Camp Reinforces Pyramid Lake Paiute Traditions

Moccasins made as part of the Pyramid Lake Paiute's Cultural Summer Day Camp

Moccasins made as part of the Pyramid Lake Paiute’s Cultural Summer Day Camp

The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Nixon, Nevada, was one of 24 American Indian organizations and tribal youth programs to receive funding from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) through its Native Youth and Culture Fund (NYCF) for the 2016-17 funding cycle. First Nations launched the NYCF in 2002 with generous support from the Kalliopeia Foundation and other foundations and tribal, corporate and individual supporters.

Pyramid Lake Paiute Chairman Vinton Hawley is pleased that by investing in its youth and giving them a sense of community and tradition, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe is ensuring that it will have strong future leaders. The tribe commended First Nations for support of the much-needed “Cultural Summer Day Camp.”

nycf-logoThe tribe received a $20,000 grant that supported the camp where elementary school-aged youth learned the Paiute culture and heritage through a language-immersion unit. The sharing of the Paiute culture, language and history included hands-on learning and classroom activities. Tribal high school and college students served as peer mentors to their younger, fellow tribal members.

Through the NYCF grant, the cultural camp was able to provide transportation for all three of the tribe’s communities. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe (PLPT) Reservation is located 45 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada, in Washoe County. PLPT has three communities, Nixon, Wadsworth and Sutcliffe. The communities of Wadsworth and Sutcliffe are located approximately 15 miles from Nixon, which was the location of the Cultural Summer Day Camp.

The cultural camp’s ability to provide transportation sparked an interest from many families, and supported an increase in attendance. Over the four weeks in July 2016 there was an average daily attendance of 73 students, which was an increase from the previous year of an average daily attendance of anywhere from 60 to 65 students.

Pyramid Lake Paiute youth make hand game pieces during the camp

Pyramid Lake Paiute youth make hand game pieces during the camp

Tribal elders were key to the success of the cultural camp and they served as consultants to the program. One of the elders who served as one of the language teachers was Flora Greene.

“We were very fortunate that one of our oldest elders, who is 100 years old, came and worked with and spoke to the students. Parents also came and watched as the students learned,” said Janet Davis, Tribal Recreation Coordinator.

The youth were taught traditional Paiute dances and songs and they learned to make their own traditional clothing. The tribal museum directors spoke to the students and showed them the different parts of the regalia such as the moccasins, collars, beaded belts, headbands, cloth and buckskin dresses. Tribal members who sew traditional clothing also came together to measure each and every student for their own traditional Paiute cloth dress or shirt. They also helped cut the fabric as well.

The key to the language-immersion program was the learning of the “NUMU” language by playing traditional games and songs. The students also learned to make hand-game pieces to use when playing hand games such as the Bamboo Game. The students learned NUMU words by repeating simple words, phrases and body parts. Elders and community members played bingo games with the children using NUMU words. They also told stories in both Paiute and English.

A screenshot of the YouTube video about the camp

A screenshot of the YouTube video about the camp

A short film entitled, “Pyramid Lake Recreation: Summer Culture Program” documents the Cultural Camp. The almost 13-minute video can be found on YouTube and was produced by Robert Hicks Jr. of Nokwsi Films.

Hicks is a student at Haskell Indian Nations University, majoring in health, sport and exercise science. His experience as a videographer and audio engineer lead him to serve as the film’s producer, videographer and editor. A Pyramid Lake Paiute tribal member, Hicks knows the importance of the camp.

The video includes interviews with the tribal community members, and footage of the youth wearing their traditional clothing and participating in their traditional dances such as the Antelope Dance, the Bear Dance and the Owl Dance.

Davis said the impact of the camp is ongoing.

“With the First Nations grant funding, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe was able to successfully serve youth and community members from all three of our tribal communities. This increased the access and sharing of our Paiute cultural customs and beliefs, and renewed our culture in the ways of our ancestors in order to promote our identity for future generations. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe is very thankful to the First Nations Native Youth and Cultural Fund for the support of this project.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Cocopah Tribe Engages & Empowers Boys & Young Men

Young Cocopah student during CPR training. Photo courtesy of Cocopah Indian Tribe

For more than a decade, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has had a positive and lasting impact on Native youth. In 2002, First Nations launched the Native Youth and Culture Fund (NYCF) to enhance culture and language awareness, and promote youth empowerment, leadership and community building.

Recently, First Nations unveiled a new grant initiative that reflects our growing commitment to Native youth and youth development: Advancing Positive Paths for Native American Boys and Young Men (Positive Paths). Positive Paths, created in partnership with NEO Philanthropy and and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, seeks to reduce social and economic disparities for Native American males.

Studies suggest that Native American males are more likely to be absent from school, suspended, expelled or repeat a grade. However, a growing body of research indicates that suspensions and expulsions are not always the most effective means of reaching and disciplining these students.

Often, these punitive measures deprive students of the opportunity to develop the skills and strategies they need to succeed. Positive Paths supports innovative programs that emphasize alternative approaches to punitive measures that have a negative impact on academic achievement and graduation rates.

For years, the Cocopah Tribe of Arizona relied upon the public school system for enforcing truancy laws for its students. This approach yielded little to no results, especially among male students. Educators decided to take a new approach that emphasized engaging and empowering Native American boys and men.

In 2014, First Nations awarded the Cocopah Tribe of Arizona $50,000 through the Positive Path grant initiative to restructure its truancy program. The tribe’s new program has reduced truancy rates among Native American males by nearly 75 percent. As a result, student grades and graduation rates have increased significantly, as much as 25 to 50 percent.

The Credit Recovery and Career Exploration (CRACE) program links at-risk male youth to the people and resources they need to recover academic credits, to pursue future career opportunities and develop leadership skills. Students enroll in online classes and work with tutors to successfully complete their courses and graduate.

Students participate in mock trial. Photo courtesy of Cocopah Indian Tribe

Additionally, the program introduces student to careers that have the potential to strengthen and empower their tribal community. Since starting the CRACE program, participating Cocopah students have undergone CPR training, participated in mock trial exercises, and explored career opportunities in medicine and law enforcement.

Students participate in regular meetings with staff and instructors to provide feedback and discuss future plans. During the first meeting, education department staff members noted that many students seemed unsure about their future plans and goals. Over the past year, many students have narrowed down their focus, applying to college or preparing to enter the workforce.

Additionally, staff members have noted that this program helps instill students with a sense of pride in themselves and their community. One education department staff noted, “This program has helped make our students, their families and the community stronger. The program has already shown we can make a real positive difference in our students’ lives. This year we have had a dozen participating students make a 180-degree turnaround in regard to their grades, school attendance and personal attitudes.”

CRACE has received support from the tribe and the tribal community. According to the education department, tribal council members often act as mentors to at-risk youth. They also note that the tribe has recently passed a resolution that makes it mandatory for every tribal member to receive a high school diploma or GED to be eligible for benefits. This resolution sends a strong message to students: education is the key to strengthening and empowering their communities.

The Cocopah Tribe of Arizona’s CRACE program demonstrates the success of alternative techniques in inspiring students to achieve their education and take personal responsibility for their journey. CRACE brochures send the message loud and clear to students who utilize the service: “Your dreams are within reach. You just have to graduate high school to realize them.”

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator

Protecting Native Money: How to Avoid Financial Fraud

Financial fraud is far too common in Native American communities, and is a growing problem with the recent increase in tribal lawsuit settlements with the federal government. First Nations Development Institute has partnered with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation to produce a pamphlet that can help people protect themselves from common financial fraud techniques.

Over the past five years more than $1 billion in tribal trust settlements have been reached, including the Keepseagle and Cobell class-action legal settlements. Many of these settlements have resulted in payments to individual tribal members, which makes them targets for fraudsters who follow a simple strategy: They go where the money is. The FINRA Investor Education Foundation is collaborating with First Nations to help reach the recipients of these trust fund settlements, as well as other tribal members who may be targeted for their wealth.

The pamphlet, titled “Fighting Fraud 101: Smart Tips for Investors,” is designed to appeal to individuals, members of tribal investment committees, and retirees. It lists some common fraud tactics, such as the “Social Consensus” tactic that lead you to believe that your savvy friends and neighbors may have already invested in a product. With the “Source Credibility” tactic, a fraudster may falsely suggest they have worked with other tribal investment committees or helped people manage lump sum payouts from tribal lawsuits to try to gain trust. The pamphlet also teaches several techniques to avoid being taken advantage of and how to report suspicious behavior.

“We are honored to be able to collaborate with several national partners, including the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, to provide financial education for tribal members,” said First Nations President Michael Roberts.

First Nations representatives Sarah Dewees and Shawn Spruce spoke at an October 29, 2014, Federal Trade Commission event titled “Fraud Affects All Communities.” The purpose of this meeting was to highlight the range of consumer, financial and investor fraud techniques that affect diverse communities.

“A lot of people aren’t aware that financial fraud is a big problem on many Indian reservations,” said Sarah Dewees, senior director of research, policy and asset-building programs. “I am happy we have been able to continue our work with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the Office of the Special Trustee to help community members protect themselves against financial fraud.”

A copy of the pamphlet can be viewed in First Nations’ online Knowledge Center at  To order printed copies, you can email

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

Collaboration & Partnerships Expand in Urban Indian Program

Jay Grimm, executive director of the Denver Indian Center, talks about the project

The Denver Indian Center, Inc. and the Denver Indian Family Resource Center are partners in the “Building Strong American Indian/Alaska Native Communities” effort, which is a three-year project that is funded by The Kresge Foundation.

As grant recipients in First Nations’ 2013-2014 Urban Indian Organization program, their project strategy is to improve and expand collaborative opportunities for the two organizations, as well as other partner organizations in metropolitan Denver.  They plan to increase participation in new and existing programs, build resources, explore new ways of working together, and enrich communication that creates the most impact.  Proposed activities involve resource development, case management, outreach, marketing, information exchange, database management, and developing best practices.

The National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) and First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) are also strategic partners in this project.  The main objective of their partnership is the amplification of services to the grantees to aid in sustainability and growth.  It is the right business match.  We are committed to the design and co-management of the program with open access to information, networks, resources and skills.  Our tasks are to deliver technical assistance and training along with assessments, site visits, media development, and information-sharing forums.

Partnerships and collaboration are motivating philosophies at First Nations.  Collaboration builds the Native American nonprofit sector.  It is a process that prompts individuals with diverse interests to share their knowledge and resources to improve outcomes, innovate and enhance decisions.  When we share our expertise we become deeply involved in the design and delivery of outreach, programs, and services.  As partners we solve problems, meet objectives, build support, and utilize our strengths more effectively for greater success.

Under the Kresge project, First Nations and NUIFC also selected two other organizations to receive grants. They are the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland, Oregon, and the Little Earth of United Tribes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Each of the three projects is receiving a $40,000 grant.

First Nations’ and NUIFC’s overall effort aims to help organizations that work with some of the estimated 78 percent ofAmerican Indians and Alaska Natives who live off reservations or away from tribal villages, and who reflect some of the most disproportionately low social and economic standards in the urban areas in which they reside. Urban Indian organizations are an important support to Native families and individuals, providing cultural linkages as well as a hub for accessing essential services.

To learn more about these organizations and the project, please see the First Nations/NUIFC press release at this link:

By Montoya A. Whiteman, First Nations Senior Program Officer