Titwáatit Gallery Boosting Colville Native Artists

The Art Gallery

The Art Gallery

When the front door opens, a chime rings and each visitor is greeted with the sound of Northern Plains drumming and the smell of freshly-burned sage. At first glance, a visitor might notice the intricate beadwork on a belt in the front room, or be drawn to a hand-woven basket perfectly poised on a stand in the foyer.

The Northwest Native Development Fund (NNDF) has meticulously created a pure Plateau Native American art experience through the development of the Titwáatit Native Art Gallery in Grand Coulee Dam, Washington. The fund worked closely with local artists to display their art in a way to attract the visitor and highlight the beauty of each piece.

Ric Gendron paints intently at the art show.

Ric Gendron paints intently at the art show.

As a recipient of a Native Arts Initiative grant from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), NNDF was able to establish this permanent space, the Titwáatit Native Art Gallery, for artists to train, facilitate workshops, and sell their art near the Colville Indian Reservation. NNDF chose this location to reach Native artists and community members on the reservation, as well as the non-Native consumers passing through to view the historical Grand Coulee Dam.

“Currently, on the Colville Reservation, there is a need for easier access to traditional Native artwork. By opening the Native artist studio near the Colville Reservation, NNDF will provide a more professional platform for artists to showcase their work and community members to engage with the artists,” said Ted Piccolo, Executive Director of NNDF. “In an ever-inflating economy, we hope to help our Native artists prosper financially, allowing them to continue chasing their passions, while providing traditional Native artwork to our communities.”

Christine Buckminster at the art show.

Christine Buckminster at the art show.

The idea of the gallery was created through discussions around the success of NNDF’s Annual Plains Native Art Show. The show’s curators recognized the need to showcase the local artists and talent on a regular basis. NNDF staff worked diligently to raise the funding to support the development and management of a Plateau Native art gallery and studio for the summer of 2018. In addition to raising funding for the new Titwáatit Native Art Gallery, NNDF understood the need to simultaneously showcase the artists while generating the tools and support for the artists to build their individual businesses. To accomplish this, 10 Native artists are participating in NNDF’s intensive Native Artists Business and Entrepreneurial Training throughout 2018 to strengthen their business practices.

Cheryl Grunlose at the art show.

Cheryl Grunlose at the art show.

To date, Titwáatit has sold several local artist pieces. Because this art gallery is supported through grant funding, all proceeds go directly to the artists. NNDF also saw much success at the Annual Plateau Native Art Show on August 25, 2018. In spite of the heavy smoke conditions from the West Coast fires, NNDF saw incredible turnout, hosting 12 local artists and over 60 attendees. The art show produced 12 juried exhibitions, contributing four prizes to participating artists.

“With our programmatic effort and partnership with First Nations Development Institute, we hope to create a more sustainable and prosperous environment for our Native arts community,” noted Piccolo. “Creating access to the community is imperative in this endeavor, and NNDF hopes to bridge that gap in our community.”

By Stephanie Cote, First Nations Program Coordinator

Gwich’in Seek to Protect Arctic Wildlife Refuge

espect Gwich’in Human Rights. Left to right are Michelle Piñon, Myra Thumma, Virgina Peter and Miho Aida.

Respect Gwich’in Human Rights. Left to right are Michelle Piñon, Myra Thumma, Virgina Peter and Miho Aida.

The Gwich’in Steering Committee (GSC) invites friends and allies to join it to celebrate the 58th Anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (the Refuge). The Refuge, which spans 19.5 million acres, is one of the last untouched ecosystems in the world. It is home to 45 species of land and marine mammals, including polar bears, wolf, moose, mountain sheep and bowhead whales.

The Refuge is also the primary habitat of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, one of the largest herds of mammals in North America. Each spring the herd migrates from its winter range in the boreal forests to the spring calving and nursery grounds on the coastal plain of northeastern Alaska and Yukon.

Young Gwich’in Protester Lexine Demientieff

Young Gwich’in Protester Lexine Demientieff

About 9,000 Gwich’in people make their homes on or near the migratory route of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, and they have depended on caribou for their subsistence way of life for thousands of years. Today, as in the days of their ancestors, the caribou is still vital for food, clothing and tools, and they are a source of respect and spiritual guidance for the Gwich’in.

The mission of the GSC is to ensure the long-term health and viability of the Porcupine Caribou Herd that sustains the Gwich’in way of life. The GSC, under mandate from the elders and chiefs, must continue to educate the world about the importance of the herd, and fight to protect the Refuge, which it refers to as “the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

Big oil companies and some members of the U.S. Congress want to drill along the coastal plain of the Refuge, which would put the future of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the traditional Gwich’in way of life at risk. The roads, pipelines, traffic, drill rigs and other disruptions that come with oil drilling could drive the caribou away from their calving grounds.

Gwich’in Steering Committee delegates in Washington D.C. Left to right are Steve Frank, Bernadette Demientieff, Kathy Tritt, Lillian Horace and Tiliisia Sisto.

Gwich’in Steering Committee delegates in Washington D.C. Left to right are Steve Frank, Bernadette Demientieff, Kathy Tritt, Lillian Horace and Tiliisia Sisto.

In 2018, First Nations Development Institute awarded the GSC $20,000 to launch a new campaign to increase awareness of this impending threat. With this funding, the GSC has launched a large-scale campaign that consists of television and radio public service announcements, social media outreach and online petitions, as well as national and worldwide speaking engagements to educate and inform the public about the negative and widespread consequences of drilling for oil and gas along the coastal plain of the Refuge.

As part of this campaign, the Gwich’in Steering Committee has planned three events in early December to further its mission of protecting and defending the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These events are:

  • 58th Anniversary Celebration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Thursday, December 6 at 6 p.m. in the Pioneer Park Exhibit Hall, Fairbanks, Alaska. The GSC and other Arctic Refuge advocates will host a “Keep It Wilderness” celebration. The evening will include traditional food, music, art and several guest speakers.
  • Pray for Our Homelands. Saturday, December 8. The GSC has asked all 15 G’wichin communities and local churches to participate in a prayer vigil in honor of the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd.
  • Protest in Washington, D.C. Monday, December 10. The GSC asks other tribal nations to stand in solidarity in Washington, D.C., as it protests drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information about these events, please visit the GSC’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ourarcticrefuge/

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Communications Officer

“Native Truth” Materials Garner Positive Reactions

Participants at the Reclaiming Native Truth Stakeholders' Meeting. Photo by Ellamarie Quimby Photography.

Participants at the Reclaiming Native Truth Stakeholders’ Meeting. Photo by Ellamarie Quimby Photography.

Back in June, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) 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 and a narrative-change strategy framework that will be used to begin to change the false and misleading narratives about Native peoples. Overall, the project seeks to create a long-term, Native-led movement that positively transforms popular narratives and images of Native Americans.

large-vertical-graphicWe have been delighted by the response so far! We have received countless emails, phone calls, texts and even social media messages about the materials and the project itself, as well as stated commitments by many folks to begin their own efforts to change the perceptions of Native Americans.

As a reminder, the materials are readily available for use at www.reclaimingnativetruth.com. Individuals and organizations — Native and non-Native alike — are encouraged to download the research findings and messaging guides, and put them into daily use and practice, whether that be in face-to-face conversations, in written communications, or in digital media such as social-media channels, videos or websites.

“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, at the time the reports were published. “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.”

One of the most significant outcomes 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 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.

Cover-CollageNarratives 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 the 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.

The next phase of work is focused on bringing together 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 www.reclaimingnativetruth.com. The detailed research report and the Narrative-Change Strategy are also available online.

“We 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.” Roberts noted. “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.”

“Gather” Food Sovereignty Film Coming in 2019!

Photo of Apache Beans by Taylor Minjarez (White Mountain Apache)

Photo of Apache Beans by Taylor Minjarez (White Mountain Apache)

The First Nations-produced, feature-length film Gather is in post-production now with an anticipated completion date of Spring 2019 (see earlier story here). The filmmakers will then announce a premiere date and location and will begin a screening tour in Indian Country.

Meanwhile, the affiliated journalism project continues to produce exceptional reporting of critical food sovereignty issues.

Journalist Chelsey Luger recently filed a story with CivilEats.com on the Navajo Beef cooperative, also a First Nations grantee.

“On the 14-R Ranch, there are considerably more cattle than people. Just north of Sanders, Arizona — population 3,716 — about 2,000 head roam more than 300,000 acres.

“Unlike the more verdant cattle ranches of the Great Plains, the land here on the Navajo Nation is peppered with patchy vegetation — a desert surrounded by junipers and red sand. But what the area lacks in grass density it makes up for in extended acreage, offering plenty of food for cattle, which 14-R ranchers say results in healthier, better-tasting meat and a notably ecological operation.”

Read more here: https://civileats.com/2018/10/08/navajo-beef-brings-traditional-practices-and-modern-business-to-ranching/

Journalist Kim Baca also filed a story on how food sovereignty is moving to the web.

“In a white ceramic bowl, Mariah Gladstone mixes canned salmon, corn meal and chia — creating the kind of nourishing meal anyone can fix at home in minutes. While it’s not exactly what her Blackfeet ancestors ate, the ingredients have a long history: They have helped sustain entire civilizations.

“The connection between traditional foods and culture can be lost if it is not practiced. But through outreach endeavors like her cooking videos, Gladstone and other Native cooks are helping their peers embrace their culinary traditions by teaching about traditional foods, what they are, and how to find and cook them.”

Read more here: https://www.hcn.org/issues/50.7/tribal-affairs-organic-reach-food-sovereignty-moves-onto-the-web


Native Students Challenge School Officials Over Inappropriate Assignment

Catawba Cultural Fellowship Program Director DeLesslin George-Warren and 2018 Fellows Kendell Gunn, Paiton Funderburk and Lauren Carpenter.

Catawba Cultural Fellowship Program Director DeLesslin George-Warren and 2018 Fellows Kendell Gunn, Paiton Funderburk and Lauren Carpenter.

Recently, Lauren Carpenter and Paiton Funderburk, both members of the Catawba Tribe, were given an assignment in their high school’s American history class. The task: debate the pros and cons of the Indian Removal Act, both in class and with a longer paper.

The Indian Removal Act, signed by Andrew Jackson in 1830, forcibly removed 100,000 Choctaws, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Creeks and Seminoles from their traditional homelands. Forced to march westward under U.S. military coercion, 25 percent of the men, women and children died of illness, starvation, exposure and exhaustion.

As the only two American Indian students in the class, Carpenter and Funderburk were deeply uncomfortable with the assignment, and discussed their concerns with their teacher and principal. Both students, along with their parents and other tribal members, explained that the assignment was culturally-insensitive and inappropriate.

“A teacher would never ask students to articulate and defend both sides of The Holocaust,” says DeLesslin George-Warren, Special Projects Coordinator of the Catawba Cultural Fellowship Program. “You wouldn’t ask students if Hitler’s policies were beneficial to Jewish people or gay people or socialists in Nazi Germany.”

CatawbaIndianSeal01Although their teacher and principal sympathized with their concerns, both students were still required to write a paper asking them how Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Policy benefited tribes. Reluctantly, both students wrote papers, which they knew they needed in order to pass American history so they could graduate from high school and fulfill their dreams of earning college degrees.

“This experience has made me more aware of how our culture – and other cultures – are misrepresented in the classroom. It has really affected my views on our education system,” says Carpenter. “This experience has been really eye-opening,” agrees Funderburk. “It shows a lack of knowledge within the education system about Indigenous people.”

In 2016 First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) launched Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions, a co-led nationwide research initiative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and other supporters. As part of this initiative, researchers collected and analyzed data from focus groups, in-depth interviews and thousands of online survey responses to identify damaging and pervasive American Indian stereotypes, and then explore potential strategies for challenging these harmful narratives.

large-vertical-graphicAmong the many findings, this groundbreaking research revealed that American Indian myths and misconceptions are most often learned in the classroom and ingrained in the minds of students at very young ages. In parent/teacher focus groups, both demographics acknowledged that American Indian culture and history are often “underrepresented and inaccurate” in K-12 curriculum. Furthermore, this research also indicated that many people are angry and disappointed that the information they were taught in school was “so sparse or misleading.”

Seventy-two percent of those surveyed emphasized that it is “necessary to make significant changes to school curriculum.” Although some states such as Oregon, California and a handful of other school boards have started working with Native leaders to correct previously harmful narratives about local tribes, many other school administrators and teachers have yet to follow their lead.

Indeed, many teachers admitted in their Reclaiming Native Truth focus groups that the “history of Native American peoples” and “pre-Columbian American history and culture” are two of the “worst subjects in terms of coverage and accuracy.” The key to overcoming these limitations is for schools to partner with tribes to develop culturally-sensitive curriculum that is grounded in the tribe’s specific culture and history.

Unfortunately, until such curriculum changes occur, American Indian students must sit in classrooms that dismiss and devalue their culture and history.

“I’ve told other students about Catawba and they seem genuinely interested in our tribe,” says Funderburk. “It’s a shame that Catawba knowledge isn’t integrated into the education system.” The Catawba Indian Nation has lived alongside the Catawba River in present-day North and South Carolina for more than 6,000 years. The U.S. dramatically reduced the tribe’s land base from 144,000 acres to a 700-acre reservation located approximately 30 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Our reservation is less than 15 minutes away from the city,” says George-Warren. “And still most people don’t know who we are or where we live.”

Currently, George-Warren is working closely with Catawba parents and students to draft a letter to the newly-elected school board to encourage local schools to partner with the Catawba Indian Nation to incorporate Catawba culture and history into K-12 curriculum. George-Warren is hopeful that the school board will be receptive to this collaboration.

Native Youth and Culture Fund

Native Youth and Culture Fund

In 2018, First Nations awarded the Catawba Cultural Center a grant of $19,950, through the Native Youth and Culture Fund, to launch a fellowship program to develop the cultural and leadership skills of five Catawba youth. Through this program, Catawba youth are mentored by accomplished traditional artists in their area of interest and later teach their skills to Catawba youth participating in summer programs. Carpenter and Funderburk are among the first cohort of fellows.

“I am really, really proud of Lauren and Paiton for taking a stand so other students won’t have to go through the same thing,” said George-Warren.

Both Carpenter and Funderburk will graduate high school this spring and head to college in the fall. Carpenter, a Dreamstarter for Running Strong, has her sights set on medical school to become a cardiologist, and Funderburk intends to pursue a master’s degree in wildlife conservation. However, before both students embark on this new adventure, they will spend the summer mentoring Catawba youth ages 5-12, thereby inspiring and empowering a new generation of culturally-conscious leaders.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Communications Officer

Admiration & Respect for Native World Drive Couple’s Commitment

Drs. Basavlinga Amarkumar (Amar) and Mangala Kumar

Drs. Basavlinga Amarkumar (Amar) and Mangala Kumar

Native American spirituality, connection to nature, tolerance and tradition: For Drs. Basavlinga Amarkumar (Amar) and Mangala Kumar, the list of reasons they admire the Native world is long and sincere. They’re reasons they’ve studied and explored since coming to the United States over 45 years ago. And they’re reasons for the couple’s long-time support of Native American causes and First Nations Development Institute (First Nations).

An Indian Perspective

Amar came to America from India at the age of 24 to do his surgical residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. He says inside the medical community, Indians like him were a common sight. But when he would explain to people outside the hospital that he was Indian, he’d immediately hear references to cowboys. He soon learned about the plight of Indians – Native Americans – in America and the stereotypes behind those confused references. From there, he grew curious.

“I have always believed in social justice,” Amar says. “And I learned there is a common thread among the Indigenous in America and in India.”

In both countries, Indigenous people are deeply spiritual. They are attached to animals and the land, and they do not put man above nature. And in both countries, there is exploitation and discrimination surrounding Indigenous people. Yet, only in America is that exploitation and discrimination also rooted in genocide.

“The historical trauma – my heart breaks for them,” he says.

Amar’s wife, Mangala, shares his sentiments.

“This is a group of people who have been subjected to so much injustice – for hundreds of years,” Mangala says. “But they are angry in such a small way. They’re so tolerant, yet they are the ones who deserve all the help.”

Practicing Medicine

Amar and Mangala’s careers in health care have put them in a position to help give Native Americans this deserved support. After his residency in Chicago, Amar went on to practice at Cook County Hospital, then at the Veterans’ Hospital in South Dakota. He ultimately worked in Virginia before retiring in 2012. Mangala did her residency at John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County and Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, and is now a board-certified anesthesiologist with a veterans’ hospital in Virginia.

Their background in medicine has also increased their appreciation of Native ways.

In coming to America, Amar says he saw drug addiction, shootings on the streets of Chicago, and the poor decisions that came from stress and work expectations. Then, throughout his medical career, he continued to see sickness, disease and death, often as a result of poor nutrition, lifestyle, living alone, and the European work ethic. “It doesn’t kill you outright,” he says. “But it does.”

He says the problem lies in the way medicine in America is practiced. With capitalism, there is no money to gain from preventing health problems. There is only revenue from waiting for someone to have a disease and then treating it.

As a result: 19% of the GNP is spent on health care. Life spans are down. There is too much work, and too little rest, he says.

This doesn’t happen in the Native world, he says. And he says he wishes people would go back to Native ways, where food is natural, rich in nutrition and not loaded with toxins and sugar. Stress is mitigated through a harmonious relationship with nature.

Mangala concurs. “Native Americans don’t waste. They don’t destroy,” she says. “People today are fighting the earth, thinking they can do whatever they want.”

Always Learning

Key to the couple’s insights and their approach to Native American issues is the role of education. Both doctors completed school in India and came to America for advanced degrees. Since then, they’ve continued to seek opportunities to further their knowledge through schooling, reading and traveling.

Amar and Mangala

Amar and Mangala

Amar went on an excursion to Wounded Knee and the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota. The couple together attended the First Nations Southwest Tour to learn about Native communities and cultures throughout New Mexico.

In India, they continue to help run a charitable school, and now they’re intrigued by opportunities to teach kids in America directly about different cultures through travel and interaction.

Education, Amar says, is more than books and grades. It’s the ability to critically think and to analyze, and ultimately it’s the pathway to success. The extent to which a country will ensure education is available to marginalized populations is a testament to its enlightenment. “In enlightened countries, more money will be spent on kids who don’t do well. In America, it is just the opposite.”

Further, when it comes to the historic trauma of Native populations, we also have to rethink what we’re teaching, Amar asserts.

“We have to change our books, our stories, and create a sense of awareness. But it’s like building a building. You have to do it brick by brick.”

A More Aware Future

This international awareness, appreciation for education, and respect for the plight of Native Americans is evident in Amar and Mangala’s travels, their philanthropy, and the way they’ve raised their children.

Their oldest son graduated from Yale University and is now an activist and public figure in India. Their second son has a Ph.D. from Oxford University and now teaches in London.

In reflecting on both boys’ achievements, Amar tells a story of when their youngest was growing up. The son came home from school one day and talked about how the classroom would be celebrating Columbus Day. Knowing the real story of who “discovered” America, the boy was enraged.

“So what are you going to do about it?” Amar asked.

Incensed, the boy wrote a letter expressing his insights to the Chicago Tribune. The paper and later the school published the letter and the boy felt empowered. Seven years later, in his role as the County Board Supervisor while working in Madison, Wisconsin, the first thing the grown son did was change the city’s celebration of Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day.

Change like this happens slowly, but with the support of people like Amar and Mangala, it is indeed happening. And the couple believes it is their responsibility to continue raising this awareness.

“I owe a debt of gratitude to Native people,” Amar says. “It is their land that we have taken. As a beneficiary, my small part is the least I can do.”

“I want to help,” concurs Mangala. “For me, if we would all follow the Native American ways, the world would be a better place than it is right now.”

By Amy Jakober

Lakota Artists Boost Economy, Community & Cultural Traditions on Pine Ridge

pine ridge chamber logo

For the Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce (PRACC), the goal is to bolster the local economy and improve the quality of life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This summer, with the help of funding from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), PRACC discovered the powerful role art can play in this economic development, while bringing people together and keeping Lakota traditions alive.

An Opportunity to Market

The Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce opened its doors in 2000 to support local businesses and increase tourism to South Dakota and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In support of this work, in 2009, PRACC also opened a Visitors Center and set out to decorate the space with displays and pieces by local artists.

PRACC Executive Director Ivan Sorbel says the Visitors Center now looks like an art gallery, but it doesn’t function as a storefront – a distinction that is key to PRACC’s commitment to driving the Pine Ridge economy.

“We don’t want to be in competition with the artists,” Ivan says, explaining that the job of the chamber is to promote local businesses, and not the chamber itself. “We purchased the local artwork so artists would get the sale. Then, when interested visitors come in, we connect them with the artists who handle the purchase on their end.”

Throughout the years, Ivan says PRACC has continued to think of channels like this that would attract visitors and boost economic development. In 2017, it conceived the idea of an artists-in-residence program.

NAI-Logo_Final-500pxWith funding from First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative, PRACC implemented the program that would bring 12 Native artists onsite to work and display their art at the Visitors Center. Providing each artist with a week-long session throughout the summer of 2018, the program provided the opportunity to not only market and sell their work, but also talk about their art, background, and perspectives on the creative process. It was a quality experience for the artists and for the visitors.

“It’s one thing to see art hanging on the wall,” explains Ivan. “But it’s another thing to actually speak to the artist who created the piece. It enlightened a lot of people.”

An Economy Builder

Showcased art included buffalo-horn sculpting, stone work, beadwork, leatherwork, sewing and art and hide painting, and artists were able to sell and commission pieces on the spot. With the help of the grant, PRACC covered artists’ travel costs as well as expenses surrounding venue space, marketing and promotion.

This created huge visibility for artists who would normally sell only from home studios or online. And because many local artists depend on their art to support their families in an area of high unemployment, the opportunity to sell at the Visitor Center was that much more important.

Artist Warren “Guss” Yellow Hair, who specializes in rawhide and drum work, says the ability to make extra money through the program was valuable. “On the plains, we’re just developing an art market for artists,” he says. “This program provided a way to not only share our art, but to meet everyday costs. That was huge.”

In addition, by having artists interact with visitors and tell their stories the artists-in-residence program provided a tourist attraction, which is critical to the Pine Ridge economy.

“Today’s tourist is looking for a meaningful experience,” explains Ivan. “Giving them the ability to hear about what’s going on in our area has real potential. They like to learn, and that’s good for sharing our Lakota culture and keeping it alive and relevant.”

Impact Beyond Art

In implementing the project, PRACC soon learned how the benefits of art transcended the actual artistic work. It indeed promoted artists’ businesses and the economic development of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It also served as a means of collaboration and camaraderie.

“Art is a strong portion of the Lakota culture,” says Ivan. “Beyond the art itself is the process involved in teaching it, passing it down, and sharing tradition. We only had 12 artists, but it made a big impact.”

The project also had a nurturing component in that it partnered each exhibiting artist with a young “emerging artist.” These were new artists who were just starting their craft or who needed more experience in pricing, displaying, public relations and selling.

One of the emerging artists was Guss’ daughter Tianna, a full-time student pursuing a career in Lakota arts who specializes in the women’s art form, parflesh.

Black Hills Art MarketTianna says she is grateful to PRACC and the opportunity to show her work with other artists. Tianna not only worked alongside her father during the project, she also won the 13th spot in the artists-in-residence program, awarding her a one-week session to work and display on her own at the Visitors Center. In addition, she was given the opportunity to present at the Rural America Initiative’s Black Hills Winter American Indian Art Market (see linked video) in Rapid City, South Dakota, on Nov. 24, 2018.

This teaching aspect of the program was beneficial to all the young artists like Tianna. It also fulfilled a key component of the grant objective in that it helped facilitate the “steady intergenerational transference of traditional artistic knowledge in their communities.”

Next Steps

The Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce was established to boost the Pine Ridge economy and improve the livelihoods of the people who live there. It did not define itself as a proponent of artists and Native arts. However, Ivan says, the grant from First Nations let them see the power of art in their community.

“Our job is to foster economic development, and tourism is the number two industry in South Dakota,” says Ivan. “Now the program has laid the groundwork to pursue new opportunities for art as an economic driver.”

He says First Nations helped PRACC understand how to dig deeper with the artist community and engage tourism. “It helped us open our eyes to what is possible. What can we build on? And what can expand and increase?

“The structure of the grant is focused on art,” he says. “But economics was a byproduct. The grant helped us marry those two together.”

With the artists-in-residence program wrapping up for the summer of 2018, Ivan, Guss and Tianna are hopeful that the program can continue. They consider it a success, and PRACC envisions new possibilities as the program gains momentum. Initial thoughts for the future include opportunities in performing arts, as there are many Native singers, dancers and storytellers in the community, as well as visitor workshops where tourists can have that hands-on experience of creating art themselves.

In the meantime, art continues to be showcased at PRACC, and every visitor who comes through the doors sees this rich asset of the Lakota culture. As it improves families’ livelihoods and contributes to the economy of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Lakota art lives on, connecting people and keeping Lakota traditions alive.

To learn more about the Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce and the Artist in Residence Program, visit www.pineridgechamber.com.

By Amy Jakober

Native American Farm-to-School Resource Guide Available

Native Farm to School Resource Guide Cover 500px

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently published the Native Farm-to-School Resource Guide, a comprehensive manual for planning and implementing farm-to-school programs in Native American communities. Increasingly, Native farm-to-school programs have become an important way to introduce traditional foods and practices into curriculum, as well as to promote Native health, self-reliance and sustainability.

Farm-to-school is the common phrase for programs and activities designed to incorporate local foods into school systems to better educate students about nutrition, agriculture and culinary arts. These programs typically include hands-on, experiential learning activities that strengthen the connection between students, farmers and the community. Similarly, Native farm-to-school programs introduce traditional, locally-produced foods into school systems to improve student nutrition and increase knowledge of traditional foods, languages and ceremonies.

Additionally, Native farm-to-school programs can boost tribal economies, as many of these locally-produced food items can be purchased and utilized in school lunch programs.

The Native Farm-to-School Resource Guide was developed by identifying existing Native and non-Native farm-to-school programs and analyzing best practices, lessons learned, biggest challenges and case study examples of programs that achieved high-level impact and long-term sustainability. The result is a process guide for planning Native farm-to-school programs as well as a guide for tribal officials to engage their leadership and create buy-in for the farm-to-school process.

“The Native Farm-to-School Resource Guide is a necessary resource for communities striving to educate youth and community members on healthy, traditional agricultural practices,” said A-dae Romero-Briones, First Nations’ Director of Programs for Native Agriculture and Food Systems. “Creating a community-driven food system that engages both youth and elders increases tribal agricultural sovereignty. These efforts lead to increases in overall community health through improved knowledge and awareness of agriculture, increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the hands-on learning that supports physical well-being.”

NAFSI-new Graphic 500pxThe guide was produced under First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI), which began in 2002 to support Native communities building economic development through sustainable food systems that improve health and nutrition, strengthen food security, create food-related businesses and increase control of Native agriculture and food systems. In particular, the guide was an outgrowth of a grant First Nations received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach aimed at training Native farmers and ranchers to increase their successful participation in USDA programs and build their capacity to manage agriculture and food-system operations. One of the outcomes included creating a Native farm-to-school development training as a supplemental effort to engage more Native communities in the farm-to-school movement.

The Native Farm-to-School Resource Guide is available as a free download from https://firstnations.org/knowledge-center/foods-health/resources. (Please note that if you don’t already have one, you will need to create a free online account to download the report. That account will give you access to many other free resources and materials in the First Nations Knowledge Center.)

Board Profile: Michael E. Roberts & Creating the “And”

Michael E. Roberts

Michael E. Roberts, President, CEO and Board Member of First Nations Development Institute

If you know Mike Roberts, you’ve probably heard him talk about the “and” – how a Native American can be Indian and something else. “Being Indian defines you,” he asserts, “but it’s not the only thing that defines you.”

In his role as President, CEO and Board Member of First Nations Development Institute, Mike calls on this simple part of speech regularly, using it as a guide to empower people and communities. He shares the power of “and” in his own life and in First Nations’ investments in Indian Country.

Redefining Bravery

Mike’s drive to be Indian and something more took root in southeast Alaska, where he witnessed a form of bravery he didn’t recognize was brave at the time.

Mike was born and raised in Ketchikan, but his Tlingit family was originally from Klawock. His grandfather was a product of one of the early Indian boarding schools, and at 11 years old he had the responsibility of guiding his eight-year-old sister to Chemawa Indian School in Oregon. The journey involved a trip, first by fishing vessel to Ketchikan, then via steamship to Seattle and then across Seattle’s waterfront from the steamship docks to the train station, where they would catch a train to Oregon. This was a long trek through an unfamiliar town, all so the U.S. government could institute an elimination of Indians by taking their kids away from their households, and stripping them of their languages and cultures. The story repeated itself for Mike’s father, only this time the boarding school was at Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka, Alaska.

When his father was a sophomore in high school, Mike’s grandparents decided this school solution was no longer ideal for their children’s future, and the family decided to uproot their lives and move away from their traditional Tlingit village.

Mike gives acceptance remarks upon receiving the "Asset Builder Champion" award from the Center for Global Policy Solutions in April 2016.

Mike gives acceptance remarks upon receiving the “Asset Builder Champion” award from the Center for Global Policy Solutions in April 2016.

Mike says his grandparents’ willingness to leave everything they’d ever known for the benefit of someone else is indicative of the kind of people they were.

In Ketchikan, Mike’s father was able to go to the local high school, but it wasn’t without cost. Approaching the end of his senior year, Mike’s dad was on a path to become valedictorian when he received an arbitrary B. While there was a large Indian population in Ketchikan, the Indians lived on the “Indian side,” south of Ketchikan Creek, and it quickly became clear that he was not to be Indian and Valedictorian.

It was indeed a segregated community, but it was still something Mike didn’t fully recognize until middle school and high school. Before then, he attended the local elementary school, which unbeknownst to him was the “Indian School.” “But there are benefits to growing up like that,” he says.

He delivered papers to the neighborhoods where the Native Americans and other minorities such as Filipinos, who were tradesmen and business owners, lived. “In some ways it was idyllic. It was an aspiring Indian and middle-class community,” he says.

Ultimately, however, the reality of being Indian in Ketchikan became painfully obvious once all grades led to the one high school in town. “Being poor and Indian means you showed up for your first day of class in the predominantly white school, already with two strikes against you,” he says. “It was clear that no matter how well you did, there was little likelihood that you could be Indian and become part of the powerbase in the community.”

Still, growing up in this community south of Ketchikan Creek gave him the strength to go when it was “apparent he had to leave.” And he owes this to the bravery of his grandfather and father.

Mike with Jona Charette, First Nations Development Officer, at the "taco truck" during a staff meeting in 2017.

Mike with Jona Charette, First Nations Development Officer, at the “taco truck” during a staff meeting in 2017.

“There was discrimination and racism, but the cost of pushing back could have meant a loss of livelihood,” he says. “But they made sacrifices so I could have that community, I could go to school, and I could have choices. That’s a bravery that I probably didn’t fully give them credit for until later in life.”

Venturing Out

Mike left Ketchikan for the College of Idaho, a small liberal arts school just west of Boise. Here he hoped to reinvent himself in a community where he was not defined by his family, his ethnicity or his impoverishment. He was a math and science major. But then, wanting to pursue a career in architecture, he transferred to the University of Colorado for its architecture program. From Colorado, he set his sights on a master’s degree, eventually enrolling at the University of Washington.

But once there, he found himself more drawn to the business aspects of architecture – project management and project financing, and he soon transferred to the MBA program. After graduating, he looked to move back to Denver with his wife whom he had met while at the University of Colorado.

Still, he balanced his Indian heritage with an identity he was still defining. He cites Jess Walter, who wrote that people only have two or three opportunities in their lives to reinvent themselves. Despite his desires to do this, he typically found himself in the very familiar environment of being one of the few Indians in his environment. But now he was a Native American and a professional with a business degree. If there had been a desire to reinvent himself as something else, he was learning he didn’t need to.

Coming to First Nations

Mike during his first week with First Nations in 1992.

Mike during his first week with First Nations in 1992.

It was then that Mike was in Seattle, but scouring the classified section of The Denver Post, when he came across a job advertisement for First Nations Development Institute. The organization, then located in Virginia, was focused on economic development of Native communities.

Mike, who had never been east of the Mississippi, took the interview mainly to see the nation’s capital, assuring his wife that there was no way he would move them to Virginia. But during the interview he realized how drawn he was to what First Nations was working to accomplish, and they had no one on staff with his finance and accounting skills. That left only the tough job of convincing his wife to relocate to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he accepted the position as a research officer. Six months into the job, the then-COO left First Nations, and Mike stepped in on an interim basis.

Mike digging in at First Nations in 1992.

Mike digging into “business and numbers” in 1992.

Ultimately becoming the COO in 1995, Mike established himself as the “numbers and business” guy. He used his MBA knowledge to assess projects and analyze where they would have the most impact. He worked directly with Rebecca Adamson and Sherry Black, intrigued by their vision and key to the organization’s goal. In the early part of First Nations’ attempt to become a grantmaking organization, it aimed to reach a threshold of financing before awarding any grants. This longer-than-expected fundraising goal tested Mike’s skill in budgeting and operations early. He now laughs about how he was asked to make First Nations survive for a year-and-a-half on a 12-month budget.

But after five years, Mike reached a crossroads, and he needed to see what else might be out there. He left First Nations on good terms, and with a promise that he would remain on the board, he accepted a position in the Kaufman Foundation Fellows project, a two-year, mastery-level program in venture capitalism.

Now a Native American and a venture capitalist, Mike went on to work first for a regional venture capital firm, Kansas City Equity Partners, and eventually for Meritage Private Equity, helping the firm that would end up leveraging close to a billion dollars in managed capital and investing in large telecommunications companies.

Combining Worlds

Mike spent five years in venture capital. He honed a discipline in evaluating companies, their core competencies and their distinct advantages. And he learned how successful companies were the ones who were changing and adopting.

Mike with Harley Coriz at Santo Domingo Pueblo in 2013.

Mike with Harley Coriz at Santo Domingo Pueblo in 2013.

Ultimately, however, he realized that the value system of venture capitalism and his own didn’t necessarily align. As he and his fellow venture capitalists debated over deals with the potential of investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, he continued to be drawn by the optimism of the social entrepreneurs who were approaching First Nations promising to change the world for five or 10 thousand dollars. “They believed that they could positively impact their communities with that modest financing,” he says. “And I realized that it was that change and their world that I wanted to be part of.”

In what he says was a very deliberate decision, Mike returned to First Nations as the CEO and president in 2002, taking over for First Nations’ founder Rebecca Adamson in 2003. On condition of his return, the organization was moved to Colorado and Mike retained his seat on the board. Mike was now able to draw from his for-profit experience in setting the fiscal direction of First Nations.

“I took to heart the venture capitalist idea of ‘innovate or die,’” he says. “I knew what well-conceptualized and well-run companies looked like and I was able to apply that knowledge in evaluating projects and programs. I could see what could have the most impact in Indian Country.”

The venture capitalist experience also gave him a new perspective on philanthropy. “Having sat on the other side of the table when people were asking for money, it made it easier to be the one asking. I knew how to present something fresh and new in the eyes of funders,” he says.

Indian and So Much More

Mike with his wife, Jen, and their two daughters.

Mike with his wife, Jen, and their two daughters.

Now Mike considers First Nations with pride. He says he came back to create an organization that was best in world first, best in nonprofit second, and the best Indian nonprofit in the world third. But beyond any balance sheet or income statement, the success of First Nations comes from looking out on Indian Country and seeing the progress.

Mike makes the somewhat tongue-in-cheek statement, “At First Nations, we make early-stage, high-risk investments in Indian communities.” In actuality, he says, the perception of high-risk belongs to the private foundation community, which perpetually underinvests in Indian projects.

“But for First Nations, there is little perceived risk, as we know that we are investing in the genius of Indian people. And the power of somebody investing in you can be transformational.”

Mike has come far from the small town of Ketchikan where he says one’s “Indian-ness” was not necessarily something you were conditioned to be proud of. But it was and continues to be part of his identity that he doesn’t need to reinvent. And this was evidenced when he was “given away” in a ceremonial hand-off from his Tlingit tribe to the reins of First Nations.

He values the bravery, opportunity and sense of community instilled in him by his family and his hometown, and the “and” continues to be part of his journey and his role at First Nations. He is Indian and a leader in advancing the Indian community. He can practice Indian values and employ principals of capitalism to increase ROI.

“And at First Nations we can invest in Native communities and in innovative practices that are true to the Indian ways of responsibility and respect,” he says. “When we stop doing that, we should probably shut First Nations’ doors.”

By Amy Jakober

Social Value, Greater Healing: Art for the Upper Sioux

The community art room, with classes held every week, provides a safe space for socializing and creativity.

The community art room, with classes held every week, provides a safe space for socializing and creativity.

When the Upper Sioux Community in Granite Falls, Minnesota, sought funding from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) through the Native Arts Initiative, its goal was clear: increase access, awareness and inter-generational transfer of Dakota arts. Throughout its year-long arts project, the organization met its objective. And in doing so, it showed how the arts can unite people, strengthen community and foster healing.

A Return to the Old Ways

The mission of the Upper Sioux Community is to provide culturally-based programs and services that preserve Dakota traditions and promote education, healthy families, increased self-esteem and self-sufficiency of the Pezihutazizi Oyate. Complementing this mission is a vision to ensure that Dakota arts are easily accessible and appreciated throughout the community and region.

Since its founding, the Upper Sioux Community has sponsored Dakota arts in education, hosting after-school and summer youth programs for beading, hide painting, hoop dancing and other arts. It has also helped coordinate master apprenticeships, in which elder artists work directly with students to teach techniques hands on.

For Autumn Cavender, the Dakota Arts Program Coordinator at Upper Sioux Community, the role of the organization has always been to expand the idea of art and uphold it the way it used to be: practical, social and valued.

According to Cavender, traditional Dakota art served a purpose. “You made beautiful the things that you used,” she said. Art was not something to create and put on a shelf. Rather, art was a reflection of the energy and time that went into the things the Dakota used, wore or ate – whether it was a tool, article of clothing or recipe.

The art of moccasin-making illustrates how the Dakota made beautiful the things that were used.

The art of moccasin-making illustrates how the Dakota made beautiful the things that were used.

There was also a camaraderie to art. In the past, she described, there weren’t “art classes.” Art was learned by generations of people sitting in a circle and trading techniques. There was no talk of mastering skills – in fact, there were social rules around how the first item made would be gifted after completion. People simply created together, cultivating a productive social and political dialogue. It was about pleasant social interaction.

Another aspect of traditional Dakota art was that it had social value. Cavender said society valued people who could create the art, teach it and trade it. Art was part of the economy, and particularly skilled artists were valued by the community.

More Classes, More Space

In line with the First Nations grant objective to perpetuate, proliferate and revitalize traditional Native artistic and cultural assets, the new 12-month project was conceptualized to build on this vison – to bring art back to the way it was: a dynamic part of the culture.

The project’s main impetus was to meet a need expressed by one of the master apprentices: A sewing group that was learning star quilt making had requested a space to quilt together. Recognizing the social role of art, the community wanted to first create a communal arts space. Through the project, it was able to designate a space in an existing community building and equip it with craft tables, storage, lighting and a quilting machine.

The project then involved convening artist gatherings to promote Dakota art and to support and nurture artists. From there, community art exhibits were featured at the tribal headquarters.

Fostering Healing and Wellness

The project provided over 44 weeks of arts programming, and in doing so brought together quilters, painters, beaders and quillworkers in the communal space to share and learn. It also accomplished something inherent in the project title: Gathering and Healing Through Arts.

Cavender explained that by restoring art to its traditional standing, the project brought a healing, therapeutic component to the artists and students. Through the project, it became apparent how much art was in the community, but it was not being showcased or honored. “This contributed to artists’ feelings of being invisible. There were misconceptions of who they were and what they were doing.”

Through the emphasis on the social value of their work, these artists began to come out from their private studios and homes. The community art room created a safe space for creativity. A shift began in how artists were perceived, which ultimately improved their social and mental healing, Cavender said. “At a time when Indigenous people in our community struggle with substance abuse, intense penalties in the justice system, and poorer educational outcomes, they see how art can provide a lift up.”

Excitement for the Future

Displays showcase artist profiles, which help raise the prestige of art in the community.

Displays showcase artist profiles, which help raise the prestige of art in the community.

With the project completed, there is a now a structure for classes in place, an established communal space, and the momentum to build on this success. In the Upper Sioux Community, art is being recognized socially and monetarily with the first artist showcase resulting in the sale of $1,300 worth of textile art. Cavender said people are excited to learn about who will be the next master apprentice to host in the roundhouse. And the project has created a foundation for next steps – expanded art programs, youth and adult classes, and maybe a designated retail space in the community.

Getting to this point has been a process, and Cavender said they are thankful for the support of First Nations. Of course, Cavender explained the organization needed fiscal resources, but it also benefited from First Nations’ advice, expertise, networking opportunities and connections. Moreover, she said First Nations understood the prestige of art and the need to showcase it properly with display materials, quilt racks and mannequins. “First Nations granted a legitimacy to what we wanted to do, and that translated into what we were able to do for artists and how we were able to promote them,” she said.

Keeping Culture Alive

The Upper Sioux Community met its goals in gathering and healing through art. The group united people and strengthened community. Importantly, it began to take art out of the “glass box,” where it was inaccessible and unusable, and made it part of the culture.

“After all,” Cavender explained, “culture and tradition are dynamic things. They only work when everyone does them. By making art practical, social and valued, we can ensure it always thrives.”

By Amy Jakober