“Salish Sojourn” Recap: Our Special Tour of the Pacific Northwest

Tour participants and staff at the beach.

Tour participants, guides, board members and staff taking a “Salish Sojourn.”

Often news about the hard work and impact of First Nations Development Institute’s grantee projects is shared externally through photos, reports, social media postings and newsletters, such as First Nations’ Indian Giver. Although these methods provide a wonderful glimpse into the work being done, actually seeing the projects first-hand offers a far more comprehensive understanding and a much deeper appreciation.

In June 2019, six tour participants had the opportunity to visit with First Nations grantees and other communities in coastal Washington and personally get to know the individuals involved and see, first-hand, the amazing grassroots work they are doing in their communities.

A Salish Sojourn: A Northwest Tour took place June 9-15 and included visits to seven tribal communities and one Seattle-based grantee. Participating communities and organizations were each given a small grant to thank them for taking the time and effort to be a part of the tour. The goal of this trip was to present an opportunity for First Nations donors and other participants to understand the challenges and successes of grantees and other Native groups in the Northwest.

Traditional Foods

The tour began with a home-cooked dinner of traditional foods prepared by Muckleshoot tribal member Rosa Maldonado. Participants met with Rosa, tour guide and Muckleshoot tribal member Valerie Segrest, and Muckleshoot tribal council member Louie Ungaro. First Nations President & CEO Michael Roberts and Board Member Chandra Hampson also were in attendance. The meal was a wonderful kickoff to the journey, and showcased traditional foods in a variety of preparations, including fresh-caught, sage-baked salmon; locally hunted venison with a garlic-sorrel sauce handpicked from local mountains; wild rice cakes; grilled maple squash; and sweetgrass tea.

Tour attendees learned much about traditional foods and medicines.

Attendees learn about traditional medicines used at the Elders Herbal Pharmacy with Muckleshoot tribal member Valerie Segrest.

The second day began at Muckleshoot Tribal College, where staff presented on the work done through funding from First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative (NAI). This grant has primarily served to lead classes on traditional crafts, ranging from regalia creation to weaving. After the group’s time at the college, participants visited the Muckleshoot Carving Shed. Carvers Tyson Simmons and Keith Stevenson shared their stories and answered questions while guests toured the shed. The group then toured the Muckleshoot Elders Complex, a beautiful facility that provides meals, medicines and other services to elders within the community. This tour included a special visit to the Elders Herbal Pharmacy – a service offered by Valerie Segrest. In addition to guiding our tour for this journey, Valerie is a Native nutrition educator and traditional foods specialist. She works with elders in the Muckleshoot Elders Complex to determine traditional, plant-based medicines that treat any ailments in congruence with their prescriptions. The pharmacy visit included an opportunity to learn about traditional herbal remedies, as well as a chance to watch Valerie make a traditional tea for skin and hair, which participants were then able to take home.

Traditional Medicines

The afternoon of the second day was spent at Squaxin Island. Community members Aleta Poste and Elizabeth Campbell led a guided walk of the Squaxin Island Community Garden, explaining the plants seen on a wooded path filled with traditional medicines, and then touring the garden itself. Participants had an opportunity to see the natural state of many of the medicines they had seen in their dried form in the Herbal Pharmacy, including stinging nettle, devil’s club, horsetail and salmonberry. After the garden, the tour visited the Squaxin Island Tribe Museum, Library and Research Center. There tour attendees were led by Tribal Council Member Charlene Krise and given a brief overview of the tribe’s history. The day concluded with a traditional canoe ride led by Chris Sigo and a seafood fest. Chris took the time to share some of the local history, explain paddling protocol, and give an overview of the annual Canoe Journey. Participants also were treated to a traditional seafood feast prepared by community member Bobbi Brown’s Kalmiche catering. This feast included geoduck chowder, baked salmon and local clams, along with fresh fruits and vegetables.

our intrepid travelers partake in a traditional Squaxin canoe ride led by Chris Sigo.

Our intrepid travelers partake in a traditional Squaxin canoe ride led by Chris Sigo.

On the third day, the group made its way to scenic Neah Bay. Situated in the westernmost point of the continental United States, Neah Bay is home to the Makah Tribe. After a winding, tree-sheltered drive along miles of cliffs towering over rock and glimmering sea, participants were led on a tour of the Makah Cultural and Research Center (Makah Museum) by Executive Director and Makah tribal member Janine Ledford. This tour was extremely detailed, including access to the museum’s archives and a tour of a traditional longhouse. Afterward, the group traveled to the Be?is gathering place, where they learned from expert weaver Theresa Parker and had an opportunity to walk out and greet the ocean.

View of trees from Neah Bay on the Makah reservation.

View of trees from Neah Bay on the Makah reservation.

House of Myths

The next stop was the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. The fourth day began at the House of Myths Carving Shed, where a master carver and an apprentice carver gave an overview of the variations between tribal carving methods and symbols, spoke of upcoming projects, and explained the story poles they were in the process of painting. After the House of Myths, participants met with Ron Allen, the Chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and former First Nations board member. He explained the history of the tribe’s battle for recognition and some of the tribe’s current projects.

That afternoon, the tour visited Suquamish, where attendees met with Suquamish Museum Director Janet Smoak and tribal member and museum staffer Gus Purser. Janet gave an overview of the museum’s history and its NAI project, which features an artist-in-residence program. Gus led the group on a tour of the museum and archives before bringing everyone to the Chief Sealf (Seattle) grave site. A figure of massive importance in Northwestern and American history, Chief Seattle was a chief of the Duwamish Tribe who is best known for his dedication to his people, negotiation skills, and an especially well-known speech encouraging traditional Indigenous ecological values. The tour then visited the House of Awakened Culture, a longhouse specifically built in time to host the 2009 Canoe Journey. The day drew to an end at Kiana Lodge, where participants enjoyed traditionally roasted salmon and heard from Jay Mills, a former First Nations grantee and Suquamish Tribal Council Member.

Healing to Wellness Court

The fifth day began in Swinomish, where Community Health Specialist Larry Campbell and Environmental Health Analyst Dr. Jamie Donatuto gave an overview of the tribe’s history and current projects. Participants then enjoyed a traditional snack of dried salmonberry while tribal members made balms and ointments that will be used on the upcoming Canoe Journey. After the time in Swinomish, the tour journeyed to the Tulalip Tribes for a visit at the Hibulb Cultural Center. Nicole Sieminksi, tribal member and Executive Director of the Tulalip Foundation, gave an overview of their work. Center staff led a tour of the museum. Participants then visited a traditional longhouse by the sea. The next stop was Tulalip’s Healing to Wellness Court, which is a prime example of one of many ways tribes can exercise their sovereignty by Indigenizing and decolonizing current legal practices, mental health and chemical-dependency treatment methods. Participants heard from and spoke with staff currently involved in the Wellness Court, and left with a better understanding of the ways the court works to guide defendants to a safer place in life. The day ended at the Hibulb Center with a traditional dinner prepared by community member Inez Bill and a flute circle with tribal member and musician Cary Williams.

Attendees view a traditional canoe at Squaxin Island Museum Library and Research Center.

Attendees view a traditional canoe at Squaxin Island Museum Library and Research Center.

Ethnobotanical Gardens

The final day of the journey took place in Seattle. Tour attendees met with the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation (UIATF), a nonprofit serving Natives in the Seattle area. UIATF began with a tour of its Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center for an introduction to the center and a presentation of the organization’s recent NAI-funded workshops, then participants explored the facility and were taken on a guided tour of the Bernie Whitebear Ethnobotanical Gardens. That afternoon, the group visited the Preston Singletary Gallery, where the Tlingit artist creates exquisite glass creations rooted in traditional imagery. Finally, the tour concluded with a traditional dinner, including time to speak with First Nations Board Member Chandra Hampson and Muckleshoot Tribal Council Member Louie Ungaro.

Tour participants, First Nations staff and Makah tribal members at Neah Bay.

Tour participants, First Nations staff and Makah tribal members at Neah Bay.

Despite the long hours and many destinations, tour members left feeling invigorated, educated and ready to learn more about the tribes of Washington and beyond. A Salish Sojourn provided an excellent opportunity for guests to see Native Americans as they exist today – multifaceted and diverse, varying massively from community to community, and existing in both rural and urban spaces.

In an evaluation of the trip, participant and donor Catherine Thiemann said she was “inspired to learn more about the Native tribes and communities” especially around her home in the San Diego area. This is precisely the outcome that First Nations hopes for in arranging these tours – that attendees will leave with a feeling of inspiration and a desire to learn more about Native communities in their local areas and beyond.

By Rana LaPine, First Nations Program Officer, and Jona Charette, First Nations Development Officer

Protecting Inherent Powers, Keeping Wisdom for the Sicangu Lakota

“We have been here for thousands of years. This is our territory and we are not going anywhere,” says Two Eagle, speaking about the Sicangu Lakota people.

“We have been here for thousands of years. This is our territory and we are not going anywhere,” says Two Eagle, speaking about the Sicangu Lakota people.

Every day throughout Indian Country, encroachment of Native rights is happening. For most tribes, this means a perpetual uphill battle involving government, public education and legislation. Protecting those rights in South Dakota for the Sicangu Lakota people is the Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council. With a two-person staff, eight Tribal Council members and a broad-scale mission, this grantee of First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is readying to take on every challenge, from oil and gas to climate change.

The Keepers of Wisdom

The mission of the Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council is to assert its inherent dominium over the Sicangu Lakota Oyate territories expressed in the Fort Laramie Treaties. Under this mission, the council works to bring awareness of the history and the rights of the Sicangu Lakota as part of the Great Sioux Nation and the Oceti Sakowin Tribes within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation.

According to Executive Director Phil Two Eagle, the threats to these rights are widespread, involving everything from oil and gas drilling, uranium mining, to gold mining operations in the Black Hills. “Like our Lakota Warrior Scouts and War Chiefs, we keep our ears on the ground on the issues that will affect our people and our territory,” he says.

Executive Director Phil Two Eagle (third from right) with the Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council, whose members represent Sicangu Lakota Oyate as part of the Oceti Sakowin Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Tribes in the area.

Executive Director Phil Two Eagle (third from right) with the Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council, whose members represent Sicangu Lakota Oyate as part of the Oceti Sakowin Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Tribes in the area.

The demand is great, he explains, as protection is needed for all Lakota natural resources – subsurface minerals, burial sites, ground water and air space above treaty lands – and all the Native rights associated with them. This means there is an ongoing fight to ward off pollution and climate change, protect hunting and fishing rights, honor sacred sites, and ensure that natural resources will benefit the local Native economy.

To meet this demand, the treaty council acquires, keeps and passes down tribal knowledge and works with federal, state and local governments as a Native advocate and negotiator. Moreover, like treaty councils everywhere, it serves as a guide for tribal councils.

Two Eagle explains that treaty councils have traditionally comprised the chiefs – the traditional leaders of the tribes – and they have played a vital role in tribal governance ever since the first treaties were signed. Today, they continue to provide traditional leadership and consultation to tribes and hold tribal leaders accountable for what they are elected to do.

“Treaty councils are the wisdom keepers of the tribe,” Two Eagle explains. “Without treaty councils, treaties – and the language, history and culture they protect – would be gone.”

Broad Reach Funding

In this capacity, the Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council has served the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of the Rosebud Indian Reservation since 1992, with input from eight treaty council members representing the Sicangu Lakota Oyate as part of the Oceti Sakowin Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Tribes in the area. Now, they are maximizing a First Nations grant – made possible through the Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation – that is designed to support Native American-led community efforts pursuing environmental justice, with a particular emphasis on combating abusive extractive industry practices occurring on treaty lands. Through the grant, the treaty council will build on its momentum with dedicated efforts to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The council’s job is to share knowledge to protect the rights of the Sicangu Lakota as part of the Great Sioux Nation and the Oceti Sakowin Tribes within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation.

The council’s job is to share knowledge to protect the rights of the Sicangu Lakota as part of the Great Sioux Nation and the Oceti Sakowin Tribes within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation.

The current Keystone Pipeline delivers oil from Canada to refineries in Illinois and Texas and to oil tank farms in Oklahoma. The proposed XL Keystone Pipeline would further connect the pipeline system through a shorter route, running through Montana, North Dakota, and the Great Sioux Reservation, which was established by treaty.

The XL expansion is now tied up in legal challenges, including proceedings initiated by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, which asserts that the permit authorizing the expansion does not consider tribal sovereignty and federal trust obligations. If approved, the XL project will not only cut across Native land, it will wreak further havoc on Native resources in its path. Two Eagle reports that the existing Keystone Pipeline has had numerous spills since it began in 2010, including a recent 1,800-gallon spill in Missouri and a 400,000-gallon spill in South Dakota last year.

Through the project, the Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council will lead community outreach and engagement efforts to teach tribal members, the public and all stakeholders about the impact of the expansion and the inherent rights of Lakota and Sioux People. The work will be two-fold. First, the council will host community meetings at each of the seven Lakota tribes to provide updates and develop a unified strategy to oppose the pipeline. Next, the council will raise awareness about tribal treaty violations through an illuminated billboard.

“As wisdom keepers, our job is to educate people about the inherent powers of our treaties,” says Two Eagle. “The billboard is part of a marketing strategy to convey how the Sicangu Lakota feel about the pipeline, and the negative impact it will have on both treaty rights and the environment.”

Two Eagle says the billboard will inspire viewers to initiate their own research about the pipeline expansion and direct them to a website for more information.

Treaty council meeting

Treaty council meeting

A site for the billboard will be selected with input from a local advertising agency to strategically reach drivers of the 2,500 vehicles that travel on Interstate 90 across South Dakota every day. “That’s over one million people a year who will see our message and become better informed,” he says.

It is the council’s hope that greater awareness will increase the power of treaty councils and tribes in protecting their inherent rights.

“A lot of times, the government only consults with us after the fact. We need to hold the federal government accountable,” Two Eagle says. “We need to get ahead of the game.”

Broad-Scale Impact

At the heart of these efforts is the knowledge that treaty protections are just one part of the overall work that’s needed to protect the Sicangu Lakota way of life. Two Eagle explains there is work to be done to bolster education, drive the economy, protect the environment and preserve the Lakota language, which he says is only 10 years away from extinction unless something is done.

“The Lakota language, history and culture are our inherent sovereignty and we must do everything we can to protect our people from becoming assimilated, because without your Indigenous language you are no longer sovereign. You are completely assimilated, and you can disappear into the mainstream American society,” he says. “But we have been here for thousands of years. This is our territory and we are not going anywhere.”

“Like our Lakota Warrior Scouts and War Chiefs, we keep our ears on the ground on the issues that will affect our people and our territory,” says Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council Executive Director Phil Two Eagle.

“Like our Lakota Warrior Scouts and War Chiefs, we keep our ears on the ground on the issues that will affect our people and our territory,” says Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council Executive Director Phil Two Eagle.

Recognizing these needs, planning is underway to build a Lakota cultural center and to bring in legal training for the treaty and tribal council members on issues that affect Native sovereignty. In addition, the council works regularly with the International Indian Treaty Council and with others aligned with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Further efforts are being directed to formalize a Lakota language program as part of the local Indian school curriculum. The council is also collaborating with other treaty councils on ways to address climate change, in solutions that go beyond the federal government.

“There are no more traditional enemies within tribes. We’re all in this together and we all have to work together to help the world come up with solutions,” he says. “Traditional Native knowledge is critical right now to teach the world what needs to be done.”

For Seven Generations

As is common in Indian Country, the Sicangu Lakota believe every generation has a responsibility for the next seven generations. For the Sicangu Lakota, this means opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline, from meetings to billboards to education. And it means taking all steps needed to protect treaty rights and natural resources and preserve the culture, history and language of the Lakota. Through these efforts, the Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council is persevering in honoring its inherent sovereignty, and it continues to be the wisdom keeper of its people.

By Amy Jakober

First Nations Receives Top 4-Star Rating for 8th Straight Year

Charity Navigator 4 Stars 600px

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has once again received the highest rating of four stars from charity watchdog agency Charity Navigator, making it the eighth year in a row that First Nations has achieved this distinction. Only 4 percent of the charities rated by Charity Navigator can claim the honor of receiving this top rating for eight consecutive years.

Charity Navigator is America’s largest and most-utilized independent evaluator of charities. The coveted rating is recognition of First Nations’ “strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency,” according to the rating agency.

In a July 1, 2019, letter to First Nations President & CEO Michael E. Roberts, Charity Navigator President & CEO Michael Thatcher said:

“We are proud to announce First Nations Development Institute has earned our eighth consecutive 4-star rating. This is our highest possible rating and indicates that your organization adheres to sector best practices and executes its mission in a financially efficient way. Attaining a 4-star rating verifies that First Nations Development Institute exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in your area of work. Only 4% of the charities we evaluate have received at least 8 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that First Nations Development Institute outperforms most other charities in America. This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator sets First Nations Development Institute apart from its peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness.”

“As we have been for eight years straight, we are honored and proud to receive this outstanding rating, especially since so few nonprofits ever attain it,” said First Nations’ Roberts. “It reflects our dedicated accountability to all of our constituencies – our generous donors and the Native American communities we serve – and it demonstrates our commitment to pursuing our important work in a clear, honest and fiscally responsible manner.”

Those interested in supporting First Nations in its mission can do so by clicking here. To see First Nations’ profile on Charity Navigator, click here.

Three Grantees Selected for Fertile Ground Advocacy Campaign

SMSC AHA top graphic (640x167)

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the American Heart Association and First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently announced nearly $250,000 in grants through the collaborative Policy Innovation Fund. These grants are part of the Fertile Ground Advocacy Campaign, a $1.6 million funding initiative to support Native American nutrition and health advocacy. Grant recipients will improve access to healthy foods, reduce consumption of sugary drinks and foods, and strengthen food sovereignty work that is rooted in tradition, culture and Indigenous knowledge.

The campaign was developed jointly by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the American Heart Association, a global force for longer, healthier lives, and its Voices for Healthy Kids initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. First Nations, which administers the Policy Innovation Fund, conducted the first of two national solicitations for grant proposals. Grants were awarded through a competitive process to tribes and Native-led organizations to support innovative projects designed to improve nutrition and health policy systems at the tribal, local, state and national levels.

To support the success of Native grantees and advocates, the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF), a Native-governed nonprofit organization, will provide leadership development, technical assistance and movement-building activities to support the growing nutrition and health movement in Indian Country.

Grant recipients are:

  • California Indian Museum & Cultural Center (Santa Rosa, California): $81,667 — The Ma Pʰidin: Protecting Our Ground project serves Native people of all ages from 24 Pomo and Miwok tribes in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties in Northern California. These tribes have limited access to traditional food resources, so the project will focus on removing barriers to access, such as updating county park codes, which currently prohibit gathering food. The project also includes conducting a community assessment, engaging stakeholders and developing recommendations to ensure tribal and county leaders can address barriers and improve nutrition and health.
  • Karuk Tribe (Happy Camp, California): $81,667 — The Yav Pananu’avaha: Karuk Tribe’s Our Good Food project supports developing, advocating and implementing policies that promote tribal food sovereignty. Our Good Food will improve access to Native foods for community members and food-service programs; promote healthy choices for K-12 students through Native health lessons and a youth-led food sovereignty campaign; and encourage comprehensive implementation of the Karuk Tribe Food Policy in all tribal events. The project also will advocate for changes to school, summer, community and elder food-service programs and finalizing the tribe’s food sovereignty policy through research and community engagement.
  • Port Gamble S’Klallam Foundation (Kingston, Washington): $80,000 — The Port Gamble S’Klallam Shellfish Grow-Out Expansion Project will focus on ways to sustain and expand natural shellfish resources for a healthy traditional diet of the S’Klallam tribal community. The project will develop shellfish aquaculture policy, conduct community outreach focused on sustaining shellfish populations for community subsistence and later expand the shellfish population for commercial production.


The Fertile Ground Advocacy Campaign is made possible through generous funding from Seeds of Native Health, a $10 million philanthropic effort of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, to improve Native nutrition, and Voices for Healthy Kids. First Nations will lead grant administration and the American Indian Cancer Foundation will provide consultation services to the policy change campaigns.

Apply Now for Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowships

LUCE-Logo-Full-Color-MThe application period is open until September 13, 2019, for the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship program. First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) and The Henry Luce Foundation (Luce) partnered to launch this fellowship, which is a 12-month, self-directed enrichment program designed to support the growth, development, knowledge and networks of Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers.

First Nations is now accepting applications for the inaugural year of the program. In 2020, First Nations will award 10 fellowships of $50,000 each to outstanding Native Americans engaged in meaningful work that benefits Indigenous people and communities in either reservation and/or urban settings.

This fellowship is intended to support Native knowledge holders and knowledge makers as they advance their work and significantly move forward their field in ways that will ultimately lead to broad, transformative impacts for Indigenous communities. It is open to both emerging and experienced leaders from a wide variety of fields, including but not limited to agriculture, food systems, youth leadership development, natural resource management, climate change, economic development, journalism, language and cultural revitalization, traditional and contemporary arts and more.

Complete information and a link to the online application can be found at this link. All applications must be completed and submitted by 5 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time on Friday, September 13, 2019.

To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Be a member of a federal- or state-recognized Native American or Alaska Native tribe or community, Native Hawaiian, or demonstrate significant and long-standing engagement with and commitment to an Indigenous community in the U.S.
  • Be engaged in the development or perpetuation of knowledge in their field.
  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Be U.S. citizens.


Applicants may self-apply or nominate another individual. First Nations recognizes that some individuals may not apply for this fellowship on their own. We understand that some individuals might be uncomfortable identifying themselves as knowledge keepers, cultural producers, intellectual leaders, etc. within their own communities. We ask for assistance identifying those individuals, and encourage their family, friends, colleagues, co-workers and others to work with potential candidates to submit an application on their behalf.

Applicants will be asked to complete an online application and provide other required information, including three short essays, two reference letters, and a current resume/curriculum vitae. Please see the online application for more details.

The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship is designed to honor and support these individual leaders as they work to further Indigenous knowledge creation, dissemination and change in Indigenous communities. This fellowship will give Native knowledge holders and knowledge makers the funding and connections necessary to maximize their potential and realize their vision for their communities. It will provide these cultural producers with the resources to match their existing knowledge, passion and drive to achieve their personal and community goals.

Grant Helps Promote Native Youth Entrepreneurship

11th Hour Project Logo

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently received a $250,000 grant from the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation in order to boost Native American youth-led entrepreneurship activities, which in turn and over time will significantly benefit tribal communities and other Native population centers, many of which suffer large economic disparities when compared to other communities.

For numerous years, First Nations and its independent subsidiary, First Nations Oweesta Corporation (Oweesta), which is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), have been assisting tribes and Native communities throughout the U.S. in conducting much-needed but culturally appropriate financial and investor education programs. Oweesta, in particular, also provides professional development services to strengthen other Native American-run CDFIs.

Under the new effort, First Nations will specifically focus on entrepreneurially minded Native American youth. First Nations will link these emerging youth entrepreneurs to accomplished mentors who will help them strategize their business models and develop formal business plans, which is a foundational step in launching a new enterprise. In conducting the project, First Nations will partner with CDFIs and other experienced business professionals to mentor youth finalist and serve as competition judges.

“Native youth are one key to sustaining and expanding the ongoing improvement and advancement of Native communities across the U.S.,” said Michael E. Roberts, First Nations President & CEO. “We believe this project will help boost overall economic development by potentially creating new businesses, more jobs, higher incomes and bringing broader opportunities to Native America, as well as fueling the entrepreneurial drive of kids in these communities.”

Penobscot Club Provides Safe Haven for Micmac Youth

All programming at the Penobscot Boys & Girls Club is vetted by its cultural department to align with Micmac culture.

All programming at the Penobscot Boys & Girls Club is vetted by its cultural department to align with Micmac culture.

Through the Penobscot Boys & Girls Club (PBGC) in Maine, kids have a place to belong, where positive influences, role models and activities keep them on track for a bright future.

“We’re fun-based but we’re prevention-based,” says PBGC Program Coordinator Fenton Jones. “We want to be a safe haven where kids can find safe, healthy things to do.”

Indeed, youth programming is a need in the community, which Jones says has been hit hard by the drug and opioid crisis. The PBGC strives to meet this need by promoting the Micmac tradition and culture and providing an educational foundation and experience.

Now, with new funding from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) made possible through RISE for Boys and Men of Color, the PBGC is building capacity and expanding outreach to have an even greater effect. RISE for Boys and Men of Color is a project co-led by Equal Measure, a national nonprofit evaluation and philanthropic services firm, and the University of Southern California (USC), Rossier School of Education, USC Race and Equity Center. RISE for Boys and Men of Color is a field advancement effort that aims to better understand and strategically improve the lives, experiences and outcomes of boys and men of color in the United States. RISE spans five fields (education, health, human services and social policy, juvenile and criminal justice, and workforce development) and focuses on four populations (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans).

About the Club

Cultural Director John Dennis teaches regular language classes at the Penobscot Boys & Girls Club.

Cultural Director John Dennis teaches regular language classes at the Penobscot Boys & Girls Club.

Founded in 1995, the PBGC is the umbrella organization for three Boys & Girls Clubs in Maine – the Maliseet Boys & Girls Club, Sipayik Boys & Girls Club, and Boys & Girls Club of Presque Isle. The PBGC was the first Native American Boys & Girls Club to be established in the Northeast region of the United States. While today the organization overall serves more than 240 kids, both Native and non-Native, the Boys & Girls Club of Presque Isle is located in Micmac territory and designs programming specifically in line with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs.

The PBGC is funded by donations and grants, including from First Nations’ Native Youth and Culture Fund. Funding in 2018 supported a project at the Boys & Girls Club of Presque Isle to increase engagement between Micmac youth and elders through interviews, talking circles and classes that pass down the practices, beliefs and values of the Micmac people.

Further funding from First Nations is building momentum for this project and the overall work of PBGC by adding to what we know about youth programming that impacts Native American boys and men.

Responding to Needs

This type of funding is critical in keeping PBGC going, Jones says. “There’s not any kind of services dedicated to teens in our area. We’re trying to fill that void.”

For staff of PBGC this means leading programs for character and leadership development, education and career development, sports and fitness, the arts, and health and life skills. On a day-to-day basis for teens, this might involve attending a PGBC Black Light Dance or a Teen Dating Violence Awareness program, or it may be just coming to the community center to hang out after school, says Jones.

This resource is imperative for several reasons. According to Boys & Girls Clubs of America, 15.1 million children are left unsupervised after school each day, a situation that can lead to increased dropout rates, poor health outcomes, crime and other unwanted behaviors. Boys & Girls Clubs of America further reports that Native youth are among the most vulnerable with higher rates than their peers across the board for poverty, suicide, alcoholism, obesity, diabetes, and quitting high school.

Adding to this, Maine faces a “distressing rate” of drug overdose fatalities and the opioid epidemic continues to be “tearing apart Maine families and communities,” according to the Maine Attorney General.

Through its mentoring program, academic support and community center, the PBGC provides a healthy pathway for kids at risk. “We’re able to reach kids who are on the streets, to connect with them before bad things happen. Then if bad things do happen, we provide support to help them through it,” says Jones. “We’re here in the community as a place to turn.”

Nichole Francis, PBGC CEO, says that the organization is not just a safe space for youth of all ages to come and receive a hot meal or educational and prevention programming. “We are a place where lives are positively shaped and molded,” she says. “We build character – the type of character our community needs and strives to become.”

Francis adds that without the support of community and foundation funding, PBGC programs would cease to exist and the community would be facing even more of an epidemic on all fronts.

Reinforcing Native Culture

Keeping the Micmac language alive is essential, especially for children in the community who may not be learning about their culture and heritage at home.

Keeping the Micmac language alive is essential, especially for children in the community who may not be learning about their culture and heritage at home.

In addition to funding overall operating costs, the First Nations grant has also supported the revitalization of the AmeriCorps VISTA position for the PBGC. VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America, and while the position is not paid, there are costs associated with facilitating their work.

Jones says all PBGC programming is vetted by the PBGC cultural department to align with Micmac culture. However, he says, being able to establish the PBGC VISTA in Indian Country has made it possible to bolster these activities.

The PBGC VISTA is based in the community and spends 40 hours each week focused on tribal resource development and direct outreach to the Native community about the kinds of support Native youth, especially boys, need. From there, the VISTA reports back to PBGC to plan events and guide programs that draw on the strengths of the Micmac culture.

This programming is essential for keeping the culture – and the language – alive for kids who are often not taught about it at home. Moreover, it’s education that benefits not only Native youth, but also the non-Native community, says Jones. “So many of us don’t know the customs and cultural knowledge, but from these programs, we all have something to learn. Having this focus gets us all on the same page and helps us better respond to the community, which is what we’re here to do.”

Meeting Challenges

Through the Penobscot Boys & Girls Club, youth learn about and draw strength from their heritage. Here, kids display regalia they made themselves in a special after-school class by a traditional artist who resides in the community.

Through the Penobscot Boys & Girls Club, youth learn about and draw strength from their heritage. Here, kids display regalia they made themselves in a special after-school class by a traditional artist who resides in the community.

Like other Native- and youth-serving organizations, the PBGC faces challenges in space and funding. While it has acquired a community center for after-school programming, classes and events, Jones says they’re quickly outgrowing their space. There is always a need to reach more kids, and with more kids comes the need to diversify programs to reach different ages and to add staff to lead the programs. All of this, Jones says, requires funding.

Still, they do what they can by getting creative with budgets and always collaborating and partnering with the community. “We’re blessed to have a lot of support and a lot of interaction with the people we serve,” he says.

Going forward, the PBGC hopes to expand on efforts, further engaging parents, building more capacity and leveraging the success it has gained through the support of First Nations and other partners to continue to do more for the Boys & Girls Club youth.

“It’s important and it’s good for kids,” Jones says. “I would love to be able to do it all.”

By Amy Jakober

Report: Youth Programs Underfunded, Overstretched

Positive Pathways

Positive Pathways

Related to the Penobscot story and RISE for Men and Boys of Color, First Nations recently published a report that examines the organizational characteristics of, plus the strengths and challenges faced by programs that specifically serve Native American boys and young men, which as a group tends to experience more social and health disparities than white males and Native females. In fact, previous research by First Nations noted that the key to overcoming these disparities is to reconnect Native boys and young men with their cultures and communities, and provide strong mentorship opportunities for this group.

The report – Positive Pathways: A Landscape Analysis of Programs Serving Native American Boys and Young Men – examines the current landscape of programs serving Native boys and young men. The findings from this report generally conclude that numerous programs exist across Indian Country that serve this group; however, these programs tend to be severely underfunded by philanthropy, as well as significantly overstretched in their staff resources. Because of limited resources and inconsistent funding, programs serving Native boys and young men are scarce and short-lived, thus hindering the development of these critical programs.

Moreover, programs are in need of resources to train and develop mentors within their programs. This includes equipping men already in the community with the skills to take on mentoring positions, and building a pipeline for boys and young men in programs to become future mentors. This follows with First Nations’ belief that it is critical to reconnect Native boys and young men with their cultures and communities, and to provide strong positive mentorship for them.

The report recommends that funders consider the benefits of supporting existing and new programs over longer periods of time. There is a huge need for extended support so that organizations have the time to achieve and sustain long-lasting impacts. With this comes a need to receive less-restrictive funding so that organizations can grow their capacities where needed and allow for program growth and change.

The results in the report come from a national survey that First Nations conducted to collect information about the overall landscape of organizations and entities serving Native American youth. Additional information was gleaned from follow-up telephone calls and an in-person convening of 10 of these organizations. Through the report’s dissemination, First Nations hopes that nonprofits serving Native boys and young men, tribal government leaders, educators of Native American children, federal decision makers, grantmakers and other stakeholders of Native communities will learn about issues affecting these services and may work toward favorable systemic and policy changes. It is also hoped that the body of knowledge about services for Native boys and men will be significantly expanded, and topics for future research or the need to develop additional programs to serve these supportive organizations will likely be identified, with the aim of improving these efforts which, in turn, will improve the lives of those constituents.

The research and subsequent report were funded under a $150,000 grant to First Nations from RISE for Boys and Men of Color. However, the opinions expressed in this report are those of First Nations and do not necessarily reflect the views of RISE for Boys and Men of Color host institutions or any of its supporters or funders.

The full report can be downloaded from the First Nations website at this link.

Growing Artists and Sustaining the Dakota Way of Life

As part of efforts to pass down artistry through intergenerational learning, staff and youth meet with artist James Star Comes Out at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

As part of efforts to pass down artistry through intergenerational learning, staff and youth meet with artist James Star Comes Out at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

When Dakota Wicohan began, it was a small grassroots organization dedicated to revitalizing Dakota language. Today, it has evolved into a multi-program resource preserving and sustaining not only Dakota language but all Dakota culture through art, education and outreach. Now, with its latest grant from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), Dakota Wicohan is expanding its arts programming and investing in the infrastructure needed to serve the small, rural communities of southwest Minnesota and promote the healing and strength that comes from the Dakota ways.

Art as a Lifeway

Dakota Wicohan formed in 2001 when a few students were learning the Dakota language at the University of Minnesota. They soon realized how close the language was to being lost forever, bringing with it the values and spirit of the Dakota people. With a focus on capturing and passing down the language, which is currently only spoken by three remaining Dakota elders in the state, the students organized to revitalize the “D dialect” spoken by the Dakota bands indigenous to the Minnesota region.

From there, their organization made gradual moves to not only teach the language, but weave language into other program areas, including youth leadership and education, even playing a role in expanding school curriculum in Minnesota to include Dakota history.

The making of horse regalia, including this mask titled Wokiksuye, is a way art is used to honor and celebrate horses as part of the Dakota culture.

The making of horse regalia, including this mask titled Wokiksuye, is a way art is used to honor and celebrate horses as part of the Dakota culture.

A long-term grantee of First Nations since 2015, Dakota Wicohan is using its most recent grant award through the Native Arts Initiative to advance another program area, traditional Native art, as a Dakota lifeway. To date, support from First Nations had helped the organization form efforts to identify and support local artists and create a master and apprentice program to pass down artistry through intergenerational learning. The group started with traditional Dakota quilling, brain tanning, and beading, and moved on to include quilting of the Dakota eight-point star, which tells the story of Dakota origins.

Ultimately, Dakota Wicohan launched the Tawokaga Art program, which has become the only program of its kind in the area. Through the formalized Tawokaga group, the community and youth outreach and master apprenticeships have grown, even to the point of being able to revitalize the artistry of traditional horse regalia.

“This had been a pipe dream for us,” says program director Eileen O’Keefe. Now, the organization is able to incorporate its youth programming with the arts programming, teaching kids how to take of horses and also honor and celebrate horses through the making of masks, blankets and chest plates.

Dakota Wicohan is keeping this progression moving through the Growing Dakota Artists program, says O’Keefe. Through the program, they are circling back with the community to gauge their interest in full classes of traditional artforms they hadn’t been able to perpetuate to date, including beading, parfleche, flute carving, painting and drawing. For all artforms, master artists will create a curriculum describing the significance of the art to Dakota culture and will outline steps and create a hands-on demonstration for workshop participants. Presentations will incorporate the Dakota language and will be recorded and then condensed and adapted for youth participants.

Art for Healing. Art for All.

Through this grant, Dakota Wicohan is increasing its impact, which has already been felt throughout Minnesota. With the current grant, it has bolstered its reach, adding eight workshops and classes, which are targeted to reach more than 100 community members and 40 youth every year.

More youth take a field trip to Gibbs Farm for hands-on learning about Dakota ways and language.

More youth take a field trip to Gibbs Farm for hands-on learning about Dakota ways and language.

O’Keefe says investing in art and nurturing the next generation of artists is essential for many reasons. There is an economic component, making it possible for artists to sell their work and make a living. Moreover, O’Keefe says art promotes pride in the Dakota culture.

“Growing up, I had no sense of that,” says O’Keefe. “Art was not practiced or passed down, and we didn’t talk about what it means to be Dakota.” Further, she says there was trauma to heal from colonization and boarding schools. The language was disappearing, along with the strength and honor of the Dakota ways.

Through art, O’Keefe says, there is healing. Master apprentices can share their skill. Grandparents can teach their grandchildren. Parents can give gifts of beading or tanning for their children so that they can participate in pow-wows, further strengthening the culture. This saves families money, she says, and it also creates a celebration and a sense of pride.

“Now there’s a real healing and sense of coming into our own,” says O’Keefe. “It is an honor. We can say, ‘This is who I come from and this is what we did, and now we can share it going forward.’”

What makes the Dakota Wicohan programming also important is that it’s available to all. While the organization serves the Upper Sioux, Lower Sioux, and Dakota tribes, it welcomes all residents of the region and works across tribal, state, and political boundaries. Because Dakota Wicohan is not affiliated with the local tribes, inclusivity is a key attribute. “We are inclusive,” says O’Keefe. “We’re here to service, educate and help. Everyone who wants to learn is welcome.”

The Capacity to Grow

Through the First Nations grant, Dakota Wicohan also received technical assistance for both board development and fundraising.

Parfleche is one of the traditional artforms the organization has been able to perpetuate. Here parfleche workshop participants display their finished projects.

Parfleche is one of the traditional artforms the organization has been able to perpetuate. Here parfleche workshop participants display their finished projects.

Dakota Wicohan currently has six board members, and three of whom are among the organization’s founders. Based on this, O’Keefe says the board has recognized the need to formalize the board-recruitment process with a focus on younger members to “pass the torch.” The assistance from First Nations helped facilitate this training, along with project management training, database selection and a fundraising strategy to engage individual donors.

It was a definite need for the organization because operations in the past had involved multiple spreadsheets and fundraising programs that weren’t up to date or integrated across their platforms. And with a small staff and a growing to-do list, proper administration was often pushed to the bottom of priorities.

The training helped formalize processes and create the community outreach survey necessary for the Growing Dakota Artists project, both of which were critical for the success and sustainability of Dakota Wicohan.

O’Keefe says the organization values not only the funding from First Nations, but the wealth of knowledge and the technical know-how. “They don’t just write you a check and say ‘Good luck to you.’ They bring the trainers right to your door and walk you through it.”

Eileen Egan, a partner at Melvin Consulting, was one of those trainers. She says the Dakota Wicohan team members have remarkable stories about resiliency, strength and determination, and through training they were able to amplify those stories.

“They are now working toward implementing intentional efforts to sustain their programs through a strategic fundraising plan,” Egan says. “This will empower them to increase resources in the coming years resulting in having a greater impact in their community.”

Positioned to Meet Challenges

Building on the art programs and strengthening its capacity is helping this small, rural organization meet challenges typical of small nonprofits. Like most, the organization must continually seek funding and call on creativity in staffing its programs and reaching new audiences. Unique to Dakota Wicohan, however, is its position as a local educational organization that serves a Native and non-Native population. O’Keefe says sometimes they find themselves in competition with local tribes for the same grant funding, and sometimes that competition results in Dakota Wicohan offering the same programming to the same audiences.

Youth programming is another focus for Dakota Wicohan. Through the organization’s outreach and education projects, kids come together for Lacrosse Camp.

Youth programming is another focus for Dakota Wicohan. Through the organization’s outreach and education projects, kids come together for Lacrosse Camp.

Still, the organization continues to seek opportunities for collaboration and partnership whenever possible, along with ways to cultivate its programs and keep its approaches new and fresh.

“There’s plenty of work to go around,” says O’Keefe. “And there’s plenty of people who need help.”

For Dakota Wicohan, the goal is to keep building on its progress in preserving Dakota as a living language, sustaining Dakota ways, and continuing to promote art for healing and strength.

“We have to keep in mind our mission and our longevity,” says O’Keefe. “We have to keep doing what we do best, for our artists, for youth, and for our future.”

By Amy Jakober

First Nations Publishes Ecological Stewardship Reports

Eco Stewardship Convening Report cover 500px

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently published two reports dealing with Native American ecological stewardship. Both are available as a free download from the First Nations website.

They are:


These both fall under First Nations’ broad Native Ecological Stewardship program area.

The first report captures discussions from a November 2018 convening in Denver, Colorado, that First Nations hosted. It involved representatives of 15 tribes and Native nonprofit organizations alongside natural resource professionals and experts in Native law and policy to begin a dialogue. That dialogue was about tribal stewardship of land, natural resources and sacred sites. It was about barriers to this stewardship. It was about how traditional ecological knowledge is uniquely adapted to local environments and essential to all conservation work, and to discuss steps for enhancing tribal control of natural assets. It also was about how non-Native allies can best provide assistance to this cause.

This gathering was a rare opportunity for these groups to network, shine a light on how they approach their work, and learn from each other’s models and best practices.

The convening was generously funded by the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation. This report was generated to provide a platform for further discussion and input, recognizing that there was only a subset of tribal and community interests represented at the meeting. The report summarizes input provided by participants and adds examples to further elaborate discussion points.

FNDI MESO Report cover 500pxIn the second report, Leveraging Native Lands, Sovereignty and Traditions: Models and Resources for Tribal Ecological Stewardship, First Nations showcases tribal models of culturally appropriate and values-centered development in which tribes are leveraging their lands and sovereignty to their economic, environmental and cultural benefit.

This report culminates First Nations’ two-year “Mapping Ecological Stewardship Opportunities in Northern Great Plains Native Communities” (MESO) project that was underwritten by Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. The focus of the project was to facilitate the dialogue around and implementation of strategies that catalyze tribally controlled initiatives in ecological stewardship that are compatible with community tribal values and contribute to tribal economic and community development opportunities. The long-term vision is for tribes to capitalize on and regain control of their natural resource assets in a sustainable manner and to thrive in their communities.

The report shares examples of programs in which:

  • Sustainable management of agricultural resources and wildlife habitat incorporate traditional practices, often alongside and in a complementary manner to Western management methods.
  • The dramatic beauty of Northern Plains reservations will draw tourists – and tourism dollars – from around the world.
  • Traditional knowledge is the basis for documenting and preparing Native communities in the face of climate change.
  • Some of the 17.9 million acres of standing forests on tribal lands are already generating income – and mitigating greenhouse gases.


It also includes resources for funding and technical assistance as well as food-for-thought ideas on perspectives and best practices to consider in planning and implementing tribal ecological stewardship initiatives. A group of experts shared their stories and models of natural resource management and how tribes can assert their control and infuse their efforts with traditional knowledge.