Donor “PapaJoe” Hartz: “What Makes Us the Same is the Size of Our Hearts”

Now retired 100% government and military, PapaJoe has time to spend with his favorite horse, 32-year-old Zip.

Now retired 100% government and military, PapaJoe has time to spend with his favorite horse, 32-year-old Zip.

For PapaJoe Hartz, everything we do comes back to us: Either good or bad. It is not the color of our skin or our politics or religion that make us different. It’s the size of our hearts. This belief has grown stronger over the years. Now, as a fervent donor to First Nations Development Institute, he shares his thoughts on life, Native causes, and what people can do to make their own hearts as big as possible.

A Kindred Spirit

Joe Hartz is not Native, but the Native approach to life strikes a chord with this 67-year-old U.S. Navy submarine disabled veteran. PapaJoe was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and adopted three months later in Memphis by a wonderful family. He says his knowledge of Native Americans was limited to playing “cowboys and Indians” and visiting nearby Indian villages. But the more he has learned about the plight of Native Americans, the more he has been humbled and inspired.

He talks of Native people being lied to, driven from their homelands and robbed of their cultures – and how the thought of little children being sent to boarding schools and stripped of their souls and identity is atrocious.

PapaJoe, for one, knows how important the loss of spirit is. “Without it, you have no soul,” he says. While serving onboard a submarine he sustained a debilitating knee injury that left his right knee disabled, and he was medically discharged. “For someone who is always active, this was hard to accept,” he says.

His disability contributed to a 14-year struggle with alcoholism and pain medications. “Once you think you are disabled it sometimes consumes your entire body, and you lose faith.”

PapaJoe says redemption came on January 1, 1987, when his prayers were answered. And since then he has remained alcohol and drug free for over 32 years. He says his spirit was renewed by the strength and power of traditional ways and knowledge.

One of his beloved friends and sponsor, who is part Cherokee, has given him words of wisdom and insight through the years, and now this knowledge has led PapaJoe to seek ways to help Native Americans. “I give because helping people get their spirits back is important to me. My dream is to see Native America made whole again.”

Positioned to Make a Difference

After he left the Navy, PapaJoe spent years in sales before going to work for the U.S. Postal Service. After 12 years, his service-related disabilities resurfaced, and he was forced to retire. He took the opportunity to go back to college at the University of West Florida in Pensacola and get a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies. He graduated Magna Cum Laude and was inducted into the National Honor Society. He trained as a hospital chaplain and also filled in as a part-time non-denominational minister. His education led him to adopt Taoism and Buddhism as his way of life.

PapaJoe says he plays the flute well enough to “make the dogs bark,” but it makes him happy, and that is what’s most important.

PapaJoe says he plays the flute well enough to “make the dogs bark,” but it makes him happy, and that is what’s most important.

He has toured the country in his RV and loves to play the flute. He says he plays “well enough to get the dogs barking and keep rodents away.” But in line with his outlook on life, he says, “It’s not about how good you play. It’s the fact that playing makes you happy and uplifts your spirit. You have to do what makes you happy.”

For PapaJoe, learning more about Native causes and being a part of First Nations also makes him happy because he sees First Nations as a key player in giving Indigenous people back their spirit. He appreciates that he in a position to support the work and that First Nations is in a position to have the greatest effect. He says he chose First Nations after extensive research through Charity Navigator. “It’s just the well-rounded program I was looking for. It gets people back to their roots.”

By giving to First Nations, he says he feels like he, too, is giving people hope and restoring that spirit he knows is so important. He wishes he could do more, a desire that likely led to his name “PapaJoe.”

A Papa to All

Married twice and divorced with one son, PapaJoe has no biological grandchildren, but he is “PapaJoe” to 13 grandkids and great-grandkids. “You don’t have to be a blood relative to show love to these kids. My kids know that PapaJoe will take care of them.”

For many of his grandkids, he is the only grandparent, and as such he provides support, love and insights into living a life with joy.

“I don’t care about material things,” he says. “I care about people, and when you learn about people, you learn the truth.”

He imparts on his family the importance of education and knowledge. Having traveled extensively across the country, PapaJoe considers the world to be his church and encourages his grandchildren to get out and experience the world and its people. “You will never learn the whole truth about people in a book or newspaper. You will only learn by becoming a part of the whole. We are the same people,” he says. “If you rely on others for the truth, you will always be ignorant.

Appreciation and Respect

PapaJoe reflects that people’s education and understanding throughout the years has changed slowly, and he acknowledges that what he learned about Native Americans as a boy in the 1960s is different from what is being taught today, to a small degree. “The truth is starting to come out,” he says. “We’ve come a long way, but we haven’t gone far enough.”

He says it’s still going to take years for the truth to take hold, and right now he’s happy to be part of an organization that is helping to move the needle. No matter his own heritage, he says he appreciates traditional knowledge and respects the spirit of Indigenous people. And, in supporting First Nations, he feels he has made a good investment in a cause that means so much to him.

“This is me doing my part,” he says. “Only you can increase the size of your heart. I do it through giving, love and compassion, and most importantly, by forgiving. It’s my goal and the way my heart feels.”

First Nations appreciates the support. Thank you, PapaJoe!

By Amy Jakober

Community Intellectuals & Learning are Aims of Project Partners

At the March 2018 kickoff meeting of partners under the “Supporting Community Intellectuals in Native Communities” project. Included are Shelly Fryant, Rene Dubay and Michael Munson of Salish Kootenai College, Carnell Chosa and Regis Pecos of Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, and Darren Kipp of The Piegan Institute. From First Nations are Michael Roberts, Raymond Foxworth, Catherine Bryan and Marsha Whiting. Monica Nuvamsa from The Hopi Foundation was unable to attend.

At the March 2018 kickoff meeting of partners under the “Supporting Community Intellectuals in Native Communities” project. Included are Shelly Fryant, Rene Dubay and Michael Munson of Salish Kootenai College, Carnell Chosa and Regis Pecos of Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, and Darren Kipp of The Piegan Institute. From First Nations are Michael Roberts, Raymond Foxworth, Catherine Bryan and Marsha Whiting. Monica Nuvamsa from The Hopi Foundation was unable to attend.

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), with generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation, has been engaged in an unprecedented project to support, reflect on and share learning about Native American community intellectuals in partnership with four Native-run nonprofit organizations: The Hopi Foundation, Salish Kootenai College, Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School, and The Piegan Institute at Cuts Wood School. Each of these organizations are anchors in their communities and are centers of excellence in supporting local community intellectuals and their work in elevating the Native voice in influential circles.

Through this project, each partner organization has worked diligently over the last year on projects that engage community-identified intellectualism representing diverse areas of expertise and ages to discuss concepts of intellectualism specific to their Native culture, its foundation, and historical and contemporary applications.

The outcome of the project is to raise awareness among Native community intellectuals and how it may manifest uniquely in different communities, identification of qualities of Native community intellectuals, best practices for communities and organizations to nurture and support these individuals, how community intellectuals’ contributions may best be documented and shared, and how the knowledge of Native community intellectuals may further or be furthered by Western education standards.

Here are brief profiles of the participants:

Salish Kootenai College

Salish Kootenai College

Salish Kootenai College is located in Pablo, Montana. It offers traditional education opportunities for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which provide programs and services that contribute to community development. Through this grant opportunity, Salish Kootenai College has created forums for community conversations with the Seliš, Ql̓ispé, and Ksanka (Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai) communities, engaging tribally-identified contributors representing areas of expertise important to each community. Meeting the needs of all three tribal communities has inherently been challenging for this project.

In addition, the most urgent issue faced within this community is the loss of knowledge through the passing of community elders. As a result, the goals of the project are to address the challenges within the community, utilizing traditional values and rebuilding the inter-tribal and inter-generational relationships to begin healing. This will result in the integration of knowledge transference, cultural values, seasonal activities, and ways of being and healing.

Throughout this process, Salish Kootenai College has used an advisory board to provide guidance and input on the projects within each respective tribal community of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai. The project seeks to create effective, healing conversations.

The Salish community has developed a traditional plant knowledge project. The advisory committee chose an individual working on a master’s degree at the University of Montana in Environmental Science, and who has already been working on this type of research on traditional plant knowledge, gathering, stories and eating. In the spring of 2019, the community will host events focused on plant gathering and preparation. These events will support the transmission of knowledge of medicines, community, language, history and stories.

In the Pend d’Oreille community, there is a remarkable individual who has created a youth warrior society for early teenage boys to apprentice under older men to be trained in traditional male responsibilities.

The Kootenai community project is focused on documentation of the creation of traditional dresses and moccasins. The elders have been interviewed by and work alongside the youth in making the traditional materials. This activity-based and video-documented project will capture knowledge that would not be captured otherwise, showcasing traditional-dress making, and how it has evolved.

With this project, there has been a shift within the community, bringing people together that normally would not have been brought together and giving a venue to consider these topics. There has been an added sense of urgency and awareness to capture knowledge.

Leadership Institute logo


Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School

The Leadership Institute was launched in 1997 to discuss the most critical policy issues that impact the Native tribes of New Mexico. Over the course of 20 years, the Leadership Institute has actively convened members of the New Mexico tribal communities to collectively learn and explore the issues that impact their communities and to constructively develop plans, projects and partnerships to address the specifically identified areas.

This grant project has opened the opportunity to explore community intellectualism as a pueblo community, and to redefine more broadly and holistically what this means to the community. The project has been structured with the goal of collecting information on community intellectualism through surveys and conversations, and within a framework of roles and resources in the community.

Throughout the project period, the participants have worked diligently to gather the communities’ definitions and inputs on what they feel and who they feel the community intellectuals are. In total, to date, they have received more than 200 responses. They are currently looking at the data to create information or a picture of that or who the youth and community feel are the intellectuals or knowledge sharers. Within the grant project, the Leadership Institute gathered information at the Pueblo Convocation on Education, which brings together more than 600 pueblo community members to provide input on what education should look like in their communities. They were able to see community intellectualism or knowledge sharing in practice.

This project was beneficial for the Leadership Institute and other organizations. While it created a concept that was somewhat foreign and complicated, it is now more accessible because they were able to share ideas and agree upon concepts.

The Hopi Foundation

The Hopi Foundation

Founded in 1985, The Hopi Foundation’s mission is “to help people help themselves.” The Hopi Foundation, established by local Hopis, believes in attending to the community by promoting self-sufficiency, proactive community participation in its own destiny, self-resilience and local self-determination.

With this community intellectualism grant, The Hopi Foundation will document traditional knowledge, historical events and stories that define the community, both historically and today. Much of this knowledge is only available through oral tradition and customary practices, but the group hopes to share these cultural teachings more broadly through the platform of the local radio station.

Over the past several months, The Hopi Foundation has met with six community members to define community intellectualism in the context of Hopi culture and practices. Instead of community intellectualism, the group decided to use the phrase Hopi knowledge keepers to describe the process of documenting their basic cultural understandings.

Recently, the foundation completed its vision statement on community intellectualism, and is currently in the process of translating it to the Hopi language. Language translation is a complex, time-consuming process. Once the group finishes translating the vision statement, it will share it with the rest of the community through the radio.

The Hopi Foundation is also currently working with community members to determine what stories and cultural teachings they can share on the radio during two hour-long radio programs, including the cultural discussion hour and youth hour. Determining what stories to share and how is a sensitive process that requires input and consensus from all community members. The foundation believes that it is important to preserve and perpetuate this knowledge for future generations.

Piegan Institute

The Piegan Institute at Cuts Wood School

The Piegan Institute Cuts Wood School is about collaboration and generosity bringing prosperity to the community. The institute was founded and chartered in 1987 to research, promote and preserve Native American languages, in particular the Blackfoot language of the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana.

The community intellectual project is about giving a voice to the people within the community who are creating effective work within the Blackfeet tribal community. The project is aiming to address the many challenges and solutions across Native American communities, gathering a group of community intellectuals who represent the traditional members and mainstream political leaders to discuss tribal history, language revitalization, economic challenges, and the future of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation community. The approach has simply been to sit and listen by asking a set of guided questions that engage a good conversation with each of the members, including community intellectualism, being a community member, and the responsibility of being a part of the community.

The long-term goal of the project is to produce a publication around the interviews that can be shared and used for the future within the community. The hope is that these projects within each of the communities are able to create a good discussion on what it means to be a community intellectual and to bring some insight into what it means to be a community member.

By Stephanie Cote

First Nations & FINRA Foundation Continue Partnership



The year 2018 is officially in the books and it was a rocky year for investors. Nearly all capital markets – global stock indexes, bond ETFs, currencies and commodities – ended the year down, which is an insider’s way of saying that many investors saw their portfolios nosedive to close out a whirlwind year that brought us PopSockets, Incredibles 2 and the IPhone X.

More than ever, aspiring and seasoned investors alike seek useful and practical investor education tools to navigate the ever-changing financial landscape. As part of an ongoing mission to strengthen American Indian economies to support healthy Native communities and achieve financial empowerment, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is pleased to continue its partnership with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation (FINRA Foundation) to provide resources and training though a 2019 Fraud Prevention Outreach Award to First Nations from the foundation.

Investing for the Future cover 500The award will enable First Nations to conduct community trainings and workshops as well as disseminate educational materials such as workbooks, pamphlets and activity kits. First Nations’ partnership with the FINRA Foundation extends back more than a decade, with co-branded publications such as the Investing for the Future training curriculum, a Fighting Fraud 101 pamphlet, a New Money Coming into Indian Country Investor Alert, and a co-authored report titled Race and Financial Capability in America: Understanding the Native American Experience, which was an overview of issues related to financial capability in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

A primary focus of these outreach efforts are Native American lump-sum recipients, including landowners participating in the Land Buy Back Program for Tribal Nations. This is a federally managed program that implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value.

“There’s a huge need to educate landowners about financial responsibilities stemming from trust land acquisition sales,” said Jackie Francke, First Nations Vice President of Programs & Administration. “In addition to these individuals we also provide investor education training to tribal governments and nonprofits in partnership with the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, an office under the Secretary of the Interior that manages both Individual Indian Money and Tribal Accounts on behalf of Native American tribes and beneficiaries.”

For more information on these projects and other exciting investor education opportunities facilitated by First Nations, contact Shawn Spruce by email at

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant

Choctaw Artist Presents History & Research through Art

Karen, right, with Jim and Sandy Heuerman, with a piece the Heuermans purchased.

Karen, right, with Jim and Sandy Heuerman, with a piece the Heuermans purchased.

Karen Clarkson is a Native American artist who strongly identifies with being Choctaw, and she is motivated by her heritage, as portrayed in her series of artworks titled “A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood.” This project came about through Karen’s discovery about her own roots and how to present her research through her art, raising the issues and effects of blood quantum throughout history to the present. Aside from the educational presentation of this series, the art is trying to reach into the historical narrative of the Choctaws and reach other Natives and non-Natives with the story.

"Oklahoma Centennial Celebration"

“Oklahoma Centennial Celebration”

Karen is a self-taught artist who has been expressing herself through art as early as she can remember, with a focus for many years predominately on portrait art. Her professional career as an artist developed after her children had left when she was in her thirties.

“I want to somehow bring people together through seeing themselves in someone else’s face,” she said of her art. “I want people to feel that connection and to change them somehow, which is not something you can teach, it has to come from a feeling deep down inside.” Today, she is a certified woman-owned, minority-operated business, dedicated to showcasing her art at Indian markets and Native productions.

"Choctaw Woman with Ledger"

“Choctaw Woman with Ledger”

Because she had found a significant amount of information and needed a way to present it to the public, Karen had developed and worked for over two years to complete this series of Choctaw paintings. She wanted to illustrate the history of current issues on land and blood and the way in which these topics affect Natives today, especially around blood quantum, sovereignty, adoption that was happening at that time, and forced institutionalized education. Through the series, Karen wanted to highlight specifically how important the Dawes Act was for Native American people. In recording their blood quantum, many were forced to record an amount that would make them safe from additional restrictions, not knowing how it would affect people in today’s world. She states, “The implications are still with us today as much emphasis has been put on blood quantum.”

Similarly, Karen mentioned the Stigler Act, which states that the allotted lands held by citizens of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Nations must possess more than one-half blood quantum in order to inherit land from their forbearers and retain it as “Indian Land.” In the early 1900s, the five tribes had 15 million acres, and that number was down to 381,000 acres by 2015. Specifically, 6,952,960 acres were allotted to individual members of the Choctaw Nation, with a significant loss to 135,263 acres by 2016. In 2018, the Stigler Act was amended to remove blood quantum minimum requirements for holders of tribal allotment land.

"Dad and the Dawes Roll"

“Dad and the Dawes Roll”

Karen was introduced to First Nations by longtime supporter Jim Heuerman. After reading through First Nations’ Reclaiming Native Truth project materials, Karen found that the messaging resonated with her series, and that she had been looking for a concrete way for people to find a call to action in changing the Native narrative.

With her series “A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood,” she is hoping that the portraits and stories can resonate with Natives of all nations and that they can recognize themselves within this narrative, and that non-Natives will be able to obtain a clearer picture of history and see how it not only applies to Native Americans, but to people of all other ethnicities.

By Stephanie Cote

Salish School Builds Opportunities for Language Interaction & Transmission

K-2 Salish Immersion Lead Teacher Grahm Wiley-Camacho and his daughter X̌sčnitkʷ, who is also a first-grade student in his class.

K-2 Salish Immersion Lead Teacher Grahm Wiley-Camacho and his daughter X̌sčnitkʷ, who is also a first-grade student in his class.

According to linguists, languages not learned by children in the traditional way, passed on from one generation to the next, are doomed to extinction. Unless, of course, there are conscious and deliberate efforts taken by the community and their philanthropic partners to revitalize those languages.

Salish is one of many critically endangered Indigenous languages at risk of extinction. “For 90 years, our children have not been raised with the Salish language,” says Christopher Parkin, Principal of the Salish School of Spokane. “Interior Salish is only spoken by 24 surviving fluent elders, and most of them are in their 70s or 80s.”

In 2009, LaRae Wiley, who is a member of the Sinixt Arrow Lakes band, along with Parkin, her husband, and Colville tribal members Michelle Wiley-Bunting and Trina Ray, and tribal descendant Danica Parkin, worked with 14 surviving fluent elders to establish a language immersion school that would help revitalize the Salish language.

Salish logo copyThe Salish School of Spokane is a Native-led nonprofit organization that offers childcare and elementary school for families in the City of Spokane and surrounding areas. It is one of the few urban-based Indigenous language schools in the country.

New Fluent Speakers

The school officially opened its doors in September 2010 with six students and one full-time employee. Over the past nine years, the school has grown substantially to 58 students and 30 full- and part-time employees. The school has produced 17 new fluent Salish language speakers and has been well-received by the community.

“We’ve always had a wait-list for our school,” says Parkin. “However, we haven’t always had enough teachers and resources to meet the needs of those students.”

In 2018, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded the Salish School of Spokane $90,000 through the Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII) to build the capacity of Native-led organizations committed to preserving and perpetuating Indigenous languages. With the NLII grant, the Salish School of Spokane will expand its elementary school to a middle school by translating 7th and 8th grade math books into Salish, and training more language teachers.

Salish is the language of instruction for all subjects (math, science, literacy, art, music, etc.) taught at the Salish School of Spokane. According to Parkin, a typical day at the Salish School of Spokane begins with students greeting the day in their circles. Throughout the day, students also learn to drum and sing in Salish, and learn about traditional foods and medicines.

“We strive to give students a total connection to their true and full heritage, which has roots that go back 10,000 years on the Columbian Plateau,” says Parkin. “We teach our students to be very traditional, but they are also very modern so we try to merge traditional and Western education.”

Merging Traditional & Western Education

3-6_drumming 500pxIn addition to learning how to drum and sing in Salish, students also learn how to play the piano and sing contemporary songs in English. During the day, teachers read to students in Salish and English, but always expect their students to discuss and write their responses in Salish.

The students at the Salish School of Spokane have benefited tremendously from this bilingual education. Parkin notes that 100 percent of the 3rd through 7th grade students are reading English at or above grade level, with many of those students actually reading at two or three grade levels ahead.

With a 6:1 student-to-teacher ratio, students at the Salish School of Spokane are on par with students at private, upper-class schools. These accomplishments are even more impressive, Parkin notes, because 15 percent of the students at the Salish School of Spokane are or have been in the foster care system.

“Academically speaking, the statistics for kids in foster care are abysmal. They tend to do worse in school and have higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse,” says Parkin. “Our students are succeeding because they are a part of a culture-language community that allows them to connect with their culture. Language revitalization brings healing to all kinds of areas.”

Inter-Generational Interaction & Transmission

First graders Mocpł (left) and W̓sšnaqs

First graders Mocpł (left) and W̓sšnaqs

The Salish School of Spokane offers free Salish language classes for parents and the community. In fact, parents with students at the Salish School of Spokane are required to complete at least 60 hours of Salish language classes per year in order for their children to attend the school. The goal is to encourage students to continue speaking the language once they leave the classroom when they are at home with their families.

“Children cannot learn the language in isolation,” says Parkin. “Our goal is to restart the inter-generational transmission of language – multiple generations speaking the language. We want to empower people to once again raise their children with the language.”

Parkin and the other founders of the Salish School of Spokane believe that inter-generational language interaction and transmission is the key to revitalizing the Salish language. With this goal in mind, they have expanded the free Salish language classes to a paid internship program that will teach parents to speak, read and write Salish.

With the NLII grant, the Salish School of Spokane will provide language training to four interns hired from among low-income parents of current students. Interns will complete 200 hours of Salish language training, 160 hours of classroom training, and 30 hours of early childhood education training (i.e., first aid, background checks, tuberculosis tests, etc.).

The internship program is intended to provide parents with a foundation course for a certificate in early childhood education. The hope is that these four parent interns will be able to use their newly acquired language skills to enhance their lives, both personally and professionally.

Speaking the Language at Home

As parents, they will learn to speak the language fluently so they can speak the language at home with their children. Professionally speaking, they will complete the internship program with the knowledge and skills needed to teach the language in a classroom setting. After completing the internship program, parent interns will be eligible to work at the Salish School of Spokane as early language instructors.

Salish immersion upper elementary class (grades 3-6) harvesting wapatos in Calispel Lake. Wapatos are an aquatic bulb and traditional food source.

Salish immersion upper elementary class (grades 3-6) harvesting wapatos in Calispell Lake. Wapatos are an aquatic bulb and traditional food source.

“Nearly 70 percent of our students are from low-income families,” says Parkin. “Many of the parents we work with are single parents who are unemployed, underemployed or working in low-income jobs. This internship program will allow them to work in the schools, and also enrich the lives of their children by connecting with them through language.”

The Salish School of Spokane is more than a school, says Parkin. “It is a language-culture community where we connect elders with youth, teachers with students, and parents with their children. It’s a shared community, and the foundation of that community is language. Language revitalization is cultural revitalization.”

To learn more about this innovative language-culture community, please visit the Salish School of Spokane’s website. The website also includes all of the school’s language curriculum, which tribal elders mandated must be shared with other Native communities interested in language revitalization.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Communications Officer

Reclaiming Native Truth: Film Class Helps Dispel Myths & Stereotypes

First Nations President Michael Roberts (center, in black shirt) with students from the course "English 3377: Native Americans and Film."

First Nations President Michael Roberts (center, in black shirt) with students from the course “English 3377: Native Americans and Film.”

Film and television are more than entertainment. They inspire, inform and influence our perceptions of other cultures and communities. Last fall, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) Communications Officer Dr. Sarah Hernandez taught a new course at the University of Colorado at Boulder that examined how cinematic representations of Native Americans impact the public’s knowledge of and interactions with tribes.

Twenty-five students participated in the undergraduate film course. On the first day of class, Hernandez asked students to list the three most common stereotypes they’ve heard about Native Americans. The word cloud below captures the students’ responses, which ranged from positive or seemingly innocuous stereotypes, to more negative and potentially dangerous ones.

This word cloud indicates that students either viewed Native Americans as ancient spiritual medicine men and rain dancers, or as violent, uneducated alcoholics and drug addicts. Students reported basing these stereotypes on representations they saw reflected in the media.

RNT Word Cloud

In 2017, First Nations, surveyed more than 3,400 college students to assess their current knowledge of Native Americans. Researchers conducted these surveys as part of the Reclaiming Native Truth (RNT) campaign, a co-led, nationwide research initiative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and other supporters that aimed to start to dispel America’s myths and misconceptions about tribes.

According to these findings, most college students at mainstream academic institutions lack knowledge about or close personal contact with Native Americans. As a result, these students, like most Americans, rely upon flawed resources such as books, television shows and movies for their information about Indigenous people and communities. These representations, whether positive or negative, often paint tribes as static cultural artifacts, as opposed to dynamic political entities.

Print“Tribal communities are vibrant, dynamic and fluid,” says Hernandez. “However, we’re not always portrayed that way in literature or film. This course is designed to encourage students to think critically about cinematic representations of Native Americans, and the impact these stereotypes have on real people and communities.”

In the course “English 3377: Native Americans and Film,” students watched eight full-length films from the silent film era to the present to examine how Native American stereotypes have changed over time. These films included: Reel Injun (1995), The Searchers (1956), Pocahontas (1995), The Cherokee Word for Water (2013), Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007), Ohiyesa: The Soul of an Indian (2018), Skins (2002), and What Was Ours (2016).

Common Stereotypes

Neil Diamond’s Reel Injun provided students with a historical overview of Native Americans in film. This documentary introduced students to several recurring Native American stereotypes, including the noble/ignoble savage, Indian princess, downtrodden squaw, drunken Indian, vanishing Indian, and a deficit model of tribal life. Students used these definitions throughout the rest of the semester to deconstruct images of Native American women and men in film.

During the first half of the semester, students considered how highly sexualized representations of Native women as princesses and/or squaws influenced how Native women are perceived and treated by mainstream society. For example, one in three Native women are raped or sexually assaulted during their lifetimes. Class discussion centered on whether there is a correlation between this statistic and the scantily-dressed cartoon character Pocahontas. In the end, these statistics, along with the Powhatan tribe’s lesser-known narrative of Pocahontas, forced several students to re-evaluate one of their favorite Disney princesses.

In the second half of the semester, student discussed the male equivalent of the Indian princess and downtrodden squaw: the noble and ignoble savage. The noble savage is primitive, yet wise, and often respectful of nature, while the ignoble savage is violent, blood-thirsty and cruel. Students observed both stereotypes in The Searchers, an early western film that infantilized and vilified Native American men to justify westward expansion, and the theft of Indigenous land.

Subtle Discrimination

Although students found it easy to identify and condemn overtly racist representations such as those found in old cowboy movies, they often had difficulty detecting more subtle forms of discrimination such as those in more contemporary films. For example, students debated whether HBO’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a historical drama about the 1890 massacre of 400 Lakota women and children, challenged or reinforced Native American stereotypes. Some students praised the film’s representation of Chief Sitting Bull as a complex, multidimensional representation that defied stereotypes, while others criticized it as offensive and reminiscent of the ignoble savage.

“Stereotypes are complex by nature,” says Hernandez. “Dismantling Native American stereotypes requires students to question knee-jerk responses, and engage in thoughtful analysis and research of the books we read, the films we watch and stories we hear. The students this semester were thoughtful, engaging and open to taking a hard, close look at themselves and their own preconceived notions about Native Americans. I believe these future leaders are the key to shifting the narrative about Native people and communities.”

In addition to critically examining Native American stereotypes, students also watched several films directed, produced and/or written by Native American filmmakers. These new representations encouraged students to think about this important question: how does the narrative change when Native people start to tell their own stories about their people and communities? For example, students watched and discussed The Cherokee Word for Water, an independent film about Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Students noted that the film rejected the Indian princess and squaw stereotypes to paint a more empowering representation of Native women that emphasized the important role that Natives and their non-Native allies play in community-building.

Students also watched documentaries such as What Was Ours and Ohiyesa: The Soul of an Indian, two recent films that challenged several damaging and pervasive stereotypes about Native Americans, such as the deficit model of tribal life and the myth of the vanishing Indian, which suggest that Native American culture is inferior and rapidly nearing extinction. Instead of reinforcing these stereotypes, these two documentaries promoted representations of Native American culture that highlight the strength and resiliency of contemporary tribes and tribal communities.

Collaboration is Necessary

Jordan Dresser (second from left, in green shirt), the producer of "What Was Ours," visits with students at CU-Boulder and discusses the importance of Native filmmakers controlling their own narratives.

Jordan Dresser (second from left, in green shirt), the producer of “What Was Ours,” visits with students at CU-Boulder and discusses the importance of Native filmmakers controlling their own narratives.

Jordan Dresser, who produced and narrated What Was Ours, a PBS documentary about the Northern Arapaho and Shoshones tribes’ efforts to reclaim sacred items stolen from their communities, visited class this semester. During his visit, Dresser discussed the advantages and disadvantages of museums, and the need for mainstream institutions to collaborate further with Native people on projects and decisions that affect their communities. He also underscored the importance of Native Americans controlling their own narratives, and shifting the discussion about Native people and communities.

Similarly, when Michael Roberts, First Nations President and CEO, visited class to discuss the RNT campaign, he also discussed the dangers of Native American stereotypes, and reiterated the importance of Native people controlling their own narratives. His presentation emphasized to students that Native American stereotypes have real-life consequences on the people and communities they purport to represent. According to RNT’s findings, false assumptions and misperceptions about Native Americans made it difficult for survey participants to empathize with Native people and causes.

“Current narratives about Native Americans impact how the general public, including potential funders and policymakers, perceive and engage with tribes,” says Roberts. “With the RNT project, we can dismantle those old stereotypes and create a new narrative that transforms public perceptions and supports meaningful social and policy changes for tribal nations.”

The Reclaiming Native Truth messaging guide for allies.

The Reclaiming Native Truth messaging guide for allies.

During the last two weeks of class, students read and discussed several RNT reports, including RNT’s guide for how to be an ally, titled Changing the Narrative About Native Americans: A Guide for Allies. RNT researchers developed this resource guide to help non-Natives identify and challenge Native American stereotypes that marginalize, erase and oppress Native people. In addition to helping non-Natives identify these stereotypes, this guide also provide a useful framework that explains how to develop new narratives that empower, rather than disempower, tribes.

“Grapple with Our Prejudices”

“It brought it full circle to finish the class with Reclaiming Native Truth,” says sophomore Harper Powell. “We not only learned how to identify Native American stereotypes, we also learned how to dismantle them. It is important for college students, and other Americans, to learn about Native American stereotypes and the ways in which white people have historically oppressed Native people so that we can fully understand where Native Americans are today. As U.S. citizens, we must grapple with our own prejudices and learn the truth about Native Americans.”

According to RNT’s findings, the more college students are unaware or in denial of the prejudice, bias and discrimination faced by Native peoples, the less they report supporting Native issues. Colleges and universities are in a powerful position to guide their students, and ensure that these future leader do not perpetuate the same old myths and stereotypes that have disempowered Native people for centuries.

Recommended Reading:

  • Celluloid Indians: Native Americans and Film by Jacquelyn Kilpatrick
  • Hollywood Indians: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film by Peter Rollin and John E. Connor
  • Seeing Red – Hollywood’s Pixeled Skins: American Indians and Film by LeAnne Howe, Harvey Markowitz, and Denise K. Cummings
  • Native American on Film: Conversations, Teaching and Theory (various contributors)
  • Native Americans in the Movies: Portrayals from Silent Films to the Present by Michael Hilger


By Sarah Hernandez, Ph.D., First Nations Communications Officer

Strategic Planning & Capacity Building Keep Sheep a Way of Life

The annual Sheep is Life Celebration teaches new generations about all forms of fiber arts, Navajo heritage, pastoralism and sustaining the Navajo-Churro Sheep breed. Here, Navajo children assist in preparing a Navajo-Churro lamb at the festival.

The annual Sheep is Life Celebration teaches new generations about all forms of fiber arts, Navajo heritage, pastoralism and sustaining the Navajo-Churro Sheep breed. Here, Navajo children assist in preparing a Navajo-Churro lamb at the festival.

In New Mexico, for many in the Navajo Nation, the Navajo-Churro sheep are at the center of their hearts. And finding ways to promote and sustain the health and revitalization of sheep is a core component of the work of Diné be’iiná, Inc. With support of First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), and a focus on strategic planning and capacity building, this 28-year-old organization has achieved new levels in ensuring that the valued sheep continue to remain in their hearts, culture and lives.

A Way of Life

The mission of Diné be’iiná is to restore the balance between Navajo culture, life and land and to preserve, protect and promote the Navajo way of life. Diné be’iiná means “the way that we, the people, live,” and much of that heritage is derived from the Navajo-Churro sheep, says Diné be’iiná Director Aretta Begay.

“We feel everything is connected,” she says. “The sheep is our food, it’s what we eat, and what we wear. It’s part of our ritual, our healing and our survival.”

The mission of Diné Be’iiná, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization since 1991, is to restore the balance between Navajo culture, life and land and to preserve, protect and promote the Navajo way of life.

The mission of Diné be’iiná, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization since 1991, is to restore the balance between Navajo culture, life and land and to preserve, protect and promote the Navajo way of life.

Since its founding in 1991, Diné be’iiná has kept the spirit of sheep alive by working with Navajo shepherds, providing education to the community, and fostering an economy based on wool and meat. Key to this work has been the establishing of spin-off programs that introduce people to the culture and industry of sheep raising, connecting sheep producers, weavers, wool processors and fiber artists.

Diné be’iiná also has multiple core programs, including the Sheep is Life Celebration festival, Sheep to Loom weaving and fiber education classes, and a “Lamb Presidium,” which nurtures a market for wool and meat, creating a viable income for shepherds and weavers.

Funding comes from program fees, donations and grants, including from First Nations. In 2017, the organization received a grant from First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative for a Sheep to Table project, in which apprentices were identified and trained to gather, document and share their knowledge of wild, edible plants and shepherding practices. This knowledge was vanishing with every generation, jeopardizing the ability of Navajo families to understand the value of the sheep and its role in their survival and culture. According to Begay, this involves everything related to the sheep, including how the sheep are raised, where they are raised, and the spiritual connection to sheep before the meat even reaches the table.

Increasing Interest

With this type of funding, Diné be’iiná has been able to serve a large portion of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, which has over 300,000 tribal enrollees. The organization is the only Navajo or tribal group doing this type of work, as other groups will feature the sheep during specific celebrations or events, but not on a full-time basis.

Advisory Board Member Roy Kady seasonally hosts a “trailing of the sheep” hike for community members to understand the tradition of Navajo shepherding.

Advisory Board Member Roy Kady seasonally hosts a “trailing of the sheep” hike for community members to understand the tradition of Navajo shepherding.

At the same, time, Diné be’iiná has heard increasing interest from the community about sheep and even getting starter flocks. Yet Begay says, many people still don’t know the traditional ways about the tending of sheep or the wool or fiber. To achieve its mission of promoting and protecting the Navajo way of life, Diné be’iiná leaders knew more would have to be done to ensure knowledge was being adequately passed down from elders to new herders. This is where strategic planning and capacity building came into play.

Building Capacity

The organization sat down to figure out strategies to build on its history and advance its mission. It was already conducting the spin-off groups across the Navajo Nation, but to meet the increasing interest, they had to question: Could these groups have a greater impact?

Diné be’iiná realized that by strengthening the spin-off groups through education, training and mentoring, they could build the capacity of each group. Diné be’iiná would be able to deliver more programs, sponsor additional groups, and meet greater demands for outreach from schools and other community organizations.

The organization applied for and was granted funding through the First Nations Native Arts Initiative for a project it calls Sheep to Loom: Retaining and Promoting Traditional Navajo Fibers Arts. To maximize the effectiveness, and as part of the technical assistance made possible through the grant, Diné be’iiná engaged with an organization called Melvin Consulting to further define its strategic approach. The organization used a process that involved reviewing its history, documenting trends in operations, and determining the factors that precipitate growth periods. Eileen Egan, a partner at Melvin Consulting, worked with Diné be’iiná. “It was illuminating to see the many ‘ah-ha’ moments when everyone took a step back to review their journey starting with their launch in 1991,” she says.

Teaching and sharing textile fiber arts is imperative in passing down the Navajo way of life. Pictured here is “Round Rug Weaving” by Antonio Chiquito, a Navajo weaver.

Teaching and sharing textile fiber arts is imperative in passing down the Navajo way of life. Pictured here is “Round Rug Weaving” by Antonio Chiquito, a Navajo weaver.

With a strategic plan in place, the Implementing Sheep to Loom moved forward with several objectives. To start, Diné be’iiná set out to bolster the leadership capacity of its board of directors, volunteers and staff. This set the backbone of the project by training all involved on board responsibilities, budgeting and fundraising.

The next objective was to identify three existing spin-off groups that were well-versed in Sheep to Loom activities related to fiber art, Navajo weaving and traditional wool processing. Each group was given technical assistance, leadership support, and capacity training to fine-tune and document these activities.

Each group then identified an apprentice to initiate the Sheep to Loom concept. The three apprentices joined with key individuals from each spin-off group to form a mentoring team consisting of the group host, a master fiber artist, at least one traditional shepherd, and a project director. The team approach was chosen to create a culture of leadership and mentorship that would stay intact after the project ended.

Spin-Off Highlights

Key to the training and capacity building of the spin-off groups were three highlights. Each team incorporated both youth and mentors, which Begay says was beneficial across the board. “The mentorships leveraged partnerships between two generations,” she says. “I’ve seen it grow consistently – how much hope you can see in the grandparents and how much energy you see in youth. They both want to be a part of it.”

Another important aspect was that much of the training for the apprentices – and the educational materials of the spin-off groups – was in the Navajo language. “Language is a part of our culture and what we’re passing down,” Begay says. “And learning the traditional practices also means picking up some of the vocabulary.”

The organization fosters an entrepreneurship economy for sheep producers, weavers, wool processors and fiber artists. Pictured is hand-spun Navajo Churro yarn, one of the Diné Be’iiná products.

The organization fosters an entrepreneurship economy for sheep producers, weavers, wool processors and fiber artists. Pictured is hand-spun Navajo Churro yarn, one of the Diné Be’iiná products.

Finally, through all of the training and mentoring, the Navajo way was upheld and fostered. “We recognize and acknowledge that Mother Earth provides for us and we have to live by that. We take care of the plants, the animals, and the language – we have to continue to talk about it and practice it,” says Begay.

The project has been critical to the sustainability of the sheep and the culture, she says. True to the purpose of the Native Arts Initiative funding, the Sheep to Loom project will add to the long-term perpetuation, proliferation and revitalization of traditional artistic and cultural assets. And, true to the mission of Diné be’iiná, it will promote and protect the Navajo way of life.

Advancing Art

In summarizing the project, Begay says she appreciates First Nations’ awareness of the variety and importance of Native art. “First Nations is able to acknowledge and recognize that every tribe is different, and every tribe has something sacred that they need to retain and keep alive,” she says. “For us, it’s textile art.”

For Diné be’iiná, this art has been fostered through strategic planning and capacity building, and the ability to better safeguard the Navajo-Churro sheep and invest in the Navajo textile artists. “We’re the middle person who can give artists the leverage they need to be successful entrepreneurs,” Begay says. “That’s good for the sheep, and it’s good for our way of life.”

By Amy Jakober


From Dance to Sports, Art is Changing the Narrative in Wisconsin

Student Cheyenne Fish says, “I always wanted a fancy regalia. Now, I can dance.”

Student Cheyenne Fish says, “I always wanted a fancy regalia. Now, I can dance.”

Since 1997, the Boys & Girls Club of Woodland in Neopit, Wisconsin, has been a meeting place and a resource for the Menominee Indian Reservation. Now, in an effort to strengthen the culture and identity of Menominee youth, the club is fostering art in programs and activities from dance to sports, and seeing the difference it’s making in pride, health, education and even the narrative regarding Native history.

Established for Kids

Boys & Girls Club of Woodland

Boys & Girls Club of Woodland

The Boys & Girls Club of Woodland began as an independent youth-serving organization in 1982 to meet a need not uncommon in Indian Country, says Executive Director Ron Corn.

“In rural areas like ours, there is not a lot of opportunity,” he says. “But kids need positive places and positive things to do, otherwise they go down the wrong path.”

The youth-serving organization, which later became a charter member of the national Boys & Girls Club of America, is committed to providing right paths, with programs and activities designed to foster well-being physically, mentally and spiritually. In 2017, the organization received funding from First Nations Development Institute’s (First Nations) Native Youth and Culture Fund, which made it possible to hire a coordinator and cement programs and services that promote academics, culture, healthy lifestyles and career development. Today, the Boys & Girls Club of Woodland serves more than 600 youth in the Neopit community, including the Menominee Tribal School and the Menominee Indian Middle School.

Responding to Youth

Still, a recent Youth Risk & Behavior Survey revealed that many youth in the community wanted to learn more about their culture and traditions.

“I think a lot of the kids were realizing that they didn’t know who they were,” Corn explains.

Learning how to make the regalia and the meanings behind it ensures that cultures and traditions of the dances can be continued.

Learning how to make the regalia and the meanings behind it ensures that cultures and traditions of the dances can be continued.

With the history of the Menominee Indian Tribe, it was understandable that this sense of heritage and identity was lost, he says. In 1954, the Menominee Indian Tribe was “terminated” through Public Law 108, which ended federal control, but also the tribe’s recognition as a tribal entity. While trust status was restored in 1973, it did not erase the centuries of displacement and assimilation experienced by tribe members.

“I think nationwide a lot of Native people are going back to their roots and trying to resolve issues like these,” Corn says. “And bringing back culture and traditions and passing down artistic customs and skills to next generations is what restores that identity.”

Incorporating traditional Native arts and crafts programs has always been a priority for Boys & Girls Club of Woodland. In providing that essential spiritual component, the club holds art classes and summer art camps, and leads a traditional Menominee dance troupe. Yet, in response to the survey, the club wanted to do more to elevate arts. By applying for and receiving funding from First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative, the club aimed to build on this approach and take programming to the next level.

Restoring Traditions

The year-long Restoring Traditional Art and Craft Project was created to increase access to and awareness of traditional Native artistic and cultural practices. It began with promoting Samantha Grignon, a youth development specialist at the club, to act as the program coordinator. Sam set out to meet grant objectives, which involved identifying community artists to teach a constant flow of programs and classes in artistry such as basket making, beading and carving. She also moved forward plans for a gallery for artists to display and sell their work.

Right away, the project showed an impact. Classes were designed with lesson plans and supply lists, and enrollment was immediately at capacity. In addition, with the support of the grant, they were able to provide artists with honorariums, which placed a value on art and thus validated the artists’ sense of self-worth.

Youth benefited from more classes and opportunities to learn about their heritage as a source of identity and belonging, which is key to positive outcomes in Native communities. “You could see their pride,” says Corn. “You could see it in their smiles and in the brightness of their eyes. It makes their lives better.”

Student Cheyenne Fish is one of those students. “I always wanted a fancy regalia,” she says. “Now, because of Boys & Girls Club, I can dance.”

Kids are learning about their heritage as a source of identity and belonging, which is key to positive outcomes in Native communities.

Kids are learning about their heritage as a source of identity and belonging, which is key to positive outcomes in Native communities.

Another benefit came from getting kids moving in meaningful ways. One of the classes involved teaching youth how to make lacrosse balls and sticks. Corn says that for Menominee people, lacrosse is about exercise, but it’s also about healing. “This is our game, and there are stories about how we play it and why.” By learning how to create and carve the sticks, students not only made the game possible, but kept those stories alive.

Through the grant, the club was also able to invest in a critical component of Menominee dance, which is the specially created regalia. Artisans were identified to teach youth how to bead, choose the appropriate colors based on the dancer’s clan, sew shawls and skirts, and make traditional moccasins and belts. The grant covered all the cost of materials, which removed a barrier for many families. And by learning how to make the regalia and the meanings behind it, the teaching ensured that the cultures and traditions of the dances could be continued.

Corn reports participation in the dance troupe reached capacity at 15. “If you would have told me a year ago that we’d have so many kids who wanted to learn these dances and perform, I would have been shocked,” says Corn. “Now seeing so many of them want to participate, it’s gratifying.”

Program Coordinator Samantha concurs. “Growing up I knew a lot of families that could not afford regalia or didn’t know much of our traditions,” she says. “Doing this program has given us the resources to fulfill our cultural needs for our youth.”

This drawing by a Boys & Girls Club of Woodland artist incorporates traditional cuffs to give the Boys & Girls Club of America logo a Native spin.

This drawing by a Boys & Girls Club of Woodland artist incorporates traditional cuffs to give the Boys & Girls Club of America logo a Native spin.

The regalia has indeed enhanced these dances. It’s also resulted in another benefit project leaders didn’t anticipate: education. Leaders expected the project to promote the transfer of artistic knowledge among the Menominee, but they didn’t know the potential of art and dance in educating the students of Wisconsin.

In their new regalia, the dance troupe has performed at the Wisconsin Public Health Fair and at the Indian Education Association. In November 2018, the members performed for the first time at a public high school. With statutes now mandating that schools in Wisconsin teach students about the history, culture and tribal sovereignty of federally recognized American Indian tribes and bands in Wisconsin, the Boys & Girls Club of Woodland is hoping the performance leads to more events, with the potential of being an important part of Wisconsin school curriculum.

Changing the Narrative

From a facility in Neopit, Wisconsin, the Boys & Girls Club of Woodland is planning and implementing positive activities and safe spaces for Native youth.

From a facility in Neopit, Wisconsin, the Boys & Girls Club of Woodland is planning and implementing positive activities and safe spaces for Native youth.

Corn says the club is grateful to First Nations for encouraging it to discover what art could do for the community. Through the funding, experience and knowledge of First Nations, the Boys & Girls Club of Woodland has been able to bolster its academic, physical and spiritual programming. The club is sharing cultural knowledge that kids have asked for as they seek that sense of belonging. It is restoring the functional quality of art in the creation of sports equipment, and bringing back the ceremonial purposes of art in the designing of the regalia. Moreover, the club is realizing its role in sharing art, culture and history with the people of Wisconsin.

“To combat stereotypes and discrimination, we need to be a more important player in the education about the history of this country,” Corn says. “If we want people to know our story, we should be out there telling them. Through art, we’re able to do that.”

By Amy Jakober

Lapwai Wildcats Score in Stock Market Challenge

Lapwai High School seniors learn asset classes, risk and other investing concepts in November 2018.

Lapwai High School seniors learn asset classes, risk and other investing concepts in November 2018.

What goes up must come down. That’s the angst facing many investors in recent months as the longest bull market in U.S. stock market history appears on edge. This past fall, students in Lapwai, Idaho, got a taste of this angst by experiencing what investing pros call volatility, or what some might call a wild roller-coaster ride!

The senior class at Lapwai High School, Home of the Wildcats, competed in an eight-week online investing simulation known as The Stock Market Game (SMG), a national program designed to teach young people how to invest in stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Students were separated into 13 teams that faced 65 other teams from high schools throughout the state. Each team started with $100,000 in fantasy cash and managed their portfolios as part of an economics class.

“The kids really enjoyed designing portfolios and checking stock prices every morning,” noted Georgie Kerby, Lapwai economics teacher. “Many of them invested in companies they’re familiar with like Nike, Apple and Walmart. It certainly was an eye-opener for them to think about publicly traded companies as investors rather than just consumers.”

Broad Support

The Lapwai SMG project was made possible by support from Nimiipuu Community Development Fund, a Native-led community development financial institution that serves the Nez Perce Tribe and traditional areas of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. A First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) investor education consultant added technical assistance and training, with support from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and Northwest Area Foundation.

Lapwai students review their online investment portfolio in The Stock Market Game.

Lapwai students review their online investment portfolio in The Stock Market Game.

“This is Lapwai’s second year participating in the Stock Market Game,” explained Nimiipuu Executive Director and SMG Advisor Jonelle Yearout. “We held a pilot last spring that revealed which investing concepts are most applicable to our students, along with strategies for maximizing returns. It paid off because this fall we had four teams finish in the top 10 in the state.”

Known for great basketball, both girls’ and boys’ teams have won numerous Idaho 1A-D1 state championships, the Lapwai Wildcats are embracing a new kind of success – investing savvy.

Victoria Johnnie was a member of Lapwai’s top SMG team that ranked second in the state with a final portfolio value of $103,548. Her team’s 3.55% total return beat the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index by 9.3% for the same period. Moreover, collectively all 13 Wildcat teams finished as the state’s top-ranked school with average total equity that beat the S&P by over 6%.

Investment Research

“I really liked learning how to pick stocks,” said the 17-year-old, referring to winning trades on Amazon, Delta Airlines, Microsoft and Toyota, “and researching what makes a company worth investing in, fundamentals and trends. I only wish we’d had a chance to play the game sooner, freshman and sophomore years, so we could play all through high school.”

It’s no secret that 2018 was a tough year on Wall Street so maybe a few underperforming hedge fund managers could learn something from some super cool students in Lapwai, Idaho. Go Wildcats!

The Idaho Stock Market Game competition is a program created by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) Foundation in local partnership with Boise State University. It is offered twice annually in the fall and spring. As part of First Nations’ ongoing commitment to investor education, SMG aligns seamlessly with its efforts to financially empower Native communities. Many states offer state and regional SMG competitions similar to Idaho.

For more information on how First Nations can assist your school or youth group with innovative investor education solutions, please contact First Nations Investor Education Consultant Shawn Spruce at

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant

Tribe Aims to be Example for Species Restoration Efforts

Cheyenne-river-sioux 500px

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is a recent recipient of a First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) Mapping Ecological Stewardship Opportunities (MESO) grant, a project that is generously supported in part by the Margret A. Cargill Philanthropies. The grant supports the tribe’s work with the national black-footed ferret recovery effort.

Tribal chairman and staff at ferret release in 2000.

Tribal chairman and staff at ferret release in 2000.

The tribe’s Prairie Restoration Department has been active in this recovery effort since 2002 with the release of 69 ferrets onto a complex of several prairie dog colonies on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s lands. For the last decade, Michael Claymore has been the Director of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Prairie Management Program, which analyzes grazing and agricultural practices that are sustainable and promote the conservation of natural resources. Claymore notes, “There is an ecological capacity on the land, which forces choices. It is an altruistic program to reintroduce the black-footed ferret, as there are no direct benefits to the tribe. Instead, there are costs

Caged captive bred ferret before its release.

Caged captive bred ferret before its release.

due to the fact that ferrets require land that could otherwise be used for grazing.”

As Claymore indicated, this effort has not gone unchallenged. The ecosystem that supports the development and preservation of the black-footed ferret relies heavily on the preservation of their main food source, the prairie dog. In a ranching community, preserving prairie dog colonies is a counterintuitive process, as the prairie dogs create unwanted obstacles for grazing livestock. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Prairie Management Program works to educate farmers and ranchers on the importance of the prairie dog populations for the sustainability of the ecosystem and preservation of the traditional black-footed ferret communities. In addition, it has been a challenge to overcome the requirements of a conservation easement to protect the 5,000 acres for the habitat. There is also the ongoing issue to prevent the spread of plague through flea infestations. The current treatments have proven ineffective, and the fleas ultimately become resistant to treatments. There is a cost to running experiments on insecticides, and flea eggs can survive in the ground for 10 years.

Captive bred ferret being released into burrow in 2011.

Captive bred ferret being released into burrow in 2011.

The voluntary introduction continues for the most-endangered mammal in North America, the black-footed ferret. The tribe’s participation in this national effort reinforces Lakota traditions and demonstrates that the tribe is working cooperatively with the federal government to implement agreements under the Endangered Species Act.

Claymore says the department “looks to become an example for other tribes, sharing data and knowledge gained with this project, making clear the obstacles and successes in undergoing similar species-recovery projects.”

By Stephanie Cote, First Nations Program Coordinator