Strategically Investing in the Hopi Ways

At The Hopi School, children are taught both the Hopi language and a Hopi curriculum.

At The Hopi School, children are taught both the Hopi language and a Hopi curriculum.

“Helping the Hopi stay Hopi.” While the statement is simplistic, it is the prevailing motive behind The Hopi School and its efforts to increase capacity, incorporate strategic planning, and bolster arts programming. With the help of funding from First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative, this Native-led school in Northern Arizona is taking steps to both solidify and strengthen its infrastructure. And it’s doing it at a critical time when Hopi culture is becoming increasingly diminished.

Education Built on Hopi Ways

The Hopi School opened in 2005 with a goal to develop an education process derived from the Hopi people. As such, it would be holistic. Instead of teaching math, science and social studies separately, subjects would be integrated. Students would learn informally, studying similarities across subjects and incorporating knowledge through hands-on, cause-and-effect experiences. According to Hopi School Facilitator Dr. Robert Rhodes, this approach to education is more in line with the creative, artistic way that Hopi learn, and it could be a key factor in improving academic outcomes for Native youth down the road.

The school focuses on academics, as well as the arts, culture, values and, importantly, the language of the Hopi people. Rhodes says that Anglo ways of teaching don’t necessarily resonate with the Hopi. The Hopi School stands apart because it immerses students in the Hopi language, and at the same time, it presents a holistic, integrated approach to the subject areas.

Ensuring a Fiscal Footing

While the founding principles of The Hopi School are solid, the school has needed a strategic foundation to not only establish credibility but also set a direction for the future. It has needed improved fiscal management, as well as the financial foothold to pursue further goals, such as expanding operations and moving toward larger goals – more classes, more students and a year-round school offering.

Students learn arts, culture and language to keep the Hopi way of life alive.

Students learn arts, culture and language to keep the Hopi way of life alive.

To accomplish this, key objectives of the Native Arts Initiative project were to engage the Hopi School Board, begin strategic planning, and make arrangements for a fiscal audit – something that hadn’t been done in the school’s 14-plus years of operation. Finances had been managed on a cash basis. In addition, the school’s only paid staff are teachers, which means there had not been dedicated staff assigned to monitor and record transactions.

As a result, potential students, investors and community members could see money coming in, but not necessarily how it was being used, which compromised the school’s standing and its mission to keep Hopi values alive. “Money talks,” Rhodes says. “Now, with a proper audit, we can show that we’re good stewards.”

More Classes, More Capacity

With the financials documented, the school was in a better place to zero in on art and address an issue that was becoming common in the Hopi community: A decline of local artisans.

Traditional Hopi crafts such as moccasins and dance sashes were becoming endangered. In the community, there were only three active Hopi moccasin makers and only a dozen dance sash weavers.

Using Native Arts Initiative funding, The Hopi School – with its focus on art – was able to hold a series of artisan classes, resulting in the training of 20 moccasin apprentices and three weavers. Investing in these crafts has preserved traditional Hopi artistry and is ensuring that Hopi is incubating its next generation of traditional Hopi artists.

Moreover, it has increased public awareness of the tribe as a resource for art. It has provided artists with revenue opportunities, and made possible Hopi ceremonies that depend on Hopi art.

Foundation for a Future

In addition to traditional crafts, students learn about photography, software and visual production.

In addition to traditional crafts, students learn about photography, software and visual production.

Going forward, The Hopi School is stronger than ever. The needed documentation has provided assurance of the financial integrity of the school to the Board, community members, donors and grantors. The school is positioned to continue to offer children and adults instruction in Hopi art, crafts, values and language. Today, plans are underway to expand the school’s offerings, as well as develop a year-round K-3 language-immersion class that would be in line with Arizona state education standards.

The school is thankful to First Nations Development Institute for the encouragement and direction. Rhodes says beyond the funding, First Nations has given The Hopi School more credibility. “Sometimes you get so involved with your own work on the inside, you lose a pathway,” he says. “The support of First Nations reaffirms for us what we stand for and what we’re trying to do.”

Staying Hopi

The purpose of the Native Arts Initiative is to stimulate long-term perpetuation, proliferation and revitalization of traditional artistic and cultural assets in Native communities. Oftentimes, doing this requires more than passing on the skills to make moccasins or weave dance sashes. It requires investing in the financial infrastructure and strategic planning required to make art possible. Both are happening at the Hopi School. Cultural assets are being cultivated, and the Hopi are staying Hopi, which is important to us all.

To learn more about the Hopi School, visit

By Amy Jakober

Akwesasne Project Benefits Hungry Kids

“Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program food bags ready to distribute to the youth at the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club.

“Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program food bags ready to distribute to the youth at the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club.

The Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club has been dedicated to the youth of its community since 2001. It provides many services through after-school programming, ranging from educational and cultural activities to health and fitness for younger children and teens. It serves 650 youth annually from the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation and youth who attend the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club (ABGC), St. Regis Mohawk School, and Akwesasne Freedom School in Akwesasne, New York.

One service that it is committed to is its food and nutrition program. The “Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program received support from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) under its “Nourishing Native Children: Feeding Our Future” Project that was generously supported by the Walmart Foundation.

The ABGC was awarded funding to further its “Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program whose goal is to alleviate childhood hunger in the community by providing meals and access to local foods. The funding supported the program from July 2017 through January 31, 2018.

Staff with the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club put additional food bags together for the “Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program.

Staff with the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club put additional food bags together for the “Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program.

Myra Lafrance is the assistant director for the ABGC, and is a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in Akwesasne. She says the Iawekon Nutrition for Kids program provided food during the weekends and when school was on breaks, and it filled a great need. Many of the 174 children who received food are from low-income homes, and some receive services through local domestic violence shelters.

“We see the need every day. For the kids to get a little extra food – it made us rest a bit easier on the weekends.” Lafrance said. “Frankly, it’s a struggle going from grant to grant, but every bit helps. It was exciting to give the opportunity to the kids.”

First Nations and its “Nourishing Native Children: Feeding Our Future” Project provided grants to Native American communities to continue or expand nutrition resources for existing programs that serve American Indian children ages 6-14. The project’s goals were to support Native American community-based feeding programs, and to learn from these programs and other model programs about best practices, challenges, barriers to success, and systemic and policy issues affecting Native children’s hunger, and to foster partnerships among programs.

Lafrance said that living in a rural area means that food is expensive. Some of the students spoke up about how the food meant a lot to their families, and that experience was seen as a positive. One community member’s story stuck with Lafrance.

Dedicated volunteers from JCEO Food Pantry and Citizens Advocates fill the food bags and load them into plastic tote bins to be delivered to the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club’s “Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program.

Dedicated volunteers from JCEO Food Pantry and Citizens Advocates fill the food bags and load them into plastic tote bins to be delivered to the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club’s “Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program.

“There was an elder who was recently widowed and she is raising her grandchildren. She is on Social Security and on a very limited income. She cried when she was invited to participate. She said it meant so much and she was grateful for the opportunity,” said Lafrance.

Getting the food backpack aspect of the program off the ground was challenging, but the club put its can-do attitude to work in order to make the most of the grant funding to support the youth.

“We knew there was a local food bank that had a backpack program and we saw how they did it, and we were confident we could duplicate it. Bridging the power and the connections within the regional and state food banks, we approached them and asked could we maybe hop on board with their backpack program, since they were established and the costs would be lower. They were more than happy to do that and they went the distance,” said Lafrance.

Dick Lavigne is the director of the JCEO Food Pantry, and he has been feeding people for the past 50 years combined – in his current position and as a former restaurant owner for 40 years. He sees the need across the region. He and his dedicated volunteers stepped up to support Lafrance and the Iawekon Nutrition for Kids program.

“Myra came to see me. She knew about our feeding program at the Salmon River School where we provide food to about 80 kids. She told me what she was doing at the Boys & Girls Club on the reservation, so we got connected, and we’re glad to help her out,” said Lavigne.

The group of mostly retired grandparents, who volunteer their time with the JCEO Food Pantry along with its sister organization, Citizens Advocates, created the food packages for the program. Since the warehouse where the food packages were assembled was some 26 miles away from the ABGC, the area school bus system stepped in to fill the transportation challenge. Totes and totes of food bags were delivered once a week by the school buses, which eased the strain on the club staff, and allowed more funding to go toward food for the youth.

“Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program food bags are unloaded from the school buses to the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club to feed hungry kids.

“Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program food bags are unloaded from the school buses to the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club to feed hungry kids.

In addition to providing the food packages, the club provided additional information to the 174 families about other resources in the area that might help to fill in the food gaps.

“It was complicated looking online, so we put the information on food distribution houses and their locations all in one brochure, so the families didn’t have to dig for the information. There are food banks in the area, but the families didn’t know how to access them. We wanted to pull in additional support, beyond what we could offer, to provide resources to them,” said Lafrance.

Lafrance and her team also provided information on the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) for the area, and how to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). They also took time to assist some families with their applications.

The ABGC clearly sees the hunger need every day in the community, and it is ready to support the youth and their families who are in the greatest need.

“Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program food bags ready to distribute to the youth at the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club.

“Iawekon Nutrition for Kids” program food bags ready to distribute to the youth at the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club.

“There needs to be more money to sustain these programs. Maybe we lead the way a little bit. But we didn’t just service the club, we also served outside families. If the families were in need they could come to us. We’re very proud to serve families and help them,” said Lafrance.
But Lafrance knows that she and everyone involved with the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club can’t do it all alone.

“First Nations is an amazing group of people. These people are amazing to work with and we communicated with the executive director here about the great work the organization does. It was good to work with such a group of committed people.”

By Mary Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Reforming Native Education with Essential Understandings

Participating teens showcase their work, sharing a richer understanding of what it means to be Native in California and in America.

Participating teens showcase their work, sharing a richer understanding of what it means to be Native in California and in America.

“Come little Indian, dance with me.” It’s one of the superficial songs taught to young students in California. And it’s one of the many ways Native American history is romanticized, setting Native children up for a lifetime of challenges as they navigate the truth about who they are and who they come from. With support from First Nations’ Native Youth and Culture Fund, the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center is seeking to change this tune, helping reform California Native American Education and bringing new confidence to Native students.

The Need for Change

It’s been a problem hundreds of years in the making, according to Nicole Myers-Lim, California Indian Museum Executive Director (Pomo). In fourth grade classes in California, children are taught about the California Missions, pioneers and the Gold Rush. They are taught about miners and western expansion. But what’s missing from the lessons are the thousands of Indians who perished from disease brought by European settlers, the Native boys who were sold as slaves, and the Native women who were trafficked for prostitution. Swept under the carpet is the fact that Indians were not “asked” to join the Missions. Instead, they were forced, says Myers-Lim.

“We have a huge history that has been denied,” she says. “And that manifests in a lot of ways.”

Myers-Lim explains that Native students have to endure a “fantasy” that’s reaffirmed with every school year. Expecting nine-year-olds to call out the inaccuracies puts them “on the spot.” At best, it singles them out, and at worst, it makes them have to act as experts on something they likely do not understand themselves.

“It’s a very strenuous climate,” says Myers-Lim. The system lets children down, she says, and this contributes to the poor academic outcomes that are common among Native youth in California and across the country.

On the bright side, there have been efforts by Native communities and California Indian professors to change the curriculum used by the state of California. But Myers-Lim realizes that the wheels of change move slowly. Meanwhile, she says, we have to give kids the tools they need right now.

Building a Framework

At the California Indian Museum, those tools have consisted of a first-class museum facility, as well as language apps, dictionaries, audio visual materials, hands-on kits, and traveling kiosks. Now, with grant funding from First Nations, another resource is being developed: A series of films written and produced by Native youth in the community.

By creating the seven films, teens learned about media production and also became spokespeople for Native education and the Seven Essential Understandings about California Indians.

By creating the seven films, teens learned about media production and also became spokespeople for Native education and the Seven Essential Understandings about California Indians.

Having the teens create the videos accomplishes two things: It requires youth to research, interview, and learn directly from elders and community members, and it provides a resource that can be accessed online, viewed at the museum, and passed down and shared to educate even more kids.

The seven films in the series each illustrate one of the Seven Essential Understandings, a curriculum adapted from Montana Tribes. The California Indian Museum saw the success Montana had in breaking down complex information in a way that is comprehensive but digestible. In California, they altered the understandings to fit their own circumstances and began building a curriculum that people could understand and that teachers were open to teaching.

The California Essential Understandings provide a baseline context about Native history and resets the collective understanding. Each film in the California Indian Museum project illustrates one of the understandings with interviews and vignettes. The understandings are:

  1. There is diversity among tribes. This means there is diversity in landscapes, people, and beliefs. “You don’t have to live in a teepee to be an Indian,” Myers-Lim explains.
  2. There is diversity among individual Indians. Each person’s identity is being developed, and Indians come in all forms, each one no more or less than another. It is not for someone else to determine, and it is not for teachers to promote stereotypes.
  3. Native ideologies and beliefs of Indians pre-date America. Indians have ancestral territories that should be respected.
  4. Reservation lands were not “given” to Native Americans. They are a result of treaties, statutes, and executive orders, which have been violated through the years. At one time, there were 18 treaties in place in California, designating 7.5 million acres to California Indians. When gold was discovered and land was taken by homesteaders, that number dwindled to less than 500,000.
  5. There have been a succession of federal policies and laws governing Indian relations and Indian rights. From Manifest Destiny to the Self-Determination Act, these policies have mandated different things at different times, having a direct effect on generations of Native Americans.
  6. History is recounted from the perspective of the person recounting it, and American history is taught based on the experience of settlers. Only by including the voice of Indians can we portray a more accurate story.
  7. Indian tribes have sovereign powers. While that makes tribes independent, sovereignty can mean different things for every tribe.

Knowledge that Empowers

In Indian Country, these understandings may be familiar, but for many non-Natives they are new concepts. By producing and sharing these films, the California Indian Museum can promote greater awareness of these Native truths. Myers-Lim hopes the video project will lead to the production of more resources and tools, and keep the momentum of education reform going, effecting change both in the classroom and at the policy level.

“When we see something hurt our kids, it’s hard not to come at it through anger and frustration,” she says. “But empowering kids and giving them the tools to present history to folks in a positive way will foster more acceptance and acknowledgment.”

Consistency and Capacity

Since the completion of the films, the students have showcased their work at screenings and events. They’ve responded to questions from audiences and have become spokespeople for cultural values and the diversity of belief systems throughout California tribes. They also took their work to the Alexander Valley Film Festival where they received honorable mention and a cash prize in the youth film competition.

The project unites tribal elders, advocates, historians and educators in sharing their stories at the museum and at offsite locations.

The project unites tribal elders, advocates, historians and educators in sharing their stories at the museum and at offsite locations.

The students have also expressed interest in making more films on topics such as Native foods, environmental stewardship and cultural appropriation.

Myers-Lim thanks First Nations for the funding to make projects like this happen, as well as its overall support of the California Indian Museum’s efforts to create long-term change.

“It’s scary when you do something and then it can’t continue,” she says. But thanks to First Nations the organization has been able to sustain programs for story-telling, business, technology, and education. “First Nations supports capacity building, and they understand the needs and goals of tribal communities,” she says.

The seven films produced by youth at the California Indian Museum will preserve, strengthen, and renew Native culture. They are an investment in Native education and a counter to the superficial songs and romanticized American history taught in schools. Moreover, they are one more tool to help Native youth feel confident, accepted, and proud. “In the end,” says Myers-Lim, “The more resources we can create, the better it’s going to be for Native children.”

To learn more about the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, visit Each of the films on the Seven Essential Understandings can be accessed here.

By Amy Jakober

Susan White: Champion of Sustainable, Responsible Investing

Susan White

Susan White

It’s not all about money.

Sounds like a George Bailey quote from the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, but it’s also the logic behind the concept of “sustainable and responsible investing,” a money management strategy that looks into the social, political and environmental track records of companies when making investment decisions.

As director of the Oneida Trust Enrollment Department, it’s a philosophy Susan White, a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, champions not only at work but also in life. She directs a multi-operational department in capital strategies for protection and growth of trust assets and for management of the Oneida Nation’s census records. White maintains the trust’s sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) philosophy by coordinating shareholder activism for Indigenous peoples’ rights and well-being when affected by corporations. She is also responsible for the maintenance and protection of tribal citizen records for the elected Oneida Trust Enrollment Committee.

Overseeing a deep pool of tribal investment portfolios that has grown considerably over the past two decades, White carries a strong voice across Indian Country and beyond.

“When I interviewed for my position the tribe had already accepted a socially responsible investment (SRI) aim,” explains the seasoned trust director who lists the 1946 Frank Capra film mentioned above as a favorite. “In 1994, we revised the investment policy statement and now work in solidarity with other tribes to support that aim.”

Sovereignty Through Activism

There’s a big stage for tribes that want to influence corporate America and exercise sovereignty through shareholder activism. While addressing issues ranging from excavation of Native burial sites by superstores to stereotyping of Native American imagery in college and professional sports, White has engaged major corporate players. As a result, companies like Honeywell, Peabody Energy, Bank of America and FedEx have reexamined not only their own business practices but also those of industry peers. She admits that securing support for causes such as the Washington NFL team’s name-change can be a daunting challenge, but she doesn’t lose sight of her goals.

In 2010, the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin received the Honoring Nations award from the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development for its and White’s work. At the time she was co-chair of the Social Investment Forum’s Indigenous Peoples Working Group and said, “This award tells us we are on the right path. We hope that more tribes will use the power of their investment dollars to open doors for greater advocacy for Indian Country.”

Later in 2011, White received the SRI Service Award and was recognized by her colleagues for her professionalism, ethics and success raising awareness of responsible investing. She was a speaker at Native American Finance and National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association conferences and the SRI Conference. Her work to engage and change corporate interests detrimental to Indian Country is truly making a difference.

White started her career in the financial industry in 1987, and began working for the Oneida Nation in 1994. With the advent of Indian gaming, she built the Trust Enrollment Department to be a pivotal function in the Oneida Nation’s infrastructure by developing the trust funds as an endowment vehicle to fund scholarship programs, other departments, and a nationwide life insurance policy for all Oneida citizens.
To say White has a full plate is an understatement.

‘The Creator Gave Me Extra’

“Oneida calls it Yukwatsistay^ which means “our fire, our spirit within each one of us.” The Creator gave me extra, I think,” said White.

A typical day might find the Old Dominion University alum presenting to tribal elders about their trust investments, collaborating on a quarterly newsletter to youth beneficiaries, negotiating lower fees from investment managers, and tirelessly forging partnerships among an extensive network of local banks, tribal departments and universities.

“Sometimes tribal citizens come to us for investment advice,” White commented. “We don’t have that authority, but I do give presentations on budgeting and minor’s trust processes. We also include personal finance tips in the newsletter that tie into the ceremonial season.”

When she makes financial presentations, she enjoys discussing traditional Oneida cultural tasks such as planning ahead and farming to make financial concepts relatable.

“There are a lot of things I like about my job,” shared the former “Navy brat” who began her career in the securities division at a large bank on the East Coast. “I truly appreciate the supportive team I work with. My supervisor, the committee and my staff all listen to my concerns and address them. I also take pride when we are able to recover trust funds. We’ve had issues with our funds at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and I stayed on it until we received the funds due to Oneida. This has occurred twice and the closure was fun both times.”

Focused on the Big Picture

With all that White is responsible for, she keeps focused on the big picture and relishes all the accomplishments along the way.

“Reaching certain milestones, even when no one else realized them. I am optimistic and remind my teams of our hard work and how we got to this point. Seeing policy change for the better, receiving awards, ceremonies, and receiving assistance from national Native organizations means that they see you and will assist in your efforts for the betterment of Indian Country work. Now that’s great validation!” said White.

She likes that more Native women are getting involved in the financial industry, and reflects on what she’s learned over the years.

“Create stability in your work environment with your staff, and provide authoritative and governmental support. Without these things, it is easy to get lost in the turnover of tribal leadership and priorities, but not your own. Be sure to always groom successors to pass along what you’ve learned and experienced,” said White.

Aside from her career, White is also active serving as co-chair for the Investors and Indigenous Peoples Working Group, the Women’s Fund of Greater Green Bay Emeritus, the Oneida Auxiliary Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7784, a trustee for the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac, the American Foundation for Counseling Services Ethics in Business Selection Committee, and, formerly, a member of the Board of Directors of First Nations Development Institute.

(Note: Susan joined the Board of First Nations Development Institute in June 2017. Unfortunately, she resigned from the Board in March 2018 due to health reasons.)

‘Go To’ in Indian Country

“I feel First Nations is the ‘go to’ in Indian Country. I am proud to be associated with First Nations, its board, staff, and the many programs they are involved in,” said White when she originally joined the Board.

“Susan is so humble and polite, and we have been delighted to have her as part of the loan committee at First Nations Oweesta Corporation and on the Board of Directors of First Nations Development Institute,” said Michael E. Roberts, First Nations President & CEO. “I remember once at an Indian investor conference when one of the panelists misanswered a nuanced question about a derivative. Susan raised her hand and, very respectfully but very accurately, corrected the gentleman’s misguided answer. It was pure Susan – accurate, but respectful.”

She resides in Oneida, Wisconsin, with her husband and two sons. She enjoys cooking and family gatherings. The youngest daughter in a military family with five siblings, she didn’t have a chance to learn how to cook while growing up, but has since honed a formidable set of culinary skills from watching cooking shows. Never far from her roots, she’s a senior warden at the same church where her parents were married and enjoys cheering for local teams like the University of Wisconsin Badgers, the Milwaukee Brewers and, of course, the Green Bay Packers.

Recalling Roots: Native Health Policy Fellowship Program

Gower with her going-away present, a U.S. Senate seal with signatures from all Senate Committee on Indian Affairs staff.

Gower with her going-away present, a U.S. Senate seal with signatures from all Senate Committee on Indian Affairs staff.

In the late 1990s to the early 2000s, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) collaborated on the Native American Health Policy Fellowship Program. The program was focused on elevating mid-career Native American and Alaska Native health professionals across the lower 48 and Alaska.

“The Native American Health Policy Fellowship program was part of our efforts to bring leaders to Washington to learn about health policy issues and the policymaking process in order to help them strengthen their communities back home,” said Chris Lee, a spokesman for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “We always knew that these fellows would continue to make a real difference in the world.”

There were 14 fellows from 1999 to 2003 who received generous funding support from the foundation, and they worked either in Congressional or Executive Branch offices for one year. First Nations administered the fellowship program, which included Native health professionals from the Cherokee Nation, Lummi Tribe of the Lummi Reservation, Narragansett Indian Tribe, Native Village of Shishmaref, Navajo Nation, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Oneida Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, Pit River Tribe, Pueblo of San Felipe, San Carlos Apache Tribe of the San Carlos Reservation, Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and Naknek Native Village.

Pine Ridge to D.C.

Stacey Ecoffey

Stacey Ecoffey

Stacey Ecoffey is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and currently serves as the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Native American Affairs with the Administration for Children & Families (ACF), and the Commissioner with the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) in Washington, D.C.

Ecoffey is the first-ever deputy assistant secretary for Native American Affairs appointed by the ACF in October 2016. She is the main point person within the ACF to give advice, opinion and review policies that impact Native American tribes.

Ecoffey began her career in Washington, D.C., when she had the opportunity to attend a meeting while working with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, of which she is a member and where she was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation. She served as the Health and Human Services Committee Coordinator where she oversaw 37 tribal programs. It was while in D.C. that she realized there was more to working with tribal governments and communities than she had so far experienced.

“I had come straight from working with the tribal government. I learned how the tribal government works for my community and my tribe, but there was a piece missing, and that’s what happens on the outside,” said Ecoffey.

Always a rez girl at heart, and very grounded in her tribal community and family, Ecoffey realized that there were other things she could do to help her community. She applied for the Native American Health Policy Fellowship, where in 2001 she worked as a Staff Specialist with Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of the Secretary, at the Department of Health and Human Services. She focused her policy research paper and fellowship work on looking at the tribal consultation policy of the department.

“I experienced other things in D.C. that I wouldn’t have experienced on my own. The program exposed us to a lot. In the position, I learned that there was more I could do to help tribal communities, and that political leadership could make an informed decision if they could actually see it in action at the local level and at the national level. That first year, it broadened my horizon,” said Ecoffey.

Building Sound Relationships

During that fellowship year, Ecoffey said, she learned “how to connect with people” and to get out and experience D.C. and hear from tribal leadership from all across the country. After she completed the fellowship she took a position with the National Indian Health Board (NIHB), which was based in Denver, Colorado, at the time. She served as the Project Coordinator for Strengthening Tribal Management Capabilities in Health and Human Service Delivery for two years. Ecoffey enjoyed being only four and half hours away from her family in Pine Ridge, and working at NIHB and “influencing change.” But D.C. would call on her once again, to serve tribal communities at the federal level.

Ecoffey went to work for Dr. Charles Grim, Cherokee Nation, who served as the Director of the Indian Health Service (IHS) from 2002 to 2007 under the Bush administration. Her position was a non-political appointment, and she continued to see the benefits and value of the health fellowship for tribal communities.

“Building on those relationships, those are things we learned at the Kaiser Health Fellowship – how to make sound, balanced decisions. In my case, I like being an influencer, doing political research and development on our issues – tribal issues. I understand what our people go through. It’s a skill I learned at home (on the reservation), but also at home with the fellows.”

Doing the work on the ground whether in the halls of the government agencies in D.C. or driving the bustling roads that take her back home to South Dakota, Ecoffey knows what’s important to her.

“Coming back to work in D.C., my family is supportive more so because I never really left the community. I go home, a lot. The tribal part of it, that connection with home – seeing the issues, the generations, and being humble – keep me grounded. That’s a big thing.”

Impacting Legislative Policy

Melissa Gower

Melissa Gower

Melissa (McNiel) Gower is a member of the Cherokee Nation and entered the Native American Health Policy Fellowship in 1999, after 10 years of working in the area of Indian health care. She served as the Deputy Clinic Administrator for the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center, a tribally-operated outpatient health center in Stilwell, Oklahoma, and as heath planning specialist and consultant.

During her fellowship, she worked in U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s office with the majority staff. Campbell was then Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. In the Fall/Winter 1999 issue of First Nations’ Indian Giver newsletter, Gower was described as “indispensable” to the committee. During her time in Campbell’s office, she worked on healthcare, tribal self-governance, and elder and family issues. Gower’s policy interests and paper were on the financing of American Indian health care facilities.

“The fellowship gave me a greater understanding of the U.S. congressional and legislative process, and how it works. It was helpful in my future work with the Cherokee Nation – where I started the government relations department and opened their office in Washington,” said Gower.

As had many of the other fellows, Gower had grown up in her tribal community and she had never lived anywhere other than Oklahoma. She said it was Sherry Salway Black, then Vice President of First Nations Development Institute, who helped the fellows get acclimated to life in the nation’s capital. Salway Black served 19 years as the Senior Vice President of, and on the boards of directors for First Nations and First Nations Oweesta Corporation. Salway Black is Oglala Lakota and knew the importance of having the fellows based in Washington.

Gower and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

Gower and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

“It was important that this fellowship not only help to broaden the networks of Native fellows beyond Indian Country, but help them to understand how national policy impacts our communities directly. Native people must be experienced and work at every level of government from tribal to state to national – because our communities are affected by all levels of government,” said Salway Black.

The fellowship opened many doors for Gower and the opportunity to further her legislative and policy experience, make business contacts and lasting friends. While being in Washington provided an invaluable, professional opportunity, Gower always knew she would return to Oklahoma.

“I did get offered a job in D.C., but staying there was never my intent. I was always going to work for the tribe. It was a great experience. I feel blessed and many thanks for the opportunity to participate in it,” said Gower.

After completing the fellowship, Gower went on to be an Executive Officer in the Office of the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, where she worked in the areas of strategy, communications, development and governmental relations. Currently, she works as a Senior Advisor, Policy Analyst to the Secretary of Health with the Chickasaw Nation, where she focuses on health-related policy issues at the federal, state and tribal levels.

In 2016, Gower was recognized by the National Indian Health Board as one of its National Impact Award recipients for her work and its impact on Native American and Alaska Native people across the country.

In all her experience as a healthcare and policy legislation professional, Gower still sees the gap of not enough Native people getting involved in the area of Native healthcare policy.

“Another Native American Health Policy Fellowship is needed, as there are very few young people in the field. We need more young people who want to do what I do. The need is there. There are very few people in this niche area – more young people are needed to break into the area. So much goes on, it’s a busy job, and there’s so much at stake – providing American Indian and Alaska Native people healthcare,” said Gower.

Alaska Native Elders – Shine the Way Home

Jordan P. Lewis

Jordan P. Lewis

Jordan P. Lewis always knew he’d work back home in Alaska, and he always knew he wanted to focus his work on Alaska Native elders. What he didn’t know was how his journey would take him to cities across the Lower 48, and have him involved in challenging and unique work experiences along the way.

Lewis is Aleut from the Native Village of Naknek, and grew up knowing both his grandparents, and great-grandparents. He says it was growing up around them, and their cultural and social wisdom and knowledge, which greatly influenced him personally and professionally. Lewis is the Director of the National Resource Center for Alaska Native Elders and an Associate Professor with the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Dr. Lewis has researched the cultural understanding of aging and the intergenerational programming in tribal communities.

“It’s an honor to be respected – to be an elder. The research literature and studies on Native elders is very limited. There’s a different focus to it than what’s currently available on older adults, which is deficiency focused versus what you gain as you age, which is more spiritual and emotional versus a physical deficit,” said Lewis.

Lewis speaks with passion and excitement regarding the work he does on behalf of the Alaska Natives across the six regions and 30-plus villages he works with. He focuses on healthy aging and how to help people to learn how to view aging and life in a healing way.

An internal optimist, Lewis fondly remembers his time as one of the 2003 Native American Health Policy Fellows as a “career-changing experience.”

“Learning how to network – the networking was phenomenal – and access to the leadership in Indian Country. It taught you how to find your voice and how to stand up for other people, how to be an advocate, to engage, be an effective listener and effective in policy,” said Lewis.

He worked with Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he plunged right into policy work. He was able to see the benefits of influencing policy by being in a position of authority within the congressman’s office.

‘Phenomenal Mentor’

Lewis was also fortunate to be supported by Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, who is from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, and was then at the University of Arizona. He recalls Roubideaux as a “phenomenal mentor.” Roubideaux currently serves as the Director of the National Congress of American Indians’ Policy Research Center.

In addition to Lewis’ strong academic background, he holds a Ph.D. from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a Master’s of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Bachelor’s of Social Work from the University of Fairbanks. He also spent a summer as a Morris K. Udall Foundation congressional intern, and worked with First Nations Development Institute prior to moving to Washington for the Native American Health Policy Fellowship.

“I worked there about one and a half years at First Nations as Policy Associate. I was very excited, and it was a busy journey. I worked on forestry and food programs. I traveled and I learned about what was going on with reservation communities, but my interest was with health policy,” said Lewis.

Sherry Salway Black looks back at the impact the fellows have had in the area of Native American health policy for tribal communities, and public health and policy sectors.

“Support from the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation and First Nations helped to change the lives of the fellows, who in turn are giving back, making life better for their communities and for Indian Country. This program, after more than 15 years, continues to derive increasing benefits for Native peoples, so the return on investment is phenomenal. When people talk about building wealth, these people are part of our collective wealth. I’m hopeful we continue, as foundations, as tribal governments and as the federal government, to support these amazing programs.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Moenkopi ‘Take and Make’ Food Project a Big Hit

Healthy Snack

Students from the Moencopi Day School create some of the recipes they learned.

Wendi Lewis is the Project Manager for Moenkopi Developers Corporation, Inc., and a Hopi tribal member. You can hear in her voice the commitment she has toward providing much-needed support to her community. She served as the Project Manager for the “Take and Make Healthy Foods Project” supported by First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) under its “Nourishing Native Children: Feeding Our Future” Project that was generously supported by the Walmart Foundation.

“One of the biggest highlights was that the response was great from the parents, and one of the things they were happy about was that we met all of the numbers, goals for our project. I don’t know how else to say it – but the kids created excitement (about the project),” said Lewis.

The “Nourishing Native Children: Feeding Our Future” Project provided grants to Native American communities to continue or expand nutrition resources for existing programs that serve American Indian children ages 6-14. The project’s goals were to support Native American community-based feeding programs, and to learn from these programs and other model programs about best practices, challenges, barriers to success, and systemic and policy issues affecting Native children’s hunger, and to foster partnerships among programs.

Ready-to-Make Foods

Helping with food preparation.

Helping with food preparation.

The Moenkopi Developers Corporation was awarded funding to further its “Take and Make Healthy Foods Project” that provided 168 students from the Moencopi Day School with take-home packages, twice a week, containing ready-to-make foods to prepare with their families. Each pack had minimum of one local traditional or student-grown ingredient. Students learned how to prepare each snack and about the related health benefits during weekly greenhouse classes, which included garden and nutrition educational information. Also, 11 Take and Make bulk ingredient bags were distributed as well. The project was supported by First Nations and the Walmart Foundation from July 2017 to December 2017.

Lewis said that despite the challenge of not being able to grow all of the ingredients in the Moencopi Day School greenhouse, they were able to purchase foods from a local organic grower. They also received donations from local farmers and one who had a surplus of apples. They picked the apples straight from the orchard and incorporated them into the education curriculum during the greenhouse classes. The students learned about how to grow food in the greenhouse and what to do when there is a surplus of an ingredient, such as basil.

“We were able to do a pesto tasting since we grew so much basil and lettuce. They (the students) did a taste testing with the entire school. For the salad recipes, we grew lettuce and it led to the salad bar being a goal they are working toward for upcoming academic year, with ingredients to come from the school greenhouse and garden,” said Lewis.

Another goal of the project was to incorporate traditional foods into the recipes in the Take and Make Healthy Food packs. Some of the recipe ingredients were grown by the students in the greenhouse classes at the school, or they were locally grown in the area, on Hopi land.

Students from the Moencopi Day School receive food ingredients for recipes as part of the Take and Make Healthy Food packs and “Nourishing Native Children: Feeding Our Future” Project.

Students from the Moencopi Day School receive food ingredients for recipes as part of the Take and Make Healthy Food packs and “Nourishing Native Children: Feeding Our Future” Project.

Trinity Honahnie is the Parent Liaison with the Moencopi Day School, and a Hopi tribal member. She worked along with Curt Cebula, the school’s Food Corps member, and Mardell Humetewa, who is a regular volunteer and tribal community member, to prepare and package the Take and Make food packs. Honahnie said they offered traditional foods in the beginning of the program when the traditional foods were more readily available.

Traditional Hopi Spices

“The Hopi people are farmers and they like blue corn for flour – so the community can make piki, which is our traditional paper bread. It’s crusty and rolled up like a burrito. Also, dried peaches and apricots, and there were two traditional Hopi spices that Wendi included in one or two recipes. Those spices are pretty hard to come by – and she got enough for 168 students,” said Honahnie.

Some of the traditional recipes in the Take and Make meals included baked blue eggs (SawkaNgöhu) and Tu’itsma, Sipalkwivi and Piki/Piklaq’kutuki, blue corn pancakes that featured locally-grown ingredients, and three-bean salad.

“It was surprising how many students had never tried some of the traditional foods before. Living here, it doesn’t mean everyone can farm or attend to crops. We’ve become accustomed and used to modern food. A few grandparents, who are raising their grandchildren, were excited. One grandmother said she never thought to make that (the traditional foods) for the kids. She had never made it because she didn’t think they’d like it. Now the kids are like ‘can we make this again’ and they enjoyed it. She was shocked that they were into the traditional foods,” said Honahnie.

Language and culture were also incorporated into the program. In the Hopi culture class, the students learned the traditional Hopi names for the ingredients being used and how to say “to stir” in Hopi. The students would go over the words in Hopi and English so the students would gain an understanding of how the words and actions go together.

Students from the Moencopi Day School create some of the recipes they learned.

Students from the Moencopi Day School create some of the recipes they learned.

“We have a lot of famers who plant traditional – certain crops – and they sometimes get an excess of melons, beans, etc. The goal of teaching them (the students) how to use the traditional crops in different ways is good. It’s keeping up the traditional ways in a different way, and the big goal is about nutritious foods. We got a good response and we hope it can change habits of some of the parents, too. Even with the traditional foods, we’re used to boiling the beans and eating it, that’s what were used to. But beans can also be used to make dip, and then there’s watermelon for watermelon salad,” said Lewis.

Making an Impact

Lewis knows the program is making an impact in her community, and she knows that expanding the program will help fill a vital need and provide support to both the young and old. More funding for staff, their own kitchen and cold storage, a larger greenhouse, and increased access to local farmers, reinforces the Hopi traditional thought of “to give, not sell.”

Feedback from a parent about the project.

Feedback from a parent about the project.

Information about what Moencopi Day School is doing with its greenhouse and with the “Take and Make Healthy Foods Project” is being shared with other schools on the Hopi reservation. Many want to implement such a program in their schools to encourage the conversations around how to change eating habits for better health. Trinity Honahnie sees the impact the program has had on her community.

“Everyone is excited that we had this in our school. It was fun to try new things. We’re thankful to be given this opportunity to do this project with our students. It’s unique to our school and we want to thank you, First Nations, so much for the opportunity.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

TCEMP Helped Set Hamilton on Her Path

Annette Bowsher Hamilton

Annette Bowsher Hamilton

Annette Bowsher Hamilton always knew she’d somehow end up in the business world. Even growing up in rural Kansas, she knew. How her business ventures would unfold, she had yet to imagine.

“I’ve always been drawn to the business world, and I knew I wanted to work with tribes, as an enrolled member of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas. This program (TCEMP) showed me that ‘yes, you can’ and I needed that. I heard about it through my mom, who found an article in a newsletter and she told me.

At the time I was working for the Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas, and I wanted to get an MBA, as I have an undergraduate degree in accounting,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton’s journey would take her far from the open plains of Kansas and over 600 miles north to the bustling metropolis of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1991 to participate in the Tribal Commerce and Enterprise Management Program (TCEMP), a Native professional development program, based at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. The TCEMP program was created by the First Nations Financial Project, later renamed First Nations Development Institute (First Nations). The program was previously based at the Yale School of Organization and Management (YSOM, now the School of Management). TCEMP was generously underwritten by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Challenging Environment

Campus life at the University of Minnesota proved to be challenging, but Hamilton received support from fellow TCEMP students Aurolyn Stwyer and Terry Mason Moore, who were in their second year of the program.

“The three of us – Terry Mason Moore, Aurolyn Stwyer and I – we put together a Native women in business conference and it was a success. Women from all different fields of business and tribal leaders presented and that drew a crowd of about 75 attendees from the university and the Minneapolis Native American community. One of the tribal chairwomen who attended was Marge Anderson from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. The Mille Lacs were unique. They had money from their casinos, and had built a community center and a corporation within six months. That was one of the highlights,” said Hamilton.

Already holding an undergraduate degree in business administration and accounting, Hamilton knew she wanted a different experience with her MBA program.

“I had taken undergraduate business courses, so I wanted to take different electives outside of the business school. So I declared my own major – economic development. I had to get the curriculum approved by the Carlson School of Management. At first they said ‘you can’t do this,’ and they had to call in the dean. Ultimately the school supported me, but they didn’t feel the courses I was proposing to take would land me a job. Back then business schools were more traditional in focus,” said Hamilton.

Despite the challenges, Hamilton didn’t back down and did get her major coursework approved. She knew she needed to take not only business courses, but courses that would assist her in tackling the many social issues impacting reservation communities.

‘I Knew I Had to Deal With Other Things’

“I took graduate courses in housing policy, public policy and even social work, classes that would open up my world and help me to work on the reservation. It was not enough to work on the reservation. I knew I had to deal with other things. I took courses that would cover what I thought I might need. It wasn’t a clear path, but I knew what information I needed. I don’t regret making those choices at all,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton says the issues she was looking at addressing on reservations still exist today, and it’s not always about getting money to fund projects, but how to create change.

“At the time, I had to pull back the layers in my studies as I focused on how to get money to do well and effect social change, to overcome the oppressive conditions, the lack of income, the lack of wellness and healthy living. There are still all of those issues on the reservations. Later, the housing policy classes helped me to understand the obstacles of reservation housing and participate in the for-profit project called the Ho-Chunk Village that is being replicated as the model on other reservations,” said Hamilton.

While Hamilton found support and challenging opportunities with the other TCEMP students, life inside and outside the classroom was not always welcoming.

“The business school was super competitive and cutthroat. UMN at the time was one of the top 20 MBA schools, so there were students that went to Duke or like colleges, and whose dads were executives at General Mills. One time in the marketing class an executive from Land O’Lakes came and spoke to the class. The students started calling me squaw and it became very hostile. I filed a complaint but nothing came of it. At that time, you just had to keep your head down. It’s not a classroom experience I want to remember,” said Hamilton.

Having to navigate such hostile situations could have discouraged Hamilton, but it made her strive further in her studies.

Annette at her graduation.

Annette at her graduation.

“The experience made me more bound and determined that this is what I was going to do and complete it. TCEMP came at the right time for me and Indian Country. I already thought like a business person. I had to learn how to think like a social worker, a housing director, a public policy person and all those difference perspectives. I use all those skills with the MBA,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton knows how important the cultural support she received from the other TCEMP fellows, and the American Indian Student Association at UMN was for her. But the tribal connections she made while in the program proved pivotal, too.

After graduating in 1993, Hamilton returned to Kansas for a short time then took a job with the American Indian Chamber of Commerce in Minneapolis to fulfill the requirements of her TCEMP fellowship. While she enjoyed her time there, she knew she needed to have a more hands-on experience and that she didn’t fit in a traditional job. Marge Anderson from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, whom Hamilton had met during her first year at UMN, contacted her and talked to her about coming to work for the tribe. The Mille Lacs were looking at diversifying their tribal gaming dollars and their corporations. Hamilton accepted the offer to work for the tribe, and found herself moving to the east-central part of the state where the Mille Lacs reservation is located.

COO of Ho-Chunk, Inc.

Hamilton would not only work for the Mille Lacs, but she went on to work for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, where she now serves as the corporate officer of Vice President and her job title is Chief Operating Officer of Ho-Chunk, Inc. She is in charge of the strategic direction and oversight of Ho-Chunk, Inc.’s five divisions, from government contracting, distribution and retail, to construction and marketing. The 40+ companies and the management responsibilities from operations, financial, administration and human resources, and legislative oversight, fall under her direction.

She is very humble about the success she has achieved and acknowledges First Nations and the opportunities that the TCEMP fellowship gave her.

“I had met Sherry Salway Black (former First Nations executive) as she came to campus at least twice during the first year. She came and visited us, and that was super important. I look up to her as a Native woman, what she wanted us to be, and what she wanted for us. Years later I met Rebecca Adamson (First Nations’ founder). I went up to her and thanked her for the program, how it impacted me, and that I was already working with Ho-Chunk, Inc.,” said Hamilton.

She would not only thank First Nations in person for what she gained from the TCEMP fellowship, but Hamilton would also be able to impact the organization directly as well.

“A few years ago in 2014, Ho-Chunk, Inc. allowed each executive to pick a pool of money to invest, and I picked First Nations as a show of gratitude for the support they gave to me with the TCEMP fellowship. I told the story of how they changed my life and had given me so much. I wanted to give back.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Board Member Chandra Hampson: Combining Business with Heart

Chandra interacts with the “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” exhibit, in which black bars turn translucent when touched and reveal the names of U.S. Indian Boarding Schools that have been lost to history. Chandra has her hand on the boarding school Carlisle, where her great grandmother Elizabeth Bender and great uncle Charles Bender were sent.

Chandra interacts with the “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” exhibit, in which black bars turn translucent when touched and reveal the names of U.S. Indian Boarding Schools that have been lost to history. Chandra has her hand on the boarding school Carlisle, where her great grandmother Elizabeth Bender and great uncle Charles Bender were sent. Piece by artist Ryan Feddersen. Photo by Lhorna Murray.

An inherent sense of community. A legacy of advocacy. A heritage grounded in education. They are signatures of First Nations Development Institute Board Member Chandra Hampson, and the driving force behind her schooling, career and ongoing outreach. From her childhood on the Winnebago reservation and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and in adjacent small towns, to her years as a banking executive, Chandra has built on this foundation, staying connected to her native heritage and always pursuing ways to make it stronger.

A Calling in Her Blood

Chandra’s tribal affiliation is Ho-Chunk from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and Ojibwe from the White Earth Nation. She is also the great granddaughter of Elizabeth Bender and of Henry Roe Cloud, a renowned educator and key player in the development of federal Indian policy in the early 20th century. The first Native American to graduate from Yale University, Cloud had a distinguished career in Native advocacy, first helping to institute modern schools for Native American youth and then being instrumental in the writing and implementation of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

Cloud’s legacy transcended generations, instilling in his descendants the importance of education and each person’s obligation to help their community.

Chandra has taken this heritage to heart, recognizing that wherever her life has taken her – from the reservations, to her studies in Italy, to business school at the University of Washington – she has felt a deep connection to her Native roots and an ongoing desire to give back.

The Need for Community

Chandra at her 25-year reunion at Stanford University, where she presented on a panel with some of her fellow graduates.

Chandra at her 25-year reunion at Stanford University, where she presented on a panel with some of her fellow graduates.

Chandra spent the bulk of her childhood in rural areas adjacent to and on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Here she maintained close contact not only with the Umatilla Tribe, but also with her own Winnebago Tribe from her roots in Nebraska. From here, she headed to Stanford University – a tradition in education for many of her family members. In fact, she said, her parents met at Stanford after both being assigned to the first co-ed dorm in the country.

While being raised in a rural area had given Chandra exposure to class racial divides, Stanford was her first introduction to a more expansive world of privilege. “My Native family who’d attended always spoke positively about Stanford,” she said. “But they were resilient in ways I can only imagine. For me it was challenging to find people I could identify with.”

Fortunately, an uncle who had been at Stanford in the 1970s connected Chandra with the Stanford Native Community Center that proved to be fundamental to her success. During her time at Stanford, she stayed involved with the group, which has since grown to become one of the best Native student programs nationwide. “My uncle was involved in forming this group, and the legacy has been amazing,” she said. “It’s something that Native people need, to avoid feeling isolated.”

Choosing to Help

Chandra graduated from Stanford into a national recession with a degree in art and photography. She found herself at a crossroads. She decided she would give herself six months to pursue a career in graphics and animation, or she would honor the calling instilled in her from her beginnings – helping others. In what ultimately would be a loss for the art world but a win for the Indian community, after six months she began working with a community partnership in Santa Clara County, focusing on Urban Indian community development with local Indian health and education organizations.

A move to San Diego next led Chandra to a management position with a family foundation, where she was introduced to a variety of trusts, grassroots organizations and other foundations. From this experience, a new career pathway began to reveal itself. “I found the nonprofit sector didn’t have a sense of business, and the business community didn’t have much heart,” she said. “I was looking for a space between.”

Her exploration led her to pursue an MBA at the University of Washington, where she focused on the intersection of community development and private-sector finance.

The Power of Banking

Chandra Hampson. Photo courtesy of Meredith Parker (Makah)

Chandra Hampson. Photo courtesy of Meredith Parker (Makah)

While “responsible business” and “corporate responsibility” were new concepts at the time she started business school, Chandra already had her focus on getting back to Indian Country. “In everything I did, I was always looking for the Native component,” she said. “I kept refusing to leave our First People out of the conversation.”

She developed skills in marketing and finance and upon graduation sought a career in the industry that could make a real difference for Native communities: banking. For her, it was about capital and asset-building.

“I wanted to find ways to control the flow of capital and the extent to which it was available in Indian Country,” she said.

Through traditional banking, Chandra said she could work to get tribes more access to capital, which they historically hadn’t had due to racist beliefs and policies. She strived to get tribes treated as viable public finance customers. Drawing on her knowledge of other approaches to channeling capital to unserved communities, she worked to disrupt the way financial systems operated in order to get capital back to Indian Country.

“Through banking, I could help tribes and tribal members leverage what they have – social enterprises, government enterprises, entrepreneurialism. That’s social capital, which is as valuable, if not more so, as monetary capital.”

Chandra sought out banks that were doing good works via their Community Reinvestment Act requirements, and ultimately dove into a career with Wells Fargo for the next seven years. She transitioned from positions of bank examiner, to private banker, to commercial gaming lender, to relationship manager for the Pacific Northwest Region of Native American Banking Services Division. Through the last role, she finally had an opportunity to have a direct impact on Native communities and their access to funding to build their economies.

She continued with Wells Fargo until corporate policies and internal competition began to dictate what she was able to do for tribes.

“There was controversy surrounding gaming tribes, which the bank regarded as gaming enterprises instead of communities,” she said. “There were issues of land status and trust. Our team wanted to service these tribes as government agencies, which limited the bank’s returns. Meanwhile the bank considered them to be high-risk gaming organizations.”

It was a policy she could not condone.

Still focused on wanting to serve Indian Country, Chandra decided to pursue opportunities with Craft3 – a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution lender formed to strengthen economic, ecological and family resilience in Pacific Northwest communities. She accepted a position as Senior Vice President and was brought on to create the Indian Country Initiative.

Always Advocating

Chandra left the world of banking in 2012 to focus on her two small children, but has stayed true to her calling to her community.

She continues serving on several boards of Native organizations and has pursued contract opportunities that empower her to directly help tribes. Among them: writing economic development plans and reviewing business acquisition opportunities for tribes, writing business plans for Native nonprofit organizations, including “Feeding Seven Generations,” and teaching financing and accounting to Native people working in tribal gaming organizations through a UW American Indian Studies program.

Chandra Hampson. Photo courtesy of Meredith Parker (Makah)

Chandra Hampson. Photo courtesy of Meredith Parker (Makah)

The teaching engagements, she said, have allowed her to address the need for financial literacy in Indian Country. “I appreciate having the opportunity to show how accounting, for example, is just the language of business – how American capitalism communicates,” she said. “I let students know that their own concepts and traditional knowledge can be maintained. They’re just using the language of business to translate, so they can better advocate for themselves.”

Chandra said she also continues to focus on efforts that highlight the value of social versus monetary capital, stressing how Indigenous notions of economics are needed in our Native communities. “This is a beacon for how to right the way American capitalism has gone so far south. It’s been a long transition between bringing capital and the ‘ism’ that is tied to it to Indian Country and recognizing that we need to reinvest in ourselves,” she said.

Through it all, Chandra has continued her role on the board of First Nations, an organization that she said she’s honored to be a part of.

“I really respect coming on to a board where members have served for 30 years. It’s amazing to have people who have never lost sight.”

Moreover, she said she appreciates the alignment of First Nations with her personal mission to increase the flow of capital into Indian Country. “From reclaiming systems, to economic growth, to influencing the philanthropic community, First Nations is improving the overall asset base in a very thoughtful and strategic way,” she said. “They’re a first-class nonprofit.”

Going forward, Chandra said she is committed to the legacy established so many years ago by her great grandfather: Community, advocacy, education. They are attributes she said that will always be needed to help tribes rebuild what is historically theirs.

“It’s been a long evolution of finding how to best help communities coming out of economic distress. We still have a long way to go to support healthy land, healthy people and sustainability,” she says. “But we’ll get there.”

With groundwork established by advocates like Henry Roe Cloud, and the ongoing work of leaders like Chandra, we will.

By Amy Jakober

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.”



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,, 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.

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