Curiosity, Connections & Results are Key to this Donor

Gail helped First Nations celebrate its sixth year in a row of Charity Navigator's highest 4-Star rating

Gail helped First Nations celebrate its sixth year in a row of Charity Navigator’s highest 4-Star rating

A natural curiosity and making personal connections are what drive Gail*, one of First Nations Development Institute’s donors, to not only support the organization but to connect with the staff one on one. Gail strives to understand and learn about the challenges that reservation and off-reservation tribal communities face, and why the work of First Nations has been vital to Indian Country since its inception almost 38 years ago.

Gail says social justice issues are what she cares about, and that the First Nations program area of Nourishing Native Foods and Health is close to her heart.

“Agriculture has always been interesting for me. As a kid in the summers, I’d spend it alone with my aunt and uncle on their farm, near the mountains. The whole connection to the earth appealed to me and that part of my life was the happiest of my childhood. I helped out – I shelled peas and played in the garden. There were cows, horses, chickens and it made a lasting impression on me. All the programs you (First Nations) have are getting a good handle on providing healthy food to Native American populations,” she said.

Soft Spot for Kids

Investing in Native Youth, in particular the Native Youth and Culture Fund, is another First Nations program area important to Gail. “I have a soft spot for kids, and the youth programs are great. I wish there were more.”

Gail

Gail

An active lifelong learner, Gail has taken a deep dive into all the reports and information housed in the First Nations Knowledge Center.

“You feel like you’ve taken a couple of semesters of Native American Studies courses by reading all the reports in the Knowledge Center, along with the Indian Giver newsletters and e-blasts. It has helped me to understand so much more. I love the Knowledge Center, I’m reading about land reform now,” said Gail.

She credits Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog agency, for helping her to find First Nations, and she appreciates all the data information Charity Navigator provides. According to its website, “Charity Navigator, www.CharityNavigator.org, is the largest expert charity evaluator in America. The organization helps guide intelligent giving by evaluating the Financial Health, Accountability and Transparency of charities and by providing data about 1.6 million nonprofits.”

First Nations has earned the highest rating of four stars from Charity Navigator for six years in a row.

Accountability & Transparency

“After reading the report about First Nations’ work, their financial performance, transparency, and accountability, I then went to the First Nations website and started to learn about the mission, the work they do, the board, and their staff. I also read a couple of the newsletters. It was an organization that met every aspect of my priorities, and has since proved their transparency in a myriad of ways, while providing opportunities for Native American tribes in the United States to work toward fulfilling their potential. It is an honor to be a partner in their mission,” said Gail.

Gail also appreciates the personal connections she has made with First Nations staff members who answer her many questions whether via email or over the phone. She knows how busy the staff is, so the fact that they take the time to respond to her in a timely and professional manner is another reason she supports the organization. But her experience with another Native American organization, unfortunately, was not so positive.

“I became familiar with an American Indian organization that I still believe does some good work. I had been donating to them for a while when I started to attend seminars and learning about ‘intelligent’ giving – instead of writing a check to any cause that I thought was probably making a difference. When I asked the organization for an annual report and subsequently for a financial statement, I didn’t get either one. Then I wrote a letter asking for them and still I didn’t get either one. So I withdrew my support and looked to Charity Navigator for a reputable organization,” said Gail.

Gail heading up a mountain on horseback to work on a potable water project in Honduras

Gail heading up a mountain on horseback to work on a potable water project in Honduras

She also supports social justice organizations not only in the United States, but Indigenous organizations in Central and South America as well. “For three years my vacations included digging trenches for PVC pipe to carry water from mountains to villages in Honduras,” she noted.

Many & Varied Interests

After a long career in the private and nonprofit sectors, Gail is now enjoying retirement. Her various interests range from loving animals from “boa constrictors to horses” and being in the outdoors. She enjoys music from country to classical to jazz. She is a voracious reader and enjoys books, and is an exceptional baker. The First Nations staff have enjoyed many of her baked goods and they appreciate the goodies she sends, especially during those long, challenging work days.

The personal connections and knowing that her support is making a direct and positive impact are key for Gail.

“We are all unique, with our own experiences, talents and gifts. First Nations Development Institute gives all of us the opportunity to be a partner in an organization that is providing a chance for Native American tribes to use their own abilities to succeed in producing food, regaining their languages and cultural traditions, to lead healthy, secure lives. For me, it is a better investment than I’ll find anywhere else.”

*) Gail’s last name and location have been omitted at her request.

Muckleshoot “Rethink Your Drink” Effort Aims for a Healthy Tribe

Healthy beverage posters intended for display in classrooms and throughout tribal communities to promote ancestral beverage consumption.

Healthy beverage posters intended for display in classrooms and throughout tribal communities to promote ancestral beverage consumption.

In 2016, under one of its programs, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded 15 grants totaling $422,500. These grants were funded by the Seeds of Native Health campaign created by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) to improve the nutrition of Native Americans across the country. One of the grantees was the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe’s Traditional Foods and Medicines Program and its “Native Infusion: Rethink Your Drink Campaign.”

The project’s focus is to encourage tribal youth to incorporate and increase traditional, ancestral beverages, fruits and vegetables – healthy foods – into their diets. By focusing on traditional, ancestral beverages and foods, the tribe hopes to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and improve the health of the younger tribal members to combat diabetes, obesity and tooth decay later in life.

Valerie Segrest

Valerie Segrest

Valerie Segrest is the Traditional Foods and Medicines Program manager, and a tribal member. Segrest says the implementation of the “Rethink Your Drink Campaign” is an important part of creating change in the eating habits of the tribe’s youth and their community.

“The discussion is focused on the facts and information … our communities have been disempowered for so long that we need to start with culture in the discussion. To let them (the community) be the driving force, so they feel more empowered to take their health into their own hands,” said Segrest.

Six healthy beverage posters were created by two Salish artists, Roger Fernandes (Lower Elwha) and Joe Seymour (Sqauxin), who drew the images; and Annie Brule, who was the graphic designer. The posters will be displayed throughout the tribal community in the schools and community centers. A curriculum guide was created and made available to educators to increase the number of people who can teach the youth about traditional diets and how to make healthy beverage choices.

A tea bar display that includes several herbs highlighted in the curriculum and recipe book.

A tea bar display that includes several herbs highlighted in the curriculum and recipe book.

Segrest and her colleague, Elise Krohn, M.Ed., co-authored Native Infusion: Rethink Your Drink – A Guide to Ancestral Beverages, which is included in the toolkit. The guide is extensive and provides information on how to “Navigate the Beverage Aisle” to avoid the sugary drinks; information on the six posters and how the images connect to the ancestral drinks and cultural teachings; how to make infused waters, herbal teas, sodas, bone broths and smoothies; how to set up a beverage station; and where to find further information and resources.

The curriculum includes how to set up an interactive, traditional, healthy beverage station. It includes ingredients for participants to make their own blends as well as pre-made teas such as dandelion root lattes and Douglas fir tip infused water.

The curriculum includes how to set up an interactive, traditional, healthy beverage station. It includes ingredients for participants to make their own blends as well as pre-made teas such as dandelion root lattes and Douglas fir tip infused water.

The Muckleshoot Tribe offered a one-day nutrition education summit in mid-May 2017 with 40 educators, tribal community members and youth leaders trained on using the healthy beverage toolkit. Youth representatives, mostly middle-schoolers from the Muckleshoot Tribal School, attended, along with youth from the after-school program.

There were guest speakers who addressed the health impacts of sugary drinks, the healthy beverage movement in British Columbia, and how to set up beverage stations. The summit was more than handing out information. It strived to engage the attendees and to encourage dialog to reinforce that the return to creating and drinking traditional healthy beverages is an act of tribal sovereignty.

“We traded our ancestral drinks in for the sugar and energy drinks, which don’t have our health in mind. There is a rich cultural tradition in our healthy beverages,” said Segrest.

Dr. Rose James discusses the importance of evaluating the reach of the healthy beverage campaign.

Dr. Rose James discusses the importance of evaluating the reach of the healthy beverage campaign.

At the one-day nutrition education summit, Segrest and Krohn demonstrated how to make bone broth, and teas out of leaves and flowers versus bark, roots and hard berries. Attendees also learned how to harvest, dry and store the teas correctly. There were beverage stations set up so people could sample the various teas, which reinforced the accessibility and taste of the teas.

Infused waters were made with fruits and vegetables to encourage the drinking of water. One theme Segrest often hears is that water has no taste, so people avoid drinking it. The infused waters gives people options and encourages them to stay hydrated.

The participants went home with their toolkits made up of the six posters to display around their communities, along with the guide and a tribal recipe book, which included a section on beverages. The recipe book is another Muckleshoot project supported by the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board and the Centers for Disease Control’s Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country (GHWIC) program. Segrest utilizes all available resources to maximize her program outreach and funding. She saw an opportunity to add beverage recipe cards to the existing popular recipe program that features foods specific to the area.

Presenters Fiona Deveraux (left) and Dr. Gary Ferguson (seated) listen intently as participants share their experiences teaching about healthy food traditions in tribal communities.

Presenters Fiona Deveraux (left) and Dr. Gary Ferguson (seated) listen intently as participants share their experiences teaching about healthy food traditions in tribal communities.

Segrest reminded the participants that “sovereignty isn’t an end goal, it’s something we do every day. Drinking ancestral beverages is a political act.”

Segrest and her colleagues will continue to provide trainings over the next several months and she is thankful to the Shakopee Seeds of Native Health campaign, the Muckleshoot Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, and to First Nations for supporting her work as an activist for her community.

“The work wouldn’t be as prevalent or as strong without the support of First Nations, and it’s not just due to the funding, but to the relationships built with the folks within the organization. First Nations brings people together to feed off each other – to think, to partner. At First Nations’ gatherings you’re able to cross-pollinate with others, which reminds you that you’re not alone.”

The Seeds of Native Health effort encompasses efforts to improve awareness of Native nutrition problems, promote wider application of proven best practices, and encourage additional work related to food access, education and research. First Nations was one of SMSC’s strategic, inaugural partners in the effort. The campaign builds on localized efforts to solve the problems of Native American nutrition and hopes to raise awareness, spread knowledge, create capacity for change, and develop additional solutions on a broader scale.

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer