Monica Nuvamsa & Susan White on Board

Monica Nuvamsa (left) and Susan White

Monica Nuvamsa (left) and Susan White

Two influential Native American leaders recently joined the Board of Directors of First Nations Development Institute (First Nations). They are Monica Nuvamsa (Hopi), Executive Director of the Hopi Foundation, and Susan White (Oneida Nation), Director of the Oneida Trust Enrollment Department at the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.

With the additions, First Nations now has a nine-member board, all of whom are Native American and who provide a diverse representation of Indian Country.

“We warmly welcome Monica and Susan to the Board, and we look forward to tapping into their tremendous knowledge, skills and experience as First Nations continues to move forward,” noted Board Chairman Benny Shendo, Jr.

Monica Nuvamsa

Monica Nuvamsa

Ms. Nuvamsa received her B.A. in Psychology and American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from the Arizona State University Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation. Her early career experiences included developing and managing the Hopi Tribe’s Domestic Violence Program. She served both as an Advocate and Project Coordinator until she received a political appointment to serve in the role of the Intergovernmental Affairs Liaison for the Hopi Tribe. She has served on several nonprofit boards, including Native Americans in Philanthropy, Native Public Media and the Arizona Grantmakers Forum.

Susan White

Susan White

Ms. White 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. She 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. She 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 VFW Post 7784, a Trustee for the Episcopal Diocese of Fond Du Lac, and the American Foundation for Counseling Services Ethics in Business Selection Committee.

To see the full First Nations Board of Directors, click here.

Pueblo of San Felipe Focuses on Food Sovereignty

Used with permission of Pueblo of San Felipe and Tim Valencia

Used with permission of Pueblo of San Felipe and Tim Valencia

The Pueblo of San Felipe is roughly 25 miles north of Albuquerque and 38 miles to the south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. While sandwiched between two of the top four largest cities in the state, the Pueblo spans 68,000 rural acres. It has 3,400 enrolled tribal members, and the majority of them speak Keres, the traditional language. The Keres language is what intertwines the people with their cultural and agricultural traditions.

The Pueblo of San Felipe was one of the recipients of the grants awarded to 21 Native American tribes and organizations to help them conduct food sovereignty or community food assessments in their various locales from 2016 to 2017. First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) provided the grants, totaling $400,000, under its Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) with generous support from the NoVo Foundation Fund at the Tides Foundation.

Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool

Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool

The Pueblo of San Felipe’s Department of Resources (DNR) includes the Agriculture Program, Environmental Office, Water and Land Management Offices, Mapping and Historic and Cultural Preservation Office. Pinu’u Stout is the Department of Natural Resources Director for San Felipe. She says the food sovereignty assessment is an important part of DNR’s work and that community engagement is a critical part of the process. A survey was created as a way to get community feedback on what issues they felt were important and needed to be examined in the food assessment. DNR utilized the First Nations Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool as a resource in creating the survey.

The survey asked the San Felipe community to consider their food sources – where they get their food and what food is available to them. Even though the Pueblo is located between two major cities in the state, tribal members must drive roughly 45 minutes each way to reach the nearest big box store or grocery store.

The Pueblo announced its food sovereignty assessment grant via a press release that was sent to area media outlets, but it is the person-to-person connection that made the most impact when conducting outreach to fellow tribal members, which crossed generations.

The DNR involved the youth in the village by having high school and college interns in the department take the survey from door to door within the Pueblo to encourage participation, and to connect with their fellow tribal members directly. A community luncheon and outreach event was held where tribal members ate traditionally-prepared foods, and talked about the food assessment in further detail.

“The community strongly encouraged us to get more feedback from them, and to make sure they were involved in the process. A strong interest was shown in creating a community garden, with the main interest being in farming,” said Stout.

According to the USDA Census of Agriculture for 2012, the number of farmers in the United States fell by 4.3 percent from the previous census held in 2007. Stout is ever-conscious that while nationally the number of farmers has been declining, the number of farmers in the community is high.

“In the United States as a whole, about two percent of the population are farmers, and about 70 percent are farmers here in San Felipe, and many of our farmers also work jobs in addition to farming. We strive to support existing farmers, and to bring in new farmers. Farming is a big part of the community and life here in the Pueblo,” said Stout.

One of the survey questions asked if they were not currently farming, would they want to learn how to farm? The response was high, with 75 percent saying yes, they would like to farm or help with the farming in their community in come capacity. Stout says they see it as part of who they are as a people.

“They – the community – see farming tied to the culture, language, health and to the future and past. It’s a different experience in this tribal community versus the rest of the United States,” said Stout.

The food assessment project provided the framework and a launching point for the DNR and other program collaborators in the community to take the community’s interests and what they want to happen further. The funding provided by First Nations and the NoVo Foundation Fund at the Tides Foundation was appreciated as it supported the food assessment into becoming a reality.

As tribal respondents to the food sovereignty survey stated: “We have the right to preserve our traditional values” and a “right to traditional foods that have been a part of our history for generations.”

The funding from First Nations give San Felipe the opportunity to take the time to focus on food, food sovereignty and what it means for the Pueblo. The assessment is the beginning of a conversation on how to move forward in the San Felipe way – honoring tradition and moving forward in a positive way.

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Elizabeth Peratrovich Day is February 16

ElizabethPeratrovich 2

For the fourth year in a row, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) will be closed on February 16, 2018, in honor of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. First Nations, headquartered in Longmont, Colorado, is likely the first entity outside of Alaska to recognize this as an annual holiday.

Elizabeth PeratrovichElizabeth Jean Peratrovich (Tlingit), who died in 1958, was an important civil rights activist who worked on behalf of equality for Alaska Natives. In the 1940s, she was credited with advocacy that gained passage of the Alaska Territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the very first anti-discrimination law in the United States. To quote her at the time: “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of ‘savagery,’ would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.” She was responding to earlier comments by a territorial senator who asked, “Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites, with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?”

In 1988 the Alaska Legislature established February 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. First Nations President Michael Roberts (also Tlingit), who is from Alaska and related to Elizabeth, thinks Native organizations in the Lower 48 should also start recognizing this groundbreaking Native woman of national and even international significance.

According to the Anchorage School District, “Elizabeth Peratrovich Day provides an opportunity to remind the public of the invaluable contribution of this Native Alaskan leader who was an advocate for Native citizens and their rights. This courageous woman could not remain silent about injustice, prejudice and discrimination.” Further, in the school district’s board resolution of 2012, it was noted: “Her efforts came nearly 20 years before the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because of her eloquent and courageous fight for justice for all, today’s Alaskans do not tolerate the blatant discrimination that once existed in our state.”

“I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of ‘savagery,’ would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.”

Back in the 1940s in Alaska, it was not uncommon to see “No Natives Allowed” signs at stores and public accommodations, or even “No dogs or Natives allowed.” But those were simply the most visible manifestations of pervasive discrimination against the original Alaskans.

As it has for more than 37 years, First Nations works diligently to strengthen Native American economies and communities, including American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities. We and our grassroots partners in those communities are making great progress, but there is still a long way to go to fight discrimination and bias against Native Americans at every level of society. That’s one of the many reasons we’re co-directing a national effort called Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions (click to learn more).

So even if you don’t observe the holiday on February 16 like we do, please take a moment that day to think of Elizabeth Peratrovich and the trailblazing effort she dedicated herself to in order to fight discrimination against some of our original Americans … and for the ultimate good of all Americans.

Learn more about Elizabeth Peratrovich online, particularly on Wikipedia at

“Star Boys” Learn Valuable Lessons at Camp

Star Boy Camp participants in front of the Arikara sweat lodge that was constructed by the Star Boys who attended the camp in August 2017

Star Boy Camp participants in front of the Arikara sweat lodge that was constructed by the Star Boys who attended the camp in August 2017

In September 2017, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded grants to 22 American Indian organizations and tribes through its Native Youth and Culture Fund (NYCF). The grants totaled $410,000. One of the recipients was Medicine Lodge Confederacy (MLC), located in White Shield, North Dakota. The nonprofit organization serves the Fort Berthold Reservation that is home to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara.

The Arikara Tribe has historically had young men societies where they were mentored by older men. MLC is striving to revive these ways of teaching through their Star Boy Camp, which recruited young men ages 12 to 15 and taught them the skills of leadership, communication, confidence and self-discipline in the summer of 2017. Those who excelled at the camp will return to be peer counselors during the next year.

Jennifer Young Bear is enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidasta, Arikara (MHA Nation), and served as the Star Boy Camp Coordinator. She says the seven-day camp came about with a lot of hard work, perseverance and patience … as it rained for two straight days. For many of the young men, ages 12 to 16, it was their first experience living in a traditional earth lodge, learning how to build a sweat or a traditional fire using flint.

Medicine Lodge Confederacy members hold the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation flag at a youth conference held by the MHA Education Department in September 2017. The MLC members presented at the conference attended by more than 600 high school students throughout the Fort Berthold Indian reservation

Medicine Lodge Confederacy members hold the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation flag at a youth conference held by the MHA Education Department in September 2017. The MLC members presented at the conference attended by more than 600 high school students throughout the Fort Berthold Indian reservation

“There were older mentors to help, the boys slept in an earth lodge, and in the end they were pretty proficient in the process of the camp – doing all of the things that needed to be done. It was a little community within themselves,” said Young Bear.

The young men traditionally butchered a buffalo on the ground, which included skinning of the hide, quartering and packaging the meat, singing songs in their traditional Arikara language, and they heard the traditional stories of their tribe. When the rain passed, they went canoeing, swimming and enjoyed the outdoors of the 3,500-acre ranch west of White Shield.

One important aspect of the camp was to help ground the boys in their cultural teachings, but also in their spiritual foundation. The boys hiked three to five miles out in the badlands to help them to connect and build a relationship to the land and the environment. They also learned different ways to handle stress by doing breathing exercises and meditating. They were shown how to identify traditional plants and call them by their Arikara name.

“We visited with the parents about the camp, and in the evaluations part, one parent said “my son left as a boy and came back as a man.” Going into manhood – there were traditional stories in our tribe about different socials that were held. We used to have these things. People saw the way they (the boys) left and how they were focused on their body, mind, spirit and emotions, which was uplifting to the camp,” said Young Bear.

Medicine Lodge Confederacy not only recruited boys from within the Three Affiliated Tribes, but it also worked with the juvenile court probation officer with the tribe, and boys who were on probation were part of the camp as well. Young Bear says the boys on probation fit in with the others, and that “in their own way, they kept order.”

From the experience the boys had over the seven days, Young Bear hopes they take with them those learnings as they progress though life. She along with the many others involved in bringing the camp about – from the tribal probation officer, to the Arikara language teacher, the tribal education program, the cultural and marketing director, and the MHA Buffalo Ranch that donated the buffalo to the Star Boy Camp – worked together on all aspects of the effort. But not just for this first camp, but for the future camps, too, which Young Bear knows will happen, and that they are rebuilding on long-established roots.

Jennifer Young Bear, second from right, at the Power of We Conference. Others are (left) Elizabeth Rice and John Breuninger of Woodland Indian Art, Inc., and (far right) Tessa James with the College of Menominee Nation

Jennifer Young Bear, second from right, at the Power of We Conference. Others are (left) Elizabeth Rice and John Breuninger of Woodland Indian Art, Inc., and (far right) Tessa James with the College of Menominee Nation

“I’d like to thank First Nations for funding us and for giving our boys a chance. We were very inspired. As Arikara people, we’re gardeners and we work with the corn. We’re in the early stages of our nonprofit, and our group is planting seeds with our children and we’re planting seeds within those young people and growing young men. They, in turn, inspired us as a group to keep growing and asked us to inspire the generations in the leading of our people,” said Young Bear.

As part of the Medicine Lodge Confederacy’s work with the Star Boy Camp, the organization was asked to participate in the Power of We – Fundraising, Sustainability and Telling Our Stories training held by First Nations in September 2017. As one of the 54 attendees, representing Native nonprofits and tribal programs from across the country, Young Bear was a part of the informative and engaging training that focused on sustainability, and provided the attendees an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of fundraising best practices and communicating the impact in a peer-learning environment.

“It was really good. I was the only one there from here, so I could only pull out the main topics that they talked about, and as much as they inspired me with what they said, I couldn’t recreate it. I did share my notebook with everyone at MLC, and the main thing I got from it was that we need to step out of our box and fundraise, and take action steps and make our presence known out there. It’s an opportunity to support, to be a part of it and make things come to be,” said Young Bear.

First Nations launched the Native Youth and Culture Fund (NYCF) in 2002 with generous support from Kalliopeia Foundation and other foundations and tribal, corporate and individual supporters. The NYCF is designed to enhance culture and language awareness, and promote youth empowerment, leadership and community-building. To date under this fund, First Nations has awarded 351 grants to Native youth programs throughout the U.S., totaling $5.96 million

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Rodeo Bucks Kick Off at INFR $pending Frenzy

INFR Junior Cowgirls flush with cash and smiles

INFR Junior Cowgirls flush with cash and smiles

Plenty of cash was flowing at the 42nd Annual Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada – and not just on the casino floor or in the South Point Equestrian Center, the scene of the world’s most competitive Native American rodeo. On November 8, 2017, 34 INFR Junior Tour qualifiers gathered for a captivating $pending Frenzy workshop. Each participant received $30,000 in play money and took a trial run at adulthood by shopping for food, insurance, housing and other necessities. As an added bonus, those who completed the $pending Frenzy received a real $100 bill. Cowboy up!

The event was led by People’s Partner for Community Development (PPCD), a nonprofit based in Lame Deer, Montana. PPCD is a community development financial institution that specializes in affordable financial services on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Offering innovative financial education opportunities to Native youth is a big part of its mission.

INFR Junior Cowboys reconcile their $pending Frenzy money logs

INFR Junior Cowboys reconcile their $pending Frenzy money logs

“We’re proud to partner to bring the $pending Frenzy to INFR,” said Sharon Small, PPCD’s executive director. “This is the second year we’ve provided a youth financial workshop, and the program just keeps getting better.”

The $pending Frenzy is an interactive financial simulation created by First Nations Development Institute and Shawn Spruce Consulting. The workshop is built upon a cultural framework and draws from community volunteers who sell participants goods and services and assist them with tracking expenses. There’s also a tough-love element with haggling and hard selling aimed at steering the youth into poor decisions.

“The $pending Frenzy is an engaging way for young people to learn personal finance,” commented Peggy Fredericks, a community facilitator with PPCD and $pending Frenzy volunteer. “In the real world, businesses and salespeople won’t always have your best interest in mind. So touching on concepts like negotiation and behavioral economics add a sense of realism to the workshop.”

Other organizations that contributed to the success of the INFR $pending Frenzy included Chief Dull Knife College Extension Service, Indian National Finals Rodeo staff and competitors, and The Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (Uintah & Ouray, Colorado River, and Papago Agencies). Trina Wheeler from Wheeler Enterprises of White Swan, Washington, graciously provided cash prizes and incentives.

Rodeo Bucks logoSmall said the $pending Frenzy is part of a larger project her team is developing called Rodeo Bucks, a financial literacy course specifically geared to young Native rodeo competitors and their families. The curriculum is supported by the AMB Foundation and the Native Financial Learning Network, a collaborative that includes First Nations Development Institute and First Nations Oweesta Corporation with funding from Northwest Area Foundation. In addition to the $pending Frenzy, Rodeo Bucks will feature learning modules on topics like budgeting for rodeo competition, purchasing livestock, and reporting taxable income. A course pilot is planned for the spring along with a train-the-trainer workshop for high schools, tribal colleges and rodeo clubs interested in teaching the course.

“As a rodeo competitor myself, I can tell you this sport requires a high level of commitment, athletically and financially,” explained Small. “Our goal is for Rodeo Bucks to deliver a comprehensive overview of the business side of rodeo so young cowboys and cowgirls can reach their highest potential both inside and outside the arena.”
In addition to classes and workshops, the Rodeo Bucks program features youth ambassadors who spread the message of financial responsibility among peers.

$pending Frenzy participants pay for housing while Rodeo Bucks Youth Ambassador Bo Tyler Vocu (third from right) looks on

$pending Frenzy participants pay for housing while Rodeo Bucks Youth Ambassador Bo Tyler Vocu (third from right) looks on

Seventeen-year-old Bo Tyler Vocu, an up-and-coming bull rider from Lame Deer, Montana, is one such youth. Vocu participated in the $pending Frenzy and shared practical tips, like how he snaps photos of prize money checks and deposits them into his bank account using his phone.

“Sticking to a budget is probably the most important thing you can do to stay on top of your finances,” said the teen who was recently featured in an episode of the Vice documentary series Rites of Passage that profiles his burgeoning rodeo career. “And eat off the dollar menu! That’ll save you a lot of money on the road.”

A second Rodeo Bucks ambassador, Kaitlin Kolka, is a graduate of Montana State University and a certified Building Native Communities Financial Skills for Families instructor. She’s also the recently-crowned Miss Rodeo Montana. Kolka wasn’t able to attend the $pending Frenzy but spoke over the phone from Lame Deer where she works as an extension agent at Chief Dull Knife College.

PPCD Community Facilitator Peggy Fredericks and INFR Bull Rider Casey Fredericks assist a teen with purchasing insurance during the $pending Frenzy

PPCD Community Facilitator Peggy Fredericks and INFR Bull Rider Casey Fredericks assist a teen with purchasing insurance during the $pending Frenzy

“I’ve been involved with rodeo my whole life,” explained the 23-year-old southeastern Montanan who grew up competing in barrel racing, pole bending and goat tying. “My mom’s whole family rodeos and I started from the time I could ride. I’m excited to be part of Rodeo Bucks as well as Miss Rodeo Montana 2018. I take pride in advocating for personal finance as it relates to the sport of rodeo, Western heritage, and an agricultural way of life.”

Kolka is a third-generation rodeo queen behind her mother and grandmother, both of whom won Miss Rodeo Oregon titles. She echoed Sharon Small’s comments and said that while passion for the sport is always present, business concerns are easy to overlook.

“Financial preparation is now becoming mandatory in rodeo because a person can’t compete if they can’t pay for travel, entry fees and gear. The earlier we can start promoting financial skill-building the better.”

In the no-nonsense words of Garth Brooks, it’s the white in the knuckle, the gold in the buckle. Keep an eye out for Bo Tyler, Kaitlin and the rest of the Rodeo Bucks team in the months to come!

Interested in learning more about the Rodeo Bucks or $pending Frenzy programs? Contact Tom Robinson, Case Manager, People’s Partner for Community Development, at, or Shawn Spruce at

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant

Ho-Chunk Food Effort Boosts Awareness

Ho-Chunk food sovereignty assessment kickoff "movie night," with Melanie Stacy (seated) and standing (left to right) Jessika Greendeer and Danielle Hill with baby Maple

Ho-Chunk food sovereignty assessment kickoff “movie night,” with Melanie Stacy (seated) and standing (left to right) Jessika Greendeer and Danielle Hill with baby Maple

The Ho-Chunk Housing and Community Development Agency (HHCDA) located in Tomah, Wisconsin, is committed to fostering “a strong, healthy community of which Ho-Chunk Nation members can be proud – through providing members with quality, affordable housing and programs that help meet their social, cultural and community needs.”

As part of the HHCDA’s commitment to serve the seven Ho-Chunk housing communities, it was one of the recipients of grants that First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded to 21 Native American tribes and organizations to help them conduct food sovereignty or community food assessments in their various locales, from 2016 to 2017. First Nations provided the grants, totaling $400,000, under its Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) with generous support from the NoVo Foundation Fund at the Tides Foundation.

The HCCDA wanted to expand on the existing organic community gardens that had been established and bring more awareness of food sovereignty issues in Ho-Chunk, whose land base is checker-boarded and has “scattered communities and acreage” across Wisconsin, according the Wisconsin State Tribal Relations Initiative website.

Ho-Chunk Food Sovereignty Initiative focus group at work

Ho-Chunk Food Sovereignty Initiative focus group at work

The HCCDA worked with many tribal members and volunteers to build support around the establishment of the organic community gardens. They saw the food sovereignty assessment as the next step toward working with and educating their tribal members on taking control of their food and food systems.

Melanie Stacy is the Grants Assistant with HCCDA, and a tribal member. She says a Ho-Chunk elder played a key role in waking up the community about the food issues impacting their community.

“There was an elder vet who had a vision, and he lived a very traditional, cultural way of life. He lived the Ho-Chunk values, such as sharing within the community, and he wanted to bring the villages back to a simpler lifestyle. He saw what was happening within the Ho-Chunk communities and he helped organize the community gardens. That’s where the seed was planted,” said Stacy.

Stacy says the elder, who was a veteran, was involved every day with the garden planning and at all the community planning meetings. “He said we have to live our Ho-Chunk values – how we need to help and take care of one another. It’s about how we share our knowledge and behave toward one another. He started the foundation, to get us out of our colonized way of thinking and to have a vision – that is what we need – to help one another and the families, to unite to make a better community,” recalls Stacy.

Ho-Chunk Food Sovereignty Initiative partnered with the Mobile Farmers' Market to share its products with Ho-Chunk tribal members

Ho-Chunk Food Sovereignty Initiative partnered with the Mobile Farmers’ Market to share its products with Ho-Chunk tribal members

The elder, who played such a pivotal role in getting the community gardens off the ground, unfortunately took ill and was not able to be there when the planting began in the spring of 2014. He was, however, able to see all the community activity through videos and photos shared with him by his children.

Blue Wing community was the first location of the HHCDA community organic gardens in 2014. Two more gardens followed, with requests for additional gardens. Based on the requests and in continuing in this spirit of focusing on the community, the food sovereignty assessment program began in late 2016.

“The first focus for HHCDA was about educating the Ho-Chunk Nation on what is food sovereignty, and we utilized whatever media was available to talk about what is food sovereignty and to educate tribal members on the initiative. If you educate them first, then they feel a part of it and are more engaged,” said Stacy.

The next phase was to form a focus group for the drafting of the food sovereignty assessment questions. The Ho-Chunk community members who had participated in the community gardens were great champions and helped to inform their fellow tribal members about the assessment.

Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool

Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool

“The focus groups met regularly and those familiar with the garden project were more familiar with food sovereignty, and they helped pull together to meet on the assessment questions. The focus group came together and came up with templates. We used the examples from Oneida and the First Nations Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool. That went really well,” said Stacy.

Some other community outreach activities included community meetings, and collaborating with other organizations and tribal communities. The Ho-Chunk Nation newsletter – Hocak Worak – was also used to share information on the assessment as it is mailed out to all tribal members.

“We partnered with the Mobile Farmers’ Market to show what other tribes are doing and used some of their products to feed attendees and raffled off some of the products,” said Stacy. “Once the assessment was approved from our Internal Review Board, we ran copies of the assessment and scheduled a movie night kickoff with the health department. The Ho-Chunk Nation Health Department has always been a great partner with the HHCDA and has always donated to our initiative,” said Stacy.

The Ho-Chunk Health Department donated a kayak for the kickoff of the Ho-Chunk Nation Food Sovereignty Initiative, and Gladys M. was the winner of the kayak raffle

The Ho-Chunk Health Department donated a kayak for the kickoff of the Ho-Chunk Nation Food Sovereignty Initiative, and Gladys M. was the winner of the kayak raffle

Next Stacy and her crew of volunteers had to figure out how to reach their fellow tribal members to take the assessment. When the Ho-Chunk Nation holds its annual general council, there are anywhere from 1,200 to 1,400 tribal members present. Stacy knew that it was going to require a huge rollout and a lot of footwork to get as many tribal members to participate as they could. In the end, 450 assessments were collected.

With roughly one-third of the tribal membership surveyed, Stacy, her volunteers and one part-time staff person are excited about what the results will show when the data have been compiled and analyzed. She’s ever mindful, too, of the elder who steered the Ho-Chunk Nation down the road to the community gardens and beyond.

“He was there for the whole garden project and he was the spirit of the whole thing. He had always expressed that he would be the guardian of the gardens, and many feel that he is overseeing them (the community) and the plants every step of the way.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

2018 Under Way with New Grants & Initiatives

Logo Compilation

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) kicked off the new year in a big way by announcing several new grants and initiatives. They included:


A two-year, $100,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation to support our ongoing Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) that bolsters Native American communities and organizations as they seek to reclaim control of their local food systems for improved health and well-being, as well as for asset-building and economic development purposes.

Under the Newman’s Own Foundation grant and funds from other sources, First Nations, through NAFSI, provides direct grants, technical assistance and extensive capacity-building training to Native organizations and tribes that are conducting projects aimed at alleviating tribal hunger, improving community nutrition, improving access to healthy foods, and/or encouraging the development of tribal food-related businesses. In particular, the Newman’s Own Foundation support will be used to provide various forms of training and one-on-one technical assistance through onsite visits, webinars and special meetings or calls, and for participants to attend major First Nations convenings related to the work they do. First Nations also plans to publish a national report on NAFSI’s activities featuring lessons learned, best practices, policy implications, case studies and community-based effects. First Nations will also participate in the Newman’s Own Foundation Native American Nutrition Cohort, where it will share its experiences and that of its grantees while learning from other participants.


A one-year, $100,000 grant from the Agua Fund as renewed funding to assist Native American communities in South Dakota and on the Navajo Nation (Arizona, New Mexico and Utah). The funding allows First Nations to work with selected communities toward increasing control of their local food systems for improved health and well-being, as well as for asset-building and economic development purposes.

First Nations expects to issue a request for proposals for this grant program in the near future. Eligible entities will be Sioux or Navajo tribes, Sioux or Navajo-controlled nonprofit organizations, or Native community-based groups committed to increasing healthy food access in Sioux or Navajo communities. First Nations will offer capacity-building training to the four selected participants, while two of these groups will receive direct grants of $30,000 each. The project will focus on tribal hunger, nutrition and healthy foods access, and will engage in activities such as conducting community food assessments and expanding initiatives for food-related business development. Participants will be selected based on their potential to serve as a positive model with replicable or adaptable components for other Native communities, as well as on their communities’ needs related to tribal hunger, food insecurity and healthy foods access.

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A $240,000, two-year grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to conduct a project known as “Supporting Community Intellectuals in Native Communities.” The goal is to support Native American community intellectuals and widely share learnings from the initiative, while hopefully illustrating how to put their knowledge to best advantage for the good of Native communities.

First Nations will work with four Native-run nonprofit organizations: Salish Kootenai College (Pablo, Montana), Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School (Santa Fe, New Mexico),The Hopi Foundation (Kykotsmovi Village, Arizona), and The Piegan Institute (Browning, Montana). Each of these organizations is an anchor in its community and serves as a convener and a center of excellence in supporting local community intellectuals. These organizations are elevating the Native voice in influential circles. The effort will combine projects conducted by the four partner groups to engage their communities on the state of and support for Native community intellectuals and to document the discussions. It will bring the four groups together to form a community of practice and to pool their collective knowledge, and it will also disseminate a final report summarizing the learnings and examination of support for community intellectuals.


A $250,000, two-year grant from Northwest Area Foundation to conduct a project called “Changing Native Food Economies” that aims to help develop strong, diverse and resilient tribal economies.

Under the effort, First Nations is creating a learning cohort of four tribes and/or Native-led nonprofits (three in Montana and one in Washington, which are within Northwest Area Foundation’s eight-state service area) that are actively engaged in food sovereignty and food systems activities or other asset-building initiatives. The cohort members, who will receive grants of $30,000 each, will share experiences and lessons learned from the community food self-assessments that each has conducted. They also will attend First Nations-hosted convenings to learn about best practices for research and methods to lay the groundwork for further project planning and implementation, and they will receive visits by First Nations personnel to provide onsite technical assistance to develop comprehensive plans that address each community’s unique population, entities and tribal policies.

The selected partners are The Center Pole (Garryowen, Montana); FAST Blackfeet (Food Access and Sustainability Team) (Browning, Montana); Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (La Conner, Washington); and Fort Belknap Community Economic Development Corporation (Harlem, Montana). They will identify economic opportunities within their community food systems that, if given adequate resources, would support the creation and/or expansion of businesses and jobs. In this case, adequate resources might include sustainable community connections and partnerships, as well as supportive tribal policies and processes.

‘70s Flashback: Mescalero Apache Youth Made Movie Magic

George Torres at Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico, at the BNC Training in July 2017

George Torres at Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico, at the BNC Training in July 2017

Every summer First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) conducts at least one Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families (BNC) Train-the-Trainer Workshop. The culturally-based financial education curriculum is enormously popular throughout Indian Country, drawing a wide array of trainers from tribal housing entities, community-based nonprofits, federal partners and other groups dedicated to financial literacy. With the hundreds of people who have completed BNC during its nearly 20-year history, you never know who you might encounter at a BNC workshop. Here’s a story by Shawn Spruce of a recent BNC participant who holds a connection to the classic Bad News Bears movies from the seventies.


Like legions of kids who grew up with disco, ringer tees, and flashy Aaron Spelling dramas, I adored The Bad News Bears. A memorable sports comedy showcasing the rebellious antics of a Southern California little league baseball team. With potty mouths to sting a roughneck’s ears, the unlikely band of pre-pubescent anti-heroes satisfied the raucous cravings of a generation starving for a bite of crudeness missing from Ajax clean The Brady Bunch reruns and mushy after-school specials.

The original film, released in the summer of 1976, is a classic underdog story: a ragtag team of misfits led by an alcohol-fueled curmudgeon of a coach, played by the late Academy Award winner Walter Matthau. Parading to the opening bars of Bizet’s opera Carmen, the Bears make it all the way to the league championship and stole their way into the hearts of every Gen Xer who ever stepped inside a batter’s box. The movie spawned two sequels, a TV series, and a 2005 remake featuring Billy Bob Thornton. Along the way characters like Engelberg, Tanner, and Kelly Leak became household names and the chant “Let them play!” an anthem to recalcitrant sports fans everywhere.

So what does any of this have to do with Indian Country?

Breaking TrainingIn the first sequel The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, abandoned by their manager and unchaperoned, the Bears travel in a stolen van for a showdown against the Texas little league champs in the Houston Astrodome. En route the team makes a pit stop near the New Mexico-Texas state line, where a parking-lot run-in with a rough crew of Native kids leads to an anything-goes sandlot challenge. What ensues is a bona fide rez ball smack down nearly two decades before the Schimmel sisters were born.

While the film might not stand up to present-day standards of political correctness, it routinely airs on cable where I’ve watched it at least a dozen times over the years. Curious about the origins of the young extras who racked up 15 runs on the Bears before blasting a mercy-rule homerun into a graveyard. Who said Indians always lose in the movies?

At a First Nations-sponsored Building Native Communities train-the-trainer workshop in Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico, last summer, my questions were finally answered by a retired Mescalero Apache police officer named George Torres. During a morning icebreaker Torres casually revealed that he had played one of the uncredited extras in question. Dismissive, he said it wasn’t any big deal. Everyone in the room begged to differ and, after some cajoling, Torres opened up. This is his story.

First off, the rez wasn’t the rez. The scene was actually filmed in El Paso, Texas, during the summer of 1976, about the same time the first Bad News Bears movie was taking the country by storm. Back then the closest federally recognized Native American community was two hours away on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in south-central New Mexico. Producers from Paramount Pictures reached out to the Mescalero schools that connected them to a tribal little league team on which Torres, who was 15 at the time, played with most of the other extras in the film.

“They didn’t tell us a whole lot about what we were going to film” he explained. “I hadn’t even seen the first Bad News Bears movie so it was all new to me. But we were excited to take a road trip.”

Real life mimicked the movie when, like the Bears’ stealthy sojourn, the Mescalero kids traveled under the radar. Torres’s stepmother, Glenda Brusuelas, elaborated.

“We were told about the movie but didn’t believe it until the boys actually left,” Brusuelas recalled when I reached her by phone. “They didn’t give us much information about where they were going, so I got worried and tried to track them down.”

Filming of "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" in El Paso, Texas, in 1976. George Torres is pictured second from left, facing camera.

Filming of “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training” in El Paso, Texas, in 1976. George Torres is pictured second from left, facing camera.

Frantic, Brusuelas finally located the hotel where her stepson was staying and called to check on him. A desk clerk told her the teen was resting and offered to take a message.
“They were really acting like he was some kind of celebrity,” she giggled. “When he finally got home he didn’t say much about the trip other than to say he missed my cooking.”

I quit beating around the bush. “So how was the money, George?”

“I don’t remember how much we were paid, but I’m sure I bought a house or a Cadillac or something,” Torres joked.

According to a 1978 People Magazine interview with Liz Keigley, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training location casting director, the going rate for movie extras in the late seventies was $60 a day. I’m thinking Torres’s Hollywood payday pocketed him about enough to buy a new bicycle and some chrome polish to shine the handlebars – genuine Cadillac-dealer chrome polish maybe?

I was also hoping for some juicy tattle. Did he play cards all night, talking trash with Chris Barnes aka hot-tempered Tanner Boyle? Was Jackie Earle Haley, who went on to such notable roles as masked vigilante Rorschach in Watchmen, as supremely cool in real life as his character Kelly Leak?

“You know we didn’t really mingle with the Bears on or off the set. We pretty much kept to ourselves. What I remember most was staying in a nice hotel and eating really well. That’s what I enjoyed the most.”

Come on, George. Work with me here. I’m trying to write a story.

Jeff Starr, who played the Bears’ corpulent catcher Mike Engelberg, confirmed there wasn’t much off-camera interaction between the two groups.

“I can’t remember the (Mescalero) kids too much” he said in a phone interview from the car dealership he manages in his hometown of Anna, Illinois. The former child actor spoke with a hearty, shallow Southern drawl. “I talked to some of the guys briefly but that’s about it. What I remember most about that scene was the old lot we filmed in and all the rocks. I was glad we didn’t have to film there long.”

Starr was excited I had met Torres and sent his regards and a compliment to his on-screen adversaries.

“In the movie they sure made it look they stomped us – and they probably would have in real life, too,” he chuckled.

Native teen extras share an on-screen laugh at the expense of the Bad News Bears (left to right are George Lester, Ronnie Thomas and George Torres)

Native teen extras share an on-screen laugh at the expense of the Bad News Bears (left to right are George Lester, Ronnie Thomas and George Torres)

Torres commented that people in those days didn’t carry smartphones and taking pictures was a mild luxury. Therefore, he doesn’t have photos or mementos from the trip. He remembers going to see the movie in the neighboring town of Alamogordo after it came out, but doesn’t recall much of a fuss about it in the Mescalero Apache community. However, Torres did go on to a stellar 12-year Major League career as a shortstop with the World Series Champion New York Yankees. Ah well, not exactly.

While pro baseball wasn’t in Torres’s future he did enjoy distinguished careers in the military and law enforcement, beginning in high school when he worked as a dispatcher and part-time jailer. After graduating in 1981 he enlisted in the Army. Stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he served four years in the elite 82nd Airborne Division. A Jumpmaster, Torres was an expert paratrooper who trained other paratroopers and managed airborne jump operations across all branches of services, an accomplishment he is especially proud of. After the Army he fought forest fires with the Mescalero Hot Shots before spending four years as a corrections officer at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Las Cruces. In 1992 he signed on with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, first as a police officer on the Mescalero Reservation and later in Artesia, New Mexico, as an instructor and member of an Interior Special Response Team.

“We traveled out to different reservations and assisted with uprisings and natural disasters – hurricanes in Florida. Things of that nature,” Torres explained.

Torres closed out his federal law enforcement career with the Department of Homeland Security. His main duties were as a specialist and trainer. Although he was assigned to Washington, D.C. after 9/11 — time that included a three-month stint as an Air Marshall guarding flights out of Dulles Airport. In 2013 he retired, or pulled the ripcord as he put it, to spend more time with family and enjoy hobbies like hunting, fishing, biking and running. He has a teenage son, two grandchildren, and a grown daughter who enjoys saying “You were a movie star, Dad!”

This past June, at the age of 55, Torres returned to the workplace and joined the Mescalero Apache Housing Department. A tenant service representative, he primarily assists with compliance and record-keeping.

Torres said he keeps in touch with some of the other kids from the movie, now grown of course, although sadly at least one has passed on. He was a bit reluctant when I requested this interview. You don’t say! But I persisted and hopefully didn’t upset him too much. He repeatedly said his on-screen appearance in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training was not a big deal, but I’d like George Torres and his co-extras to know that for many Native Americans it was and still is a big deal.

Although brief, your roles made a lasting impact in a charming movie that still entertains 40 years after its release. That says something when today, fast-paced digitized special effects and wizardry render most summer blockbusters out of date in the time it takes to chug down a few collectible plastic drink cups. And more importantly, you gave movie audiences a contemporary peek at Indian Country long before it was trendy. In those days, and even now, rarely did Native Americans casually appear in a mainstream film, much less serve up an old school butt kicking to its stars.

We all have brothers, cousins, nephews, sons and grandsons who once looked and acted just like you. The seventies, while not perfect, were fun years to grow up and remain a wistful source of nostalgia for millions of aging latchkey kids. America maintained its semblance of innocence, and baseball was still our national pasttime. You made us smile, you made as laugh, and you made us proud. But most importantly, you made us realize, win or lose and just like George Torres, we could all be home-run hitters in life.

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant

First Nations Reaches Northernmost Alaska by way of Iḷisaġvik College

Preparing caribou kabobs at the day cooking camp program

Preparing caribou kabobs at the day cooking camp program

Barrow, Alaska is a very long way from Longmont, Colorado, where First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is headquartered. Nonetheless, one of First Nations’ grant programs is having a positive effect in the northernmost point of Alaska.

In April 2016, First Nations announced the selection of 13 tribes and Native American organizations to receive grants through its Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) for the 2016-17 funding cycle. The grants totaled $355,717. NAFSI is designed to help tribes and Native communities build sustainable food systems such as community gardens and kitchens, traditional farms and ranches, and other agriculture- and food-related projects that will help eliminate food insecurity and enhance economic development in rural and reservation-based Native communities.

Iḷisaġvik College is located in the northernmost point of Alaska. It is a two-year tribal college offering quality post-secondary academic, vocational and technical education aimed at matching workforce needs. It is “dedicated to perpetuating and strengthening Iñupiat culture, language, values and traditions.”

Iñupiat youth learn cooking and nutrition skills as part of the "Healthy Futures Program” at the Iḷisaġvik College in Barrow, Alaska

Iñupiat youth learn cooking and nutrition skills as part of the “Healthy Futures Program” at the Iḷisaġvik College in Barrow, Alaska

Iḷisaġvik College received $30,000 for the “Healthy Futures Program,” which was established in 2014 and delivers quality, hands-on instruction in nutrition, basic cooking and household budgeting to the Iñupiat people in seven remote villages of the North Slope Borough. Instructors traveled to the villages over the period of March 1, 2016, to February 28, 2017, and provided instruction specifically for Iñupiat youth ages five to 25, and included cultural instruction from village elders. The youth engaged in workshops that integrate traditional foods and knowledge, with the aim of addressing high rates of diabetes and obesity in arctic Alaska.

Amon Barry is the current Healthy Futures Program Coordinator, and he has seen the impact of the program on the seven North Slope villages over the many months since the grant concluded.

“The healthy futures program is imperative for the villages here in the North Slope,” Barry said. “I’ve seen many light bulbs light up when the participants are shown how to make some of their favorite foods or things they’ve always wanted to try. Some like the smell and taste of the food and that keeps them engaged, while others are fascinated by the science of why certain illnesses are spreading and the solution of how to prevent them through a change of diet. Some of these things are taught in school, but only for a day or so. This program is a great way to bring the youth closer to a healthier future through interactive cooking activities and fun-based instruction methods.”

Ilisagvik5_600pxThe Healthy Futures Program also focused on increasing awareness of what food choices are available, and introduced hybrid meal planning to the participants.

“We were successful with introducing hybrid meals and partnered with the school to promote and add more fruits and vegetables into the student’s daily diets. Adding subsistence foods was definitely something new for the program here and it was received well by the community as a whole.”

Barry says the impact of incorporating traditional foods into the student’s diets made a big impression when it was held in an outdoor setting.

“My first workshop featured tuttou, which is Iñupiat for caribou. There was a day-camping trip in the mountains where we prepared caribou kabobs over an open fire with onions and peppers. The students really enjoyed themselves, and the elders and instructors had a good time as well. Many asked why we didn’t do programs like this all the time. If we can continue to create new and exciting ways to bring healthy alternatives into the kids’ lives, we will be able to help prevent diet based illnesses in the children and the adults,” said Barry.

Ilisagvik3_600pxAlong with incorporating traditional foods such as salmon, caribou and tundra plants, some participants requested the use of a traditional knife known as an ulu, instead of a kitchen knife. Other traditional foods and traditional-cooking tools were incorporated into the program.

“Salmon berries were a big hit for our summer programing here. It’s very sweet, full of nutrition, and part of the traditional diet. We also used various plants indigenous in the area to make salves and lip balms that can help with various lip and skin problems. Ulus were used in our classes, especially for our outside activities such a preparing seal skins to make clothing, and butchering a caribou to make soup for the evening meal.”

Barry says they were most successful at the hybrid meals when the elders were along to help navigate the program, as they offered wisdom and knowledge and were often the first to try new foods.

Ilisagvik4_600px“The elder involvement was essential for me to make any meaningful impact in the community. They are your eyes, ears and library of the town. We depend heavily on the elders to guide us to the right plants to cook and which plants to dry for later use. They have shown us the proper way to clean a fish and what kind of rock you can use to sharpen your knives when you are out camping. The elders, for me, made things a lot easier and prevented us from doing things incorrectly or irresponsibly. As long as you were prepared to listen, you were going to receive something priceless from them,” said Barry.

The community, the college and Barry are aware that the funding provided by First Nations furthered the Healthy Futures Program in ways they could not have foreseen.

“The support from First Nations has propelled the program to reach for new and exciting ways to catch the attention of the youth and introduce to them an alternative way to look at food and how it affects their bodies in the long run. In my time running the program here, I’ve seen a lot of change in the way some of my class participants approach food. I see some of them in the store reading the back of everything (labels). We might not be able to reach everyone with our message, but we are planting seeds that we will see grow strong.”

By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer

Board Profile: Gelvin Stevenson on Coming Together

Gelvin Stevenson

Gelvin Stevenson

Gelvin Stevenson has served on the Board of Directors of First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) for more than 35 years, drawn to the organization by the Cherokee philosophy of people helping people. Through a career in business, finance, journalism and leadership in the Native community, he said he is proud to play a “small part” in bringing this philosophy to life and working with like-minded people to strengthen Native communities.

A Cherokee Heritage

Gelvin was born in Chelsea, Oklahoma, where his Cherokee grandparents had settled after moving north from Texas. His grandfather had been the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1941 to 1949, working to rebuild the tribal government that had been terminated by the federal government in 1898. Gelvin says that in his own modest way throughout his life, he has tried to continue the tradition of working together to support Native American people and institutions.

In Oklahoma, Gelvin and his mother stayed with his grandparents while his father served as a flight instructor in the U.S. Navy during World War II. When his father returned, the family moved to the farming community of Tarkio, Missouri, where his dad joined his brother to help run the family banking and farming businesses.

Gelvin went north to attend Carleton College in Minnesota, and then went on to get his Ph.D. in economics from Washington University in St. Louis.

Gelvin’s wife, Clara, whom he met one summer in California, joined him in St. Louis, where they both completed their Ph.Ds. Then, the couple moved to New York City to be closer to Clara’s family and her “hometown” of the South Bronx.

Returning to Roots

Gelvin2In New York, Gelvin embraced both his wife’s Puerto Rican culture and his Cherokee identity. He got involved with the American Indian Community House, where he served on the board for many years. He also consulted with the Committee for the Title IV Indian Education Act, ensuring Native students in city public schools got access and representation. In addition, he served on the council of a local Cherokee Society, where he and his family learned some of the language and participated in Cherokee rituals. This is when Gelvin developed an interest in string figures, the art of weaving a circle of string on your fingers, which he said is common to many Indigenous peoples.

Responding to Challenges

During this time, Gelvin was invited to join the board of First Nations. While on the board, he began writing about financial management. He also began providing training for several tribes as they began managing significant amounts of money that resulted – for some tribes – from the passage of the Native American Gaming Act.

“All of a sudden, a number of tribes had money, which they had never had,” he said.

Gelvin focused on consulting, setting up conferences and speaking with individuals and tribes about investment principals and managing “sudden wealth.” He also wrote a series of booklets and several articles for First Nations publications, including Indian Giver.

At the time, a challenge for the Native community was how to best handle financial resources. But he said tribal communities, whether or not they had gaming wealth, were also wrestling with how best to manage their often underappreciated non-monetary wealth of culture, spirituality, community, language and world view.

Here he sees the power of people helping people on a grassroots, local level, the way First Nations does. First Nations continues to provide technical assistance and hands-on training to help Native communities. He is proud that the organization has also evolved to address other serious issues in Native communities: food sovereignty, financial literacy, and youth engagement and leadership.

Gelvin during the December 2014 Board meeting in Longmont, Colorado

Gelvin during the December 2014 Board meeting in Longmont, Colorado

Gelvin said a strength of First Nations is the organizational sustainability. “We run a tight ship financially, with metrics, accountability and sound decisions about the ways we help,” he said. “We’re able to develop effective and creative programming that has impact for people and organizations on the ground.”

Moving Forward

Gelvin is confident that, going forward, First Nations will continue to keep its focus on the reason it began: empowerment of Native people.

He sees First Nations expanding in areas where it is already active: organizational development, Native food, strengthening Native cultures on reservations and in urban areas, strengthening Native economies, and performing impactful research.

He also sees new needs developing in Native communities, which First Nations could help address. Challenges for Native people remain surrounding food and natural resources. There are also environmental issues: making homes and other buildings energy efficient; helping bring low-cost and renewable energy to reservations; cleaning up pollution from old mines, industries and waste storage; and improving water quality in waterways and in homes.

Gelvin asserts that as long as there are problems in Indian Country, there will be opportunities for First Nations to help strengthen Native communities.

To him, the work of First Nations all comes down to Gadugi – the Cherokee word meaning “coming together for the common good” or “people working together to help other people.” After all, he added, Digadatsele’i (“we belong to each other”).

By Amy Jakober