Grants Help Keep Traditional Native Arts & Cultures Alive

Local artists gather for a celebration dinner for their work, hosted by Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Local artists gather for a celebration dinner for their work, hosted by Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

In Native cultures, art connects generations, records a history, and tells a story. Through changing times and ongoing assimilation, art has steadily remained an integral part of the backbone of a culture, and one of the essential ways the culture is handed down and preserved.

That’s why First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) established the Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative, which is now known as the Native Arts Initiative, or NAI. Funding for it is provided in part by Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. With the goal to support the long-term perpetuation and proliferation of Native artistic and culture heritage, the program bolsters organizations and tribal programs’ capacity to strengthen or expand their programming for artists and other community members by providing grants and technical assistance. Many of these programs support the sharing of traditional Native artistic practices between generations, which must occur for the survival of traditional art forms. The NAI also provides mini-grants specifically for professional development purposes such as trainings and conferences that supplement the main project grants and which fulfill a need that is often missing in the arts: the professional and business skills to support artists and empower them to continue creating.

From 2017 to early 2018, First Nations has awarded more than $60,000 in these mini-grants to Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs. The professional development opportunities in strategic planning, fundraising, museum best practices, curating and archiving, and digital marketing have enabled staff to share their new skills with their colleagues. The trainings have positioned them to strengthen their services, ultimately benefitting the field of Native arts.

Building a Connection – Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

This cultural center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is owned and operated by the 19 Pueblo communities of New Mexico and serves 75,000 Pueblo members. Guests visit the center every day to learn about the traditions of Pueblo people, including their governments, lifestyles and cultures. A key element of the center is the museum, which uses stories and objects to connect those who do not know Native Americans and Pueblo elders and children to the stories of people deeply rooted in the land. Stories are told through the collection of pottery, baskets, weaving and paintings. The center also serves as a resource and hub for Pueblo artists.

To continue the outreach of Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, fundraising is essential. Knowing this, the organization sought a professional development mini-grant through the Native Arts Initiative, and with it attended the First Nations Power of We Fundraising, Sustainability, and Telling Our Stories training held in Denver, Colorado, in September 2017. Kim Klein, a well-known nonprofit fundraising guru, lead the Power of We training. The training intent was to provide participants from Native-led nonprofits and tribal programs with the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of fundraising best practices and communicating impact in a peer-learning environment. Specifically, the training agenda focused on preparing participants to be able to identify relevant fundraising strategies and realistic revenue streams to maximize resources within their community, “Make the Ask” to better position their programs for a YES, and gain the skills to develop an action plan for fundraising.

Bianca Mitchell, left, talks with another attendee at the Power of We training

Bianca Mitchell, left, talks with another participant at the Power of We training

The goal of “telling our story” resonated with Development Officer Bianca Mitchell (Acoma Pueblo). “We need to tell our Pueblo story,” she said. “It is our way of life. Our identity. We want to be able to educate visitors about our traditions and keep our story alive.”

At the training, Mitchell connected with like-minded organizations and learned hands-on strategies for raising funds from a Native American perspective. The team brought back resources for the entire center and the insights to build a more effective fundraising plan. Moreover, she said, she learned how to articulate their story and to craft a strong story that would resonate with funders.

“We were able to gain perspective about how to create an effective message, and how we need to move our audiences,” she said.

The training also helped Mitchell understand a challenge that is common in Native culture, but essential for arts to survive: the ability to speak in front of people and be comfortable asking for money. “As a proud, self-sustaining people, they had to recognize that – while it may be difficult – they could do it and they could be successful,” she said.

The organization is now able to expand on fundraising efforts that will directly impact the Pueblo artists. They can continue the work of the center and expand the Daily Artist Program by offering “Investing in Artists’ Success” classes. Museum Director Monique Fragua (Jemez Pueblo) said these workshops teach artists skills they need to build a business.

“Many artists are self-taught, and may not have had the opportunity to prepare their sales pitch or create business cards or a resume,” she said. “These classes focus on skills beyond artistry – benefits and disadvantages of technology, customer service, marketing and public relations.”

The classes give artists confidence to not only tell the Pueblo story through their art but also tell their own story as artists – what makes them special, how important the art is, and who in the next generation they have inspired. Fragua said they can use this training to sell their art at the cultural center, with opportunities to talk directly with visitors and enhance the visitor experience.

Bolstered by the professional development and training they received from First Nations, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is continuing to be a resource and hub for artists. It’s given the center the skills to fundraise and the artists the skills to do business. “The people who come here want to connect,” said Fragua. “Now we’re able to make that connection stronger through art.”

Making Arts More Visible – Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

The Menominee Cultural Museum is part of the Menominee Historic Preservation Department, which was created to preserve the culture and heritage of the Menominee people, including its language, culture and traditions. While the museum has 3,000 square feet of exhibit space to showcase artwork, Executive Director David Grignon knew they could do more to support local artists. “We have some excellent artists,” he said. “But they were kind of doing their own thing.”

As shown in this collage, art is being created with materials found on Menominee land

Traditional Menominee basket class uses materials sourced from Menominee land

In addition to providing exhibit space, the Menominee Culture Museum had become a setting for arts and crafts workshops on moccasin making, basket weaving, bead work, quill work, deer hide tanning, and the making of snowshoes and lacrosse sticks. The art is not only created locally, but created with materials actually found on Menominee land.

With the passing of one of the tribe’s most accomplished artists, the museum again realized how important it is to pass down skills and continue their artistic legacies. They set out to implement the takeaways from the training immediately.

Gleaning tactics from other tribes at the conference, the museum bolstered its workshops and began focusing on increasing the number of art fairs at the museum.

“People may not have known about these artists and, in turn, we may not have known about potential artists,” Grignon said. “People who have artistic talent are coming forward. Now they are coming to the museum and asking for help promoting their art.”

The training also gave them a pathway to bring artists together to explore additional needs and ideas. Since returning they’ve convened local artists and learned of their growing interest in having their own facility for workshops and exhibiting and promoting their art. Based on a workshop he attended, Grignon shared how Native artists near the Grand Canyon had similar dreams and had transformed an abandoned building into an art center.

“Seeing that other organizations had success made the possibility real,” said Grignon. “Now we’ve had two further meetings and we’re sharing ideas of how to do it, and how we can help move that process forward.”

The training has reignited efforts to continue to revitalize Menominee arts and crafts, a goal that is crucial to sustaining the Menominee Indian ways.

“Art is part of the culture, part of our customs, and part of our traditions and history,” said Grignon. “With efforts like this, things are coming back. It’s good for people, good for the reservation, good for everyone associated with the arts.”

Creating a Living Culture – Tulalip Foundation and Tulalip Tribe’s Hibulb Cultural Center

The Tulalip Foundation supports the Tulalip Tribes and surrounding communities of Tulalip, Washington, including the Hibulb Cultural Center, whose mission is to collect and enhance the history, cultural values and spiritual beliefs of the Tulalip Tribes. The center is a “living environment” where the public can learn through poetry readings, lectures, films and artist workshops, and local artists can display their work and teach others their skills.

ATALM Conference Booklet

ATALM Conference Booklet

After being awarded the grant, Museum Curator Tessa Campbell headed to the ATALM Conference with a goal to learn best practices from other organizations: specifically how to lead a successful evaluation process and improve the museum’s displays.

Campbell explained that the museum never had an evaluation process. “We didn’t know how our guests would find out about us or what else they would like to see in the museum,” she said. Through the training, she learned what should be involved in a proper evaluation, which has enabled the museum to create a stronger marketing plan.

Campbell also came back armed with how to improve the look and feel of the whole gallery. Before the training, the display labels were poorly lit, long and wordy, and often illegible, she said. Through the workshops, they learned how to improve the structure of the displays along with techniques for layering text, grouping items, and breaking down information.

Tulalip Foundation Executive Director Nicole Sieminski said the new displays will help people learn from the past and bring that knowledge into the future. “We have to improve our presentation and show that our culture and art are still alive. We want to convey that things are still being created,” she said.

Nicole Sieminski, left, of the Tulalip Foundation at the Power of We training

Nicole Sieminski, left, of the Tulalip Foundation at the Power of We training

From the Power of We fundraising training, Sieminski learned other ways to bolster the museum. The training provided tactical strategies to sustain their programming, including introducing Tulalip art to the public and expanding attendance at the workshops, thus encouraging more people to try art themselves.

“We want to grow the number of artists, and the way to do that is to start teaching,” she said. “Art used to be passed down, but in this modern day, it takes the museum to share it with it as many people as possible. We can do that. We know how.”

The training was also helpful in that it was specific to fundraising for Native-led organizations. Sieminski said she’s attended other trainings for nonprofit organizations where she learned tactics that might work for other organizations, but not for the Native-owned and controlled Tulalip Foundation. “We’re a giving people. We’re taught to give away, but not to ask,” she said. “It was nice to be in a room with everyone else who understood that position.”

Native Arts Always

First Nations recognizes the important role art plays in the traditions, values and history of Native people. Through these professional development grants, organization and tribal leaders can keep art alive by strengthening necessary infrastructure and supporting the artists who make the art possible.

To learn more about the funding opportunities of First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative, visit

By Amy Jakober

Group photo of First Nations grantees attending the Power of We training

Group photo of attendees at the Power of We training

Bishop Paiute Expands Nutrition Education

Amaranth seeds

Amaranth seeds

For a 2016-2017 project, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) selected 21 tribes and organizations across 12 states to receive grants to support nutrition education, especially among individuals who receive food under the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Among those selected, under generous funding from the Walmart Foundation, was the Bishop Paiute Tribe of Bishop, California.

Walmart Fndtn report D(This story was originally published in the recent “Outcomes Under the Nutrition Education for Native Communities Project” report that First Nations prepared for the Walmart Foundation. The full report is available for free on the First Nations Knowledge Center at

The Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Food Sovereignty Program (FSP) has been working to expand its garden-based nutrition education projects to encourage healthy food and lifestyle choices by partnering with the Bishop Elementary School (BES), the Bishop Indian Head Start (BIHS), and the Inyo County Health and Human Services Department and its food initiative programs.

With the funding provided by First Nations and the Walmart Foundation, the Food Sovereignty program, now in its third year, worked to expand the tribe’s work and community outreach.

Families Learn Together

FoodCorps Service Member Shanae Vega works with Head Start youth participants in a hands-on cooking activity as part of the Bishop Paiute Tribe's Food Sovereignty Program nutrition education classes.

FoodCorps Service Member Shanae Vega works with Head Start youth participants in a hands-on cooking activity as part of the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Food Sovereignty Program nutrition education classes.

“We focused on increasing garden-based and nutrition education offerings for the fifth-grade classes at BES, and offered similar food related activities to BIHS students,” said Jen Schlaich, Food Program Specialist for the Food Sovereignty Program. “Additionally, in collaboration with our FoodCorps Service Member Shanae Vega, FSP staff held an eight-week nutrition education class for Head Start families with hands-on cooking activities for both parents and children.”

Each week the class featured a new fruit or vegetable in recipes that the FSP cooked in advanced to share with participants as a taste-test. Parents then went through the preparation steps for the featured recipe.

“BIHS already had a nutrition curriculum. However, in the evening classes, which involved both parents and their children, we were able to integrate foods that students were learning about during the day into their home lives,” said Schlaich.

Roasted beet salad is prepared as part of a hands-on cooking activity for Head Start parents participating the Bishop Paiute Tribe's Food Sovereignty Program nutrition education classes.

Roasted beet salad is prepared as part of a hands-on cooking activity for Head Start parents participating the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Food Sovereignty Program nutrition education classes.

While the parents were trying out the new recipes, the kids were engaged in simple cooking activities that incorporated the same fruit or vegetable that their parents were learning about. The class ended with a fun activity for the whole family such as painting clay pots and planting cooking herbs or designing a fruit basket to take home to an elder. Also, the parents who attended the class were able to take home the meal that had been prepared in class that day.

Plants Impact the Community

While the youngest students were cooking up fun at the Head Start kitchens, the middle school students were busy outside in the gardens tending their own growing plots, and learning about a plant not indigenous to their area. In the Fall of 2016, as part of a farmer-to-farmer cultural exchange supported by The Garden’s Edge, Quachuu Aloom, a Guatemalan Farmers’ Cooperative, visited the FSP gardens to teach community members about one of their important traditional foods – amaranth.

Bishop Indian Head Start youth processing amaranth at the Food Sovereignty Program's garden near the Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center.

Bishop Indian Head Start youth processing amaranth at the Food Sovereignty Program’s garden near the Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center.

Both the fifth-graders and the Head Start students visited the garden to learn about how to harvest and process amaranth, in addition to cooking with it and using it to make crafts. “We puffed the amaranth using a hot skillet and used it to make honey ‘granola’ bars that the students were able to taste. The seeds can be used in stews, ground into flour, or eaten like porridge. It is also a wonderful natural dye which the students were able to experiment with when making holiday gifts from plants to bring home to their families. The amaranth became so popular with the students that the small health food store in town ran out of amaranth. Community members requested seeds to plant along their fences as a usable barrier, and amaranth seed packets were distributed to those who were interested in it,” said Schlaich.



Other foods planted and harvested in the FSP’s family-demonstration garden included: Mohawk red corn courtesy of Rowen White from Akwesasne and founder of Sierra Seeds, tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, rainbow chard, leeks, radishes, acorn squash, herbs and flowers useful for medicinal purposes or for crafts, currants, gooseberries, beans, peas and bamboo.

Nutrition Education from the Ground Up

Shanae Vega, a Bishop Paiute tribal member, worked with FSP as the FoodCorps service member and served as the garden education mentor. Vega would provide support with the nutrition education lessons during the day with the Head Start students, and later in the evenings was involved in the eight-week cooking series for the Head Start families.

Bananas rolled in amaranth

Bananas rolled in amaranth

Schlaich says Vega was excited to be involved and connecting with community members around garden-based and nutrition education, especially with the kids. At every cooking class Vega was surrounded by kids, who were wondering what she was going to help them cook or what they might get to taste-test next. Vega was also excited to work with all of the fifth-grade classes in Bishop that included students from the reservation and from the City of Bishop. She also worked with all children at BIHS and their families from the reservation.

All of the project’s efforts, including the partnership with FoodCorps, provided over 127 BES students with 10 hours of nutrition education, and nearly 85 BIHS students with six plus hours of garden-based education. Schlaich and Vega worked to get the information out to the community through a variety of ways, via the tribal newspaper, KBPT Bishop Paiute tribal radio station, and through their partnerships with BES, BIHS, and the Inyo County Health and Human Services Department.

Schlaich says the partnerships, and the funding support from First Nations were key to their success. “We never would have had the resources for the eight-week nutrition education cooking classes without the support from First Nations. It was definitely a huge support that made the garden-based and nutrition education components of the Food Sovereignty Program much stronger. We’re excited and motivated to continue with cooking demonstrations during the third year of our community market.”

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