make the recipe in class. At the end of the week students were provided the ingredients to take home and make the recipe with their families. Most recipes provided at least six to eight servings, providing a meal for an entire family versus just one kid,” said Dvorak.

The focus on the youth learning to prepare a recipe for their families encouraged the youth to participate and generated positive feedback from the community.

“A lot of parents commented – ‘My child wants to help me with dinner now and is more interested in how their food is made.’ Another comment made by many was that their kids are more apt to try something new because they helped make it,” said Dvorak.

Seeing the impact of the program on the youth who participated is something Michael Koupal knows from personal experience. He is a 4th grade teacher with the Wagner Community School.

“They See What’s Involved”

yankton1 500px“It’s fun to have the kids go and pour all the ingredients, read the labels, use the measuring cups. Every kid got to do something with making the recipes, not just eating it. They see what’s involved, and we talk to them about safety tips and the kids get support,” he said.

Koupal says that due to the economics of living in a rural area, it is much easier for kids to eat a bag of chips and drink soda. However, it is the small changes that make an impact on the kids.

“It’s simple stuff that can be made with a can of corn, black beans and salsa. The kids enjoyed it and they actually tried it. My own kids tried it and they can’t wait to make it again, such as the sweet potato pancakes. It gets them eating other foods,” said Koupal.

Dvorak says that the funding from First Nations and the Walmart Foundation allowed them to carry out the Bountiful Backpack Program in its entirety.

“The Bountiful Backpack program is such a great curriculum that can be taught without sending the food packages home with the youth, but that is a huge part of this curriculum to link the food demonstrations with the food packages sent home. Without the funding from First Nations Development Institute, we would not have been able to send the food home and have the impact that we did. The funding allowed us to reach so many more families than we would have been able to without it.”


“Native Truth” Research Reveals Attitudes & Perceptions

The Full Research Findings

The Full Research Findings

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) and Echo Hawk Consulting (EHC) recently released groundbreaking research about attitudes toward and perceptions of Native Americans as part of a jointly-managed effort called “Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions.” The project also released two messaging guides based on the research findings and a narrative-change strategy framework that will be used to begin to change the false and misleading narratives about Native peoples.

The project seeks to create a long-term, Native-led movement that positively transforms popular narratives and images of Native Americans. A two-year phase, launched in 2016, created a solid foundation of unprecedented public opinion research and data, building upon previous research efforts. It was funded by a $2.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and significant financial contributions from numerous other entities and individuals.

“Some incredible findings were unearthed through this research – many of which had long been experienced and assumed but not proven,” said Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), President & CEO of First Nations. “The findings clearly validate the realities that so many Native people face in their day-to-day interactions in communities. They provide our project, and the larger movement, with a strong foundation upon which to move forward.” Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), President & CEO of Echo Hawk Consulting, shared, “This research informed how we could create a new narrative that would be effective in changing misperceptions. We formulated a new narrative, created by renowned Native American artists and storytellers, that proved to change people’s understanding of Native people and issues. We are excited to take this new narrative and our research findings and transition into a new phase of this project, harnessing the power of a movement of movements.”


Highlights from the publicly available findings include:

  • Discrimination: Most Americans surveyed significantly understate the degree of discrimination against Native Americans. Only 34 percent of Americans believe that Native people face discrimination. At the same time, myths about the abundance of Indian gaming and free government benefits to Native Americans are widely held and fuel bias across diverse demographics and within institutions.
  • Narratives: The research found that people have limited personal experience with Native Americans but accept pervasive negative narratives that are erroneously set or reinforced by others, and that proximity shapes some perceptions. For instance, people who live near or work in Indian Country, especially in areas of great poverty, are likely to hold significant bias. Only 56% of survey respondents living in close proximity to Native communities believed the U.S. should do more to help Native Americans compared to 64% of respondents further removed.
  • Invisibility: Unsurprisingly, another key finding was that Native Americans are assigned to a romanticized past. However, one of the biggest barriers identified was the invisibility and erasure of Native Americans in all aspects of modern U.S. society. Respondents, including members of Congress and administrative officials, agree that invisibility, stereotypes and narratives set by others do impact policy.
  • Desire for Complete History: One of the key opportunities uncovered is that, across the research, people are well aware of the inaccurate historical lessons they have learned about Native Americans, and want more accurate education about both historical and contemporary Natives. This was reflected in national polling that indicated that 72 percent believe it is necessary to make significant changes to school curricula on Native American history and culture.


Testing a New Narrative

Narrative Change Strategy

Narrative-Change Strategy

Narratives are broadly accepted, overarching stories that reinforce ideas, norms and expectations in society. Repeated over and over, through diverse platforms and channels, a narrative becomes the story people accept without question. Often a narrative reinforces the status quo and perpetuates unfair systems, structures and norms. The Reclaiming Native Truth project worked to identify and test a new accurate narrative that can support cultural shifts to advance social and policy change to support racial equity and justice for Native Americans and tribal nations.

  • 78% – Most Americans are generally open to hearing this narrative. A majority in this survey say they are interested in learning more about Native American cultures. Strong majorities support Native American positions on most issues — mascots excepted — without hearing the narratives.
  • 81% – The public reacts strongly to our narrative.
  • 88% – Nearly nine in 10 respondents find it credible.


One of the most significant outcomes of the project related to developing and testing a new strength-based narrative that incorporated messaging related to values, history and the visibility of Native peoples. The narrative was tested through an online survey conducted between April 27 and May 1, 2018, with 2,000 Americans over age 18. Majorities of Americans support the new narrative and find it credible. A 65 percent majority say they would be willing — 31 percent very willing — to share these ideas with others. More issue-specific narrative messages written around key issues — mascots, the Indian Child Welfare Act, tribal sovereignty and pop culture depictions of Native Americans — find similar validation.

Most noteworthy is the objective difference between those exposed to the new narrative (treated group) and those that were not (untreated “control” group). Large differences emerge among the half that read the new narrative, which gave them a framework for understanding information about key Native issues related to the Indian Child Welfare Act, sovereignty, mascots and other issues. For example, 39 percent of Americans who were not exposed to the new narratives support a ban on Native American mascots. Among those who read the narratives, 53 percent support such a ban.

Messaging Guide for Native Peoples and Organizations

Messaging Guide for Native Peoples and Organizations

“We are encouraged by the findings of the research and narrative message testing in this first phase,” said Vicky Stott, Program Officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “As a philanthropic partner to the project, we are committed to telling more authentic and complete stories about who we are as interconnected people living in America. This work has the potential to transform the way we understand and relate to one another and, ultimately, co-create a new story about our shared humanity.”

The Next Phase

The next phase of work will focus on bringing the power of many movements — of organizations, tribes, grassroots leaders, non-Native allies, foundations — each of whom can adopt, adapt and disseminate the new shared narrative as part of their ongoing efforts and work, while leading implementation of their own priority strategies. An introduction to the narrative and messaging strategies are available as part of the Reclaiming Native Truth messaging guides at The detailed research report and the Narrative-Change Strategy are also available online.

Messaging Guide for Allies

Messaging Guide for Allies

Potential allies, supporters and others can partcipate in the movement of movements. The network will contain a support and infrastructure function that will be determined jointly by core organizations working collaboratively on the initiative. There will be many ways for allies to do their their part to shift the narrative, remove bias and barriers, and achieve the collective vision for the change that is sought: that Native peoples collectively author and powerfully lead a more equitable reality where they fully benefit from and contribute to both Native and American society. Interested partners are encouraged to download the messaging guides from

“The project provided us the critical opportunity to begin to assemble an incredible team of not only researchers, but other experts and thought leaders across Indian Country, and both Native and non-Native allies and professionals in the media, the arts, entertainment, politics and education, as well as others who have worked on successful racial narrative change projects,” noted Echo Hawk. “We have the new research foundation built, a cadre of willing and able experts at the ready, and we have the desire and ability to move this project into the next phases where we can begin to shift the narrative.”

Roberts shared, “We have also sought and received input and feedback at every step in the project, from more than 180 stakeholders, including an incredible swath of Indian Country that came together in a new and different way to support these efforts. Their voices are reflected in this project and we are all committed to work together going forward. Native Americans and tribes have faced discrimination and bias at every level of society, institutionally, and within government. They have been held back from reaching their full potential by the negative stereotypes, damaging misperceptions and lack of awareness that prevail within education, the media, entertainment, popular culture, and among thought leaders. Changing that begins now.”


Summer Arts, Improved Education Fostered at Hopi

Generations of basket weavers are among the more than 145 students who took part in the Hopi Summer Arts Program.

Generations of basket weavers are among the more than 145 students who took part in the Hopi Summer Arts Program.

It’s a summer learning program and a reinvestment in Hopi arts, language and culture. It’s also another foothold in Hopi education that is making a long-term impact on Native academic outcomes. The Summer Arts Program at The Hopi School, fueled by a grant from First Nations Development Institute, is creating art and driving change on this reservation outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Revival of Art and Meaning

At its very core, the Summer Arts Program introduces the traditional art of basket making, weaving, and moccasin making to the Hotevilla community. Over the years, the knowledge and skills involved in these traditional arts has declined, and Hopi crafts had become endangered. With funding through the Native Youth and Culture Fund, The Hopi School has been able to bolster classes in the Summer Arts Program to teach not only art but the tradition and meaning that accompany it.

Young Hopi jewelers learn the forging and stamping techniques used by Hopi jewelers 80 years ago.

Young Hopi jewelers learn the forging and stamping techniques used by Hopi jewelers 80 years ago.

In the last summer session, more than 145 students participated in classes that teach many types of art, such as weaving, embroidery, photography, painting, quilting and sewing. The classes raised awareness of art and bolstering its importance in the community, giving more credence to the people who are able to create it.

Hopi Learning

While the passing down of traditional artistic knowledge and skills is the impetus for the classes, an essential component of the program is the way the classes are taught. The Summer Arts Program is part of the broader The Hopi School, an institution that is tuned in to the Hopi people and how the Hopi learn. Facilitator Dr. Robert Rhodes explains that there are three types of learning environments: formal, which is mostly done in a school setting; formal done outside of a school setting, which might include a special class or religious training; and informal outside of school setting, which, for example, is how we learn to ride a bike or catch a fish.

Rhodes explains that traditional Hopi learning occurs through the informal process. “The Hopi experiment and learn based on cause and effect, trial and error, and building on success,” says Rhodes. “They are artistic, creative and holistic.”

Based on this, the classes at The Hopi School and in the Summer Arts Program incorporate a mentorship model. Classes are often attended by people representing three to four generations at once. There are no lectures or notes. Students learn the way the Hopi learn: by sitting with the elders and experiencing new things hands-on.

Also, by being taught in the Hopi language, the education becomes richer. “Language is tied to the way Hopi think,” says Rhodes. In Hopi, words have broad meanings and implications, reflecting relationships with nature, farming and man. “There are concepts that would take 40 minutes to explain in English,” he says, “but in Hopi, they can be conveyed in five minutes.”

Creating a New Future

The 2016 session of the Summer Arts Program ended with a celebration and art show. Attendance throughout the summer steadily increased, and feedback was positive – students said they want more classes and more hours and days in each class.

Students discover sewing as part of the Summer Arts Program.

Students discover sewing as part of the Summer Arts Program.

As the Summer Arts Program grows, indeed each additional class will reach new students, but it is the long-term effects of the Summer Arts Program that are important to Rhodes and The Hopi School. “Moccasin making is essential to carry on the ways of the Hopi people, but having a place to learn to make those moccasins is essential,” says Rhodes.

The Summer Arts Program has given the Hopi a place to learn, using a learning process that resonates with them. It is a place where the Hopi arts and culture are celebrated, and where language is shared and strengthened. True to the purpose of the grant funding, it is also a place where youth are empowered, and leadership and community are built.

The Hopi School is laying the groundwork for expansion and is grateful for the support of First Nations in helping the program come as far as it has. “First Nations recognizes that art and language is essential to who we are, how we think, and how we learn,” says Rhodes. “With their backing, we keep these attributes alive. This can help keep the foothold of the Hopi people stronger, for longer.”

To learn more about the Hopi School and the Summer Arts Program, visit

By Amy Jakober

Northern Great Plains Tribes Benefit from First Nations Trainings

Daryl Melvin and training participants at the Crow Nation.

Daryl Melvin and training participants at the Crow Nation.

Under the “Mapping Ecological Stewardship Opportunities in Northern Great Plains Native Communities” project, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has been providing on-site trainings to tribal programs located in Montana and South Dakota.

Launched in 2015, the project is focused on helping tribes achieve a balance between ecological stewardship and economic development. In this capacity, First Nations is helping tribes explore and inform ecological stewardship practices in the Great Plains of South Dakota and Montana by facilitating the dialogue around and active implementation of strategies that catalyze tribally-controlled ecological stewardship initiatives that are compatible with community tribal values and contribute to tribal economic and community development opportunities.

Through this initiative, the Crow Nation, Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy, and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe each identified the need to provide financial management training for their tribal programs.

Donald GoodVoice at the Chippewa Cree Tribe.

Donald GoodVoice at the Chippewa Cree Tribe.

“Financial management and communications across tribal programs is essential to increasing opportunities and long-term strategies for tribal communities,” noted Jackie Francke, First Nations Vice President of Programs and Administration. “The skills developed from these trainings are designed to empower tribal administrators to successfully manage the financial aspects of their programs, which is a crucial factor for tribes and departments to increase economic opportunities and develop internal strategies to efficiently and effectively manage them.”

The 1.5-day trainings, presented by First Nations consultant Melvin Consulting PLLC, covered budget development, financial systems and accountability, and budget management. The trainings were well-received, with more than 100 participants attending.

Participants said they most enjoyed the “positivity and the feeling of hope,” the “knowledge base of the presenters,” and the “importance of knowing and understanding how to manage finances for tribal programs, expenditures in personal life and workforce, the collaboration and open communication with other tribal departments and programs.”

First Nations continues to provide technical assistance and support to the tribes in the Northern Great Plains with the provision of grants to the Crow Tribe, Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in their efforts to implement strategies to increase tribal opportunities through ecological stewardship.

For more information about the First Nations Mapping Ecological Stewardship project, contact Jackie Francke at

By Stephanie Cote, First Nations Program Coordinator

Humbling (Foundation) Admission about Indian Mascots

National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

On May 17, 2018, an opinion article written by First Nations Vice President Raymond Foxworth appeared on the website of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). It was a follow-up piece to the news that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for its Sports Award, would no longer consider applications from sports teams that denigrate American Indian people through the use of inappropriate mascots or other imagery. Here we are reprinting the full opinion article, which can also be viewed on the NCRP site at

By Raymond Foxworth

Raymond Foxworth

Raymond Foxworth

In a May 7 op-ed in USA Today, Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), publicly acknowledged changes to the foundation’s annual Sports Award. This annual competitive award is intended to recognize “sports teams, athletes and community-based organizations that use sports to catalyze and sustain changes to make communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play.”

Besser said the foundation would no longer consider award applications from sports teams that denigrate American Indian people. He humbly noted that the foundation – whose mission targets health equity – never considered “the fact that the team names, mascots and misappropriation and mocking of sacred symbols like headdresses do real damage to the health of people across the country.”

This remarkable admission and the change in policy serve as a clear example of how Native American communities and their allies can influence philanthropy to change practices that may (unknowingly) harm Native people and communities. Besser and RWJF should be applauded for their willingness to listen to Native communities and act on their feedback and concerns to make change. Notwithstanding, we need to understand that this recent admission, while laudable, illustrates a symptom of a larger illness in philanthropy: patchy bids and willful reluctance to learn more about Native communities, their issues and community-led solutions.

What’s in a Name?

Besser’s op-ed came after months of organizing by Native American organizations and tribes, including the National Congress of American Indians, Center for Native American Youth, First Nations Development Institute, the Oneida Nation of New York, and with the support of other partners like Dr. Howard Stevenson, director of RWJF’s Forward Promise National Program Office at the University of Pennsylvania, Kathy Ko Chin, president and chief executive officer of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, and many others.

These groups authored letters and attended learning sessions that helped compel RWJF to stop allowing sports teams that use racist stereotypes to apply for RWJF’s prestigious award.

Research has documented that mascots depicting Native Americans are harmful to Native people, especially children. Imagine being largely invisible in all forms of media and popular culture except for those instances in which you are depicted in stereotypical, comical or historical imagery. This is the reality for Native American children.

Research has found that this leads to all sorts of negative outcomes, including damaged self-esteem and identity, and overall diminished well-being. This growing body of research has also documented that these limited and racist representations of Native people curtail self-understanding and how Native youth see themselves fitting into contemporary society.

Similarly, scholars have found that the use of Native American mascots exacerbates cross-community conflict, creates limited understanding of Native people by the larger society and also creates hostile spaces of learning for Native children. Even professional associations like the American Psychological Association have publicly objected to the use of Native mascots for the reasons cited above (and they did this in 2005).

Proponents of Native American mascots have cited public opinion polls showing support for their continued use, including purported surveys of Native Americans themselves. But these surveys were created in a feeble attempt to justify the continued use of these racist images, and to lamely try to refute the scientific research that demonstrates the detrimental effects these mascots have on Native children.

Ultimately, however, these efforts in no way contradict or negate the scholarly research noted above.

Understanding a Larger Illness

A recent nationally-representative survey launched under the Reclaiming Native Truth project, which is co-led by First Nations Development Institute and Echo Hawk Consulting, found that most Americans rank themselves high on their own individual familiarity of Native American history and culture, yet a majority of Americans cannot correctly answer basic true-or-false questions about Native American people.

Similarly, while most Americans professed generalized support that more should be done to help Native Americans, when it came to talking about specific kinds of support, including banning the use of Native American mascots, support significantly declined. In fact, only 39 percent of Americans said they would support such a ban.

Moreover, our survey data revealed that a majority of Americans still see Native people in stereotypical ways, including seeing them as more spiritual and closer to nature, while also holding other negative stereotypes. This includes a majority thinking that Native people get access to government benefits such as free education, or other “Indian Money” that is not available to other U.S. citizens. Alarmingly, more than half of Americans hold these opinions. These are, of course, just not true.

But it is not just the broader public that has limited (or completely wrong) knowledge about Native people and communities. In an ongoing research project funded by the Fund for Shared Insight, First Nations is working to understand how philanthropy perceives Native people and communities.

Data collected thus far (which will be detailed in a forthcoming report) highlight that philanthropy does not have much knowledge of or connections to Native people or communities. Moreover, the data highlight that many of the stereotypes the general public hold about Native people are also held by individuals who work in philanthropy.

This should not be terribly surprising given that the inputs of knowledge about Native Americans at all levels (including media, school systems, etc.) fail Native American people and communities.

Though the lack of knowledge and connection to Native people is not surprising, what has surprised us in both of these projects is that individuals are fairly open in discussing their racist, discriminatory and/or uninformed opinions of Native people (things that would not generally be tolerated when it comes to other marginalized groups).

This suggests that people are so far removed from understanding Native people, and Native people are so invisible (or irrelevant) in the lives of most Americans, we have generally become desensitized to understanding Native people and communities in contemporary society.

Moving Forward

In Besser’s op-ed, he pondered how a philanthropic institution that is focused on health equity could get something so wrong. “It’s worth asking ourselves what else we as a society are missing,” he noted.

This, indeed, is a fundamental question we must ask ourselves. And a corollary to this is the following: How is it that in 2018, we are still complacent in subjecting Native people to deliberate mistruths and falsehoods and rendering them invisible in American society, including in philanthropy? How is it that now, when information is more readily available than at any other time in history, we continue to be content in our ignorance of Native people and communities?

While we are only beginning to unpack the mistruths and falsehoods that individuals have about Native people, invisibility of Native Americans in philanthropy is rampant. Not only is it reflected in the declining levels of annual investment going to Native communities, but it shows in the lack of representation of Native people in the philanthropic sector and the dismissal of Native people and communities in philanthropic reports often relegating them to an asterisk that often notes “not enough data” (to matter).

How do we begin to change? Naturally, this is the quintessential question and a much larger topic than this article can address. Widely-discussed practices by diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) authors and scholars – including increasing diversity among staff and boards, being willing and open to listen and learn from the communities served by foundations, and being deliberate about including DEI frameworks in organizational mission and giving policies – all serve as a starting point for change. But these practices alone will not move us beyond willful ignorance or ambivalence when it comes to Native people.

Nevertheless, this RWJF incident does provide a bright spot highlighting the power of how communities can organize across communities of color to push for change. As NCRP and others have documented, developing tools and methods to hold philanthropy accountable has been difficult.

But this single instance demonstrates that organizing and mobilizing multiple communities can be a mechanism to leverage relationships to push for change. Would RWJF have changed its practice if only Indian Country mobilized around this issue? We do not know, but we do know that leveraging other communities to support Native children did provide a broader base to effect change.

It is my hope that Besser’s op-ed serves as a call to action to philanthropy and other sectors of society to learn more about Native people and communities. First Nations has released recommended reading lists, other Native organizations have released fact sheets, and these are all at the tip of our Googling fingertips.

Moreover, there are more Native American nonprofits than at any other point in history, and these organizations can serve as resources of knowledge if people are willing to ask, listen and learn.

Raymond Foxworth serves as vice president of grantmaking, development and communications at First Nations Development Institute, a Native American-controlled national intermediary that supports Native American communities in reclaiming direct control of their assets. He is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and his family is from Tuba City, Arizona.

Report Highlights Decline in Foundation Giving to Native Causes

Growing Inequity

Growing Inequity

In a recent report, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) found that from 2006 to 2014, total grant dollars awarded to Native American organizations and causes by large foundations in the U.S. declined significantly, even though the raw number of individual grants increased. It found that annual giving by large foundations to Native causes declined by a hefty 29%, a $35 million drop. This means that since 2006, on average, large foundations have given $4.3 million less every year to Native American organizations and causes.

Overall, the share of total foundation dollars awarded to Native organizations and causes during the period averaged only six-tenths of one percent (0.6%) of foundation giving.

First Nations also found that in most years, the majority of grant dollars supposedly aimed at supporting Native communities and causes are not awarded to Native-controlled nonprofit organizations. Looking at giving from 2007 to 2014, non-Native-controlled organizations received roughly 53% of all grant dollars awarded, whereas Native-controlled organizations (those solely focused on serving Native American populations and also whose board of directors is majority Native American) received about 48%.

The report, Growing Inequity: Large Foundation Giving to Native American Organizations and Causes – 2006-2014, was intended to examine the state of large foundation giving to Native organizations. The project was generously supported by the Fund for Shared Insight.

“Disheartening and Maddening”

“It’s disheartening and a little maddening,” said Michael Roberts, President & CEO of First Nations, “that during the Great Recession, grantmaking to Indian causes by large philanthropy was cut in half – that as Indians, we bore the burden of philanthropy’s decreased giving. And although the markets have returned and foundation portfolios have recovered, grantmaking to Indian causes has not returned to previous levels and we continue to lose ground.

“But that isn’t even the worst of it – the fact that more than half of the funding given to Indian causes each year goes to non-Indian-controlled institutions, in the name of Indians, is downright infuriating,” Roberts added.

Data used to inform the report was provided by the Foundation Center. The Foundation Center’s grants database tracks foundation giving from the 1,000 largest U.S. foundations, coded by issue, population and geographic focus. It includes grant-level information reported by foundations, foundation websites and other public reporting, and from the IRS returns filed annually by all U.S. foundations. The information includes data on all grants of $10,000 or more awarded by independent, corporate, grantmaking operating foundations, and community foundations. The Foundation Center notes that giving by this subset of foundations ensures a good sample within the universe of overall grants made by the foundation community.

On average, the report found, foundations gave more to Native American organizations and causes prior to the Great Recession (in total dollars) when compared to the years after, but that foundations gave 6% more in individual grants (albeit at a lower total dollar amount). In 2012, the overall share of foundation dollars awarded to Native organizations decreased to four-tenths of one percent nationally (0.4%). However, over the full period, the percentage was somewhat more consistent, averaging six-tenths of one percent (0.6%).

“We were pretty crestfallen before when we thought that less than one-half of one percent of foundation giving went to Indian Country (based on earlier studies), but this new data shows that the real number is only 23/100ths of one percent, which is how much actually flows to Native-controlled organizations,” Roberts said.

Funding is Volatile, Too

The research also found that annual foundation giving to Native organizations and causes is extremely volatile, experiencing annual spikes and declines. This volatility has real consequences and can cause instability for community organizations that cannot accurately predict revenue and, thus, cannot reliably invest in organizational development and programming.

Finally, in trying to understand where the largest gaps in funding were coming from, the report found that new funders have emerged to support Native American organizations and causes, but these new funding entities cannot fully fill the gaps left by significant declines in support by America’s largest foundations.

“The decline of foundation investments in Native communities and causes is extremely troubling. What this report makes clear is that is that it is more important than ever for foundations to evaluate their commitment to equity and inclusion of Native people within their philanthropic giving portfolios,” Roberts said.

The full report and an executive summary are available for free from the First Nations Knowledge Center at (Please note that if you don’t already have one, you will need to create a free online account in order to download the reports.)

Art for Culture & Economy: Tananáwit at Warm Springs

Tananáwit: A Community of Warm Springs Artists

Tananáwit: A Community of Warm Springs Artists

On the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Central Oregon, incomes are low and unemployment is high. In this context, where people confront daily and weekly challenges in meeting personal and family needs, local artists sometimes struggle to live in accordance with time-honored cultural practices in producing their art and finding outlets to sell their work at fair prices.

Now, the artists of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation are coming together. With the support of First Nations Development Institute’s Native Arts Initiative, they are collaborating and organizing to increase buying power, visibility and sales channels. From improving access to supplies to capitalizing on local and nearby events like the solar eclipse in 2017, this newly developed organization is bolstering arts and culture and thriving in the name of Tananáwit.

Need for Community and Structure

In recent years, art at Warm Springs has been a private affair. Most artists work individually and art has been sold primarily on the reservation, usually from artists’ homes. Art has been part of the culture, but not widely visible outside the community.

Efforts to change this started when a group of artists sat down to talk, said Leah Guliasi, IDA Program Administrator and Arts Co-op Program Manager for the Warm Springs Community Action Team (WSCAT), a nonprofit dedicated to empowering individuals in the community and affecting positive change. Since 2013, WSCAT has provided facilitation, guidance and a work space for artists. Through this support, the first-ever Warm Springs Artisans’ Community was formed.

Initial work for the Artisans’ Community involved establishing a steering committee and surveying the community to ascertain the state of Warm Springs art: What types of art were being created? How could artists work together to best market and promote their products? And did artists see the value of a cooperative?

Survey results showed that interest was there, but what was needed went beyond the capacity of WSCAT staff. The Artisans’ Community required its own structure and its own identity to create a brand and further unite these solo-functioning artists.

Economic Drivers

Jewelry and other art for sale.

Jewelry and other art for sale.

Further compelling the formation of the Artisans’ Community was the state of the economy. Low-income, low-asset families and individuals make up the majority of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, where 4,000 of the 5,614 members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Indians live. The unemployment rate on the reservation is more than five times that of the state of Oregon, while the per-capita income is less than half of other Oregon residents. Further, the overall poverty rate on the reservation is almost 25% – nearly double the rate of Oregon.

All this has added up to hardship for local artists, noted Guliasi, which affected both supply and demand. “It’s been challenging for artists to even come up with money for supplies,” she said. “Once you did, it is also difficult to find ways to sell outside the informal channels of the reservation.”

Most artists have used their art sales to supplement their incomes. But for elders who are no longer working, having extra money through art sales can make a big difference in their livelihoods, she said.

The Forming of Tananáwit

Indeed, the Warm Springs community had a pressing need to find a way to present local art in a way that would promote both culture and livelihoods. At this point, WSCAT sought funding through the First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative to incorporate the Warm Springs Artisans’ Community, which involved developing a board of directors, creating staff positions and writing policies and bylaws. To increase its economic power, WSCAT also aimed to train community members on the scope and function of a cooperative, create opportunities for artists to gain business experience, and provide opportunities for them to sell their work.

From there, the group of artists formed Tananáwit: A Community of Warm Springs Artists, which roughly translated means “Indian People.” They elected a six-person board of directors, drafted articles of incorporation and laid the groundwork for becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. They also worked with an organization called ONABEN, which hosted trainings for artists on pricing and marketing their work, creating business cards, writing biographies, and pursuing sales opportunities.

For Marge Kalama, a local artist who would soon serve on the board of Tananáwit, the organization of Tananáwit made a dream come true. “This is something that had been discussed for generations, but efforts to get a structure off the ground always fell short,” she says.

Art buyers looking over some possibilities.

Art buyers looking over some possibilities.

Now, through the funding and organization of the nonprofit, Warm Springs artists have more opportunities. Art is identified, people have a venue and method to share their work, and there is a network of artists who are working together to improve their livelihoods.

“We’re now able to shift the mindset to envisioning and producing art in the manner in which it has been taught by elders,” Marge said. “And we can develop a value for the techniques and teachings handed down from one generation to the next.”

Going to Market

As the Tananáwit organization has gained momentum, 12 different types of products, including beadwork, huckleberry baskets, ceramics, cedar root baskets, quilts, moccasins, buckskin dresses and other pieces, have been cultivated. A website and Facebook group have been established, and over 15 artists have taken part in four business trainings.

Through the organization operating on cooperative principles, artists have organized and participated in a series of events including the Warm Springs Outdoor Market, Trading on the River, and Madras Art Adventure Gallery. Armed with business cards and bios, they were also able to move aggressively on a unique tourist opportunity – the selling of art during the 2017 Solar Eclipse, which attracted over 50,000 people from all over the world to Warm Springs and nearby Madras, which were among the eclipse’s best viewing spots.

With revenues still growing, the forming of Tananáwit has so far resulted in the selling of art by more than 20 artists, with each artist making up to $400 at most major events, and up to $6,000 during the solar eclipse.

More Appreciation, More Opportunities

Beyond revenue is the intergenerational transfer of artists’ skills within the community, and the enhanced knowledge throughout the region about the Native art of peoples from the Columbia River Plateau. There is increased cultural visibility, and more appreciation for artistic skill. And, true to the purpose of the First Nations funding, access and awareness of art is being fostered and the value of art is increasing.

Plans are underway to renovate an old building as a place for Tananáwit to showcase local artwork.

Plans are underway to renovate an old building as a place for Tananáwit to showcase local artwork.

Guliasi said funding from First Nations is what made it possible for the cooperative to move from a small grassroots group of artists to the official nonprofit that it is today. In addition to financial resources, First Nations brought technical support and created the flexibility in operations for Guliasi to spend the time needed to work with the artists.

“They’ve given us the reassurance and power to keep moving on,” she said. “First Nations is helping bring to life and reestablish what Warm Springs has always had – art.”

Collaboration for the Future

Poverty and unemployment remain issues for the Warm Springs community. But through Tananáwit, progress is underway to at least uphold the cultural and economic value of its art. Today, the Artisans’ Community is hosting two board meetings a month, advertising more than a dozen events and opportunities for artists online, selling art at the newly opened Plateau Travel Plaza and working on a membership agreement to recruit even more artists. Goals are in place to further distinguish “crafts from art,” attract more artists, and moreover keep art thriving in the community. In addition, by 2020, Tananáwit will have a storefront in the newly renovated Old Commissary building, as part of a small business incubator that will further promote economic development and local art in Warm Springs.

“I’m proud that Tananáwit has decided to work with WSCAT in service of artists in the community. I think the growth of Tananáwit will inspire and empower Warm Springs Artists, both old and young,” said Guliasi.

By Amy Jakober

Grantees Announced for Native Language Initiative

Native Language Immersion Initiative

Native Language Immersion Initiative

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently announced the 12 inaugural grantees under the first year of its three-year Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII). Each grantee receives $90,000 in funding to build the capacity of and directly support its Native language-immersion and/or culture-retention program.

Under NLII, First Nations is seeking to build a dialogue and a community of practice around Native language-immersion programs and momentum for Native language programs. The effort is made possible through generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Lannan Foundation, Kalliopeia Foundation and NoVo Foundation. The initiative includes American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian language programs.

These grants are aimed at supporting activities such as curriculum development, technology access, and recruitment and training of teachers.

The grantees are:

  1. Chickaloon Native Village, Chickaloon, Alaska. The Ahtna Nekenaege’ Ugheldze’ Ghitnaa Pilot Project will serve Pre-K-8 students of the Ya Ne Dah Ah Tribal School. After the passing of the last fluent language speaker/teacher, the Chickaloon Village Tribal Council prioritized the preservation of cultural lifeways through the implementation of a curriculum and testing assessment standards developed over the past three years for Ahtna culture and language immersion instruction.
  2. Kama’aha Education Initiative, Hilo, Hawaiʻi. The project will be guided by the rediscovery of Hawaiian scientific terminology and concepts found in ancestral texts and their integration into Pre-K-12 school curriculum, online resources and training for Hawaiian language immersion teachers. The goal is to provide culturally-responsive teaching grounded in Hawaiian knowledge in order to better support student learning in the subject areas of language, math and science.
  3. Keres Children’s Learning Center, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico. The goal is to expand and increase the capacity of staff to develop children, ages 2.5 to 6, into healthy, responsible, Keres-speaking adults in the primary Keres immersion classroom. Training will be provided in best language immersion and Montessori practices and by refreshing the classroom materials and equipment to better nurture and revitalize the Keres language, culture and traditions.
  4. Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College, Baraga, Michigan. The project, Indooziitaamin, will primarily focus on the Migiziinsag preschool program. It will strengthen the current program through increased use of language and cultural activities, and will prepare teachers to encourage more frequent Ojibwe language use by providing recurring training, evaluation and a curriculum. Additionally, family-oriented events will be held to promote language use between community members and increase cultural awareness.
  5. Nez Perce Tribe, Lapwai, Idaho. The project will create a formal immersion training program for future Nez Perce language teachers, who will serve students in preschool through college in the three main on-reservation communities of Lapwai, Orofino and Kamiah/Kooskia. The key points of this project are mentoring, job and life shadowing, curriculum methodology, curriculum development, and professional development training.
  6. Ohkay Owingeh, Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico. The project offers an additional opportunity for tribal members age 6-17 in the public and tribal schools’ current language immersion programs to continue Tewa immersion through after-school programs. Programs include connecting with tribal elders through mentoring activities, community service, and cultural-retention activities. Language immersion will be provided by community members who have obtained the tribe’s certification as Tewa teachers.
  7. Oneida Nation, Oneida, Wisconsin. The tribal language department will expand the Oneida immersion program to include the 10-16 students in the Oneida Head Start. This class will be structured to utilize On^yote’aka Tsi Nitwaw^not^ and Head Start “as it happens” curriculum objectives, along with additional cultural components, and to serve children in a setting where Oneida is the first language they learn.
  8. Salish School of Spokane, Spokane, Washington. This project will increase intergenerational use and transmission of Salish language. This will be achieved by expanding the Salish immersion school programming from K-5 to include grades 6 and 7, deepening and expanding the Salish immersion teacher training program, sustaining the Salish language training program for parents and community members, and creating new Salish language math, science and literacy materials.
  9. STAR School (Painted Desert Demonstration Project), Flagstaff, Arizona. The project will intensify the Navajo language immersion efforts in early childhood (ages 3, 4 and 5). The Alchini Bighan (children’s house) serves 36 Navajo children and follows the Montessori model of “learn by doing” with the language immersion approach that entails conversational learning rather than direct instruction. In addition, the project will provide a six-day Diné language immersion camp for students in grades 1-8 that will focus on plant knowledge and traditional food.
  10. Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, North Dakota. The project will create a comprehensive, coherent Pre-K immersion curriculum based on Dakota/Lakota immersion activities and materials developed since 2012, The curriculum will serve teachers and students at Lakho’iyapi Wahohpi orany D/Lakota preschool or daycare centers interested in creating an immersion environment, along with parents and community members who want to support language learning in the home.
  11. Waadookodaading, Inc., Hayward, Wisconsin. The Agindamaadidaa! (“Let’s Read!”) project will develop a sequence of Ojibwemowin leveled reading books that will align with new Ojibwe literacy assessments being developed. Leveled readers match a student’s reading ability level, or “lexile,” with texts written at that level. Although these are commonly available for reading series in English, this will be the first series in Ojibwe. The focus of the first readers will be sets for students in K-1, 2-3 and 4-5.
  12. Wopanaak Language and Cultural Weetyoo Inc., Mashpee, Massachusetts. Mukayuhsak Weekuw Wôpanâôt8ây Pâhshaneekamuq supports expansion of the Wôpanâak immersion language nest (preschool/kindergarten) to serve lower elementary students (grades 2-4) through teacher certification and fluency training, parent literacy development, and comprehensive planning to ensure a family and community-driven school design grounded in Wampanoag culture. Community planning will engage all four Wampanoag tribes and governing councils who contribute to the vitality of WLRP’s immersion and other instructional programs serving 4,000 citizens among the greater Wampanoag Nation in southeastern Massachusetts.


There are currently about 150 Native languages spoken in the U.S., many of them spoken only by a small number of elders. Without intervention, many of these languages are expected to become extinct within the next 50 to 100 years, which means a significant loss of cultural heritage. Language retention and revitalization programs have been recognized as providing key benefits to Native American communities by boosting educational achievement and student retention rates. They also support community identity, Native systems of kinship, and management of community, cultural and natural resources. Language learning gives rise to many positive social, cultural and economic impacts and, further, it can be life transforming, promote individual healing, and lead to cultural revitalization through the transmission of cultural values and knowledge that cannot be taught otherwise. Language learning can also create career opportunities in communities that are otherwise limited, and promote a spiritual connection with ancestry.

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

“We sincerely thank all of the organizations that applied this year, all of whom are doing great work in their communities and often under challenging circumstances,” said Marsha Whiting, First Nations’ Associate Director of Programs. “For those who weren’t selected this year, there will be another call for grant proposals next year, so please plan to apply again.”

Revised Investment Curriculum Available from First Nations

Investing for the Future

Investing for the Future

“When I got my first ‘real’ job, I remember my father telling me to make sure to set aside some money each month to invest in my retirement. ‘And don’t forget to diversify!’ he added. It took me awhile to figure out how to use the company’s retirement program to set aside a few dollars each month in an investment account. And it took even longer to learn what the term ‘diversify’ meant, but I finally understand it – mostly.”Sarah Dewees of First Nations, the author of this article.

Many people, young and old, experience the same confusion when first encountering the world of investing. It sometimes seems that the terms and concepts are designed to perplex and intimidate people. First Nations Development Institute set out to make investing easier by designing a workbook called Investing for the Future. As part of the Building Native Communities series of financial workbooks, Investing for the Future provides an overview of basic investing concepts and provides a three-step process of designing your own basic investment portfolio. And you will learn how to diversify along the way.

In August 2018, First Nations will be releasing the fully revised 2nd edition of the Investing for the Future workbook. We have also scheduled a train-the-trainer workshop that will be held October 16-17, 2018, at Northern Quest hotel and resort in Airway Heights, Washington. The workshop is a great opportunity for financial educators, CDFI staff and other financial professionals to learn more about how to teach investment concepts.

“We designed the workbook so that it could be used to teach basic investing concepts to youth as well as adults,” said Shawn Spruce, the workbook author. “An increasing number of Native people have funds to manage, whether as the recipient of a trust fund payout, a member of an investment committee, or a working professional. The goal of this curriculum is to provide a way for financial educators and others to offer a simple, effective investment training to their clients.”

“We frequently get requests for investing workshops that provide an introduction to the world of investing,” shared Krystal Langholz, COO of First Nations Oweesta Corporation. “We think this workbook will be useful for many financial educators working in Indian Country.”

“I feel like I learn something new every time I read about investing, and I enjoyed reading the Investing for the Future workbook,” Dewees said. “I figured out that I am ‘Investing for the Long Term’ and am not ready for a ‘Walk on the Wild Side.’ Those are descriptions of an investment strategy and an asset-allocation strategy found in the workbook. What’s your best asset-allocation strategy? You’ll have to read Investing for the Future to find out.”

For more information, visit To register for the workshop, visit

By Sarah Dewees, First Nations’ Director of Programs – Research, Policy and Asset-Building