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.

First Nations Publishes Ecological Stewardship Reports

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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.

Advisers Appointed for Native Fellowship Program

Members of the Advisory Committee plus Sean Buffington from the Henry Luce Foundation and First Nations staffers at the March meeting.

Members of the Advisory Committee plus Sean Buffington from the Henry Luce Foundation and First Nations staffers at the March meeting.

For nearly 39 years, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has had the privilege of working with countless Native American leaders – elders, knowledge keepers, cultural advisers, language experts and the like – to restore, rebuild and/or perpetuate Indigenous knowledge systems. We have witnessed such individuals spark significant innovation and change in their communities.

Recently, First Nations, with generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation, launched a new fellowship program – the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship – to recognize and reward some of these outstanding individuals for their important community contributions and dedication to preserving and perpetuating Indigenous culture, language, history and lifeways. The fellowship will provide awards in the amount of $50,000 each to 10 individuals.(See earlier story at

sponsor box only lucelogo_final short red 2Earlier this year, First Nations appointed an advisory committee to discuss the parameters of this new fellowship program. The committee, which consists of eight distinguished Native American intellectual leaders representing a diversity of geographies, tribes and fields, met for two days at First Nations’ office in Longmont, Colorado, on Thursday, March 28 and Friday, March 29, 2019, to refine application materials and ensure that the selection process is inclusive and benefits all. The advisory committee will meet again in November to review applications and interview finalists.

The advisory committee members are:

  • Brenda J. Child, Ph.D. (Red Lake Ojibwe) is Northrop Professor and Chair of the Department of American Studies at the University of Minnesota, and former chair of the Department of American Indian Studies. She is the author of several books on American Indian history, and is a member of the board of trustees of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.
  • Carnell Chosa, Ph.D. (Jemez Pueblo) co-founded and co-directs The Leadership Institute and the Summer Policy Academy projects housed at the Santa Fe Indian School. The Leadership Institute focuses on cultivating generations of Native communities through Leadership, Community Service, Public Policy and Critical Thinking.
  • Cynthia Lindquist, Ph.D. (Spirit Lake Nation) is the president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College at Fort Totten, North Dakota, on the Spirit Lake Reservation. Her Dakota name means Pretty, Good Talk Woman. She has found many ways to serve the Dakota people and Indian peoples all over the United States, especially in the fields of higher education and health.
  • Elvera Sargeant or Konwanahktotani (Mohawk) manages the Friends of the Akwesasne Freedom School, a Native-led nonprofit organization that is dedicated to ensuring a prosperous future for the students of the Akwesasne Freedom School. The school, which was created as a place for Mohawk education, immerses students in Mohawk culture, language and agricultural practices.
  • Jonathan K. Osorio, Ph.D. is Dean of Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge. At Kamakakūokalani, he has developed and taught classes in history, literature, law as culture, music as historical texts, and research methodologies for and from Indigenous peoples. His recent publications include The Value of Hawaiʻi: Knowing the Past and Shaping the Future, which he co-edited and authored, and Dismembering Lāhui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887. He is also a composer and singer and has been a Hawaiian music recording artist since 1975.
  • Jordan Dresser (Northern Arapaho) is a journalist, museum curator, and producer of the documentary What Was Ours, an award-winning feature documentary set on the Wind River Indian Reservation. He is currently working on a second documentary, Home from School, focusing on the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s efforts to retrieve the remains of three Arapaho children buried at Carlisle Indian School a century ago.
  • Rosalyn R. LaPier, Ph.D. (Blackfeet/Métis) is an environmental historian, ethnobotanist, writer and popular public speaker on traditional environmental knowledge, American Indian religion and activism. She is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Montana. She is also a Research Associate with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.
  • Teresa Peterson, Ed.D. (Upper Sioux Community) serves as Tribal Planner for the Lower Sioux Indian Community. Peterson is also an adjunct faculty in the Indigenous Nations and Dakota Studies for Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, and a founder of Dakota Wicohan, a Native nonprofit whose work is in Dakota language and lifeways revitalization.


By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Communications Officer

“Business of Indian Agriculture” Empowers Native Ag Pros

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First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently hosted a two-day workshop for Native farmers and ranchers to help them successfully grow their businesses. Thirty-five agriculture professionals participated in the recent training in Denver, despite a late-March blizzard that shut down much of Colorado.

Over the past several years, First Nations has hosted more than a dozen The Business of Indian Agriculture (BoIA) convenings. These trainings are designed to empower Native agriculture professionals and enhance their understanding of the business aspects of farming and ranching.

Many BoIA participants have worked in agriculture all of their lives, growing food and livestock for their families and communities. The BoIA training provides food producers with the tools and resources necessary to expand their small family farms and ranches to larger production operations.

Financial and Business Knowledge

“I’d like to thank First Nations for providing the know-how and the tools necessary for the progression of our business,” says Hawaii farmer Mālie Colleado. “Many farmers who are passionate about what they do lack the knowledge on the financial end and the business end. This training boosted our progression to success. And for that I say Mahalo Nui!”

Some participants at the March "The Business of Indian Agriculture" training in Denver, including Maile (center, in green shirt)

Some participants at the March “The Business of Indian Agriculture” training in Denver, including Mālie Colleado (seated in center)

During Day One, participants learned about writing a business plan, specifically focusing on how to develop a financial plan. Participants learned how to tell their company’s story, while also learning about important finance practices such as bookkeeping skills, personal financial management and how to use credit wisely.

“A lot of participants came here today with a plan in their head,” said First Nations consultant Fred Briones. “This training is intended to teach them how to put those plans on paper.” He notes that several participants walked away with business plans to expand their agribusinesses.

Food Systems Methodology

During Day Two, participants learned about building healthy communities and economies using an integrated food systems methodology. According to First Nations consultant Joanie Buckley, Native food producers must work together across different tribes, departments and teams to engage the entire community. One such example is the Oneida Community Integrated Food System in Wisconsin.

This initiative is a collective of five strategies that help align Oneida Nation of Wisconsin entities and programs, which include the Oneida Nation farm, apple orchard, food distribution program, cannery, health center, and grants office. The staff and volunteers work together to engage the Oneida community and build sustainable agricultural practices for future generations.

“These convenings are about building capacity in Indian Country, and learning from each other,” says Buckley. “It’s about sharing ideas and bringing people together. The more we can share, the more Indian Country will prosper.”

Between sessions, the trainers and participants networked, brainstormed and discussed common challenges. The most important part of the training, notes Oneida farmer Kyle Wisneski, is that participants are able to meet other Indigenous farmers. “Sometimes it feels like there are not many other farmers like me — Indigenous farmers who are trying to grow their businesses,” says Wisneski. “It’s nice to see other Native farmers striving to make the same changes.”

More participants at the training, including Kyle Wisneski (far left).

More participants at the training, including Kyle Wisneski (far left).

In fact, trainers and participants spent more time getting to know each other than they probably expected. On the second day of the convening, a “bomb cyclone” blizzard blasted Colorado and brought much of the city of Denver to a standstill. First Nations staff, as well as many of the BoIA trainers and participants, hunkered down in the hotel for dinner to wait out the blizzard.

Providing Access to Information

Many participants received travel scholarships to attend this convening. These trainings are intended for those farmers and ranchers that might not otherwise have access to the information, tools and resources they need to grow their agribusiness. In addition to providing 23 travel scholarships, First Nations also paid for an extra night at the hotel for those whose flights and travel had been affected by the bomb cyclone.

As part of the Keepseagle Fast-Track Grant Program, First Nations will offer three more BoIA trainings this year, one of which will be a train-the-trainer workshop. The next two-day, producer-focused workshop is scheduled for July 9-11, 2019, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. For more information about how to register or apply for a scholarship, please visit this link.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Communications Officer

Reclaiming Traditional Agriculture at Acoma Pueblo

Aaron Lowden, Acoma Ancestral Lands Program Coordinator, holding dryland blue corn.

Aaron Lowden, Acoma Ancestral Lands Program Coordinator, holding dryland blue corn.

The Southwest high desert plateaus with scattered canyons and mesas have sustained Native people over thousands of years. Located atop a sandstone mesa, the Pueblo of Acoma has the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America, which is only possible because of a well-managed food system uniquely adapted to a high desert environment. The traditional knowledge tied to this food system has been passed down over many generations, shaping the genetic traits of Acoma’s heirloom plants. Today, traditional foods, cultural traditions and traditional knowledge are all interconnected and essential to community health.

No one knows this more than Aaron Lowden, Acoma Ancestral Lands Program Coordinator and Program Director of Acoma’s Traditional Farm Corps. Established in 2011, the program is restoring the traditional foods and farming methods at the core of Acoma’s strong agricultural heritage. Elders provided him with heirloom seeds, many of which had been stored for decades in baby-food jars. “My uncle taught me to pray and sing to the plants every day,” he says. “The plants are my children and require a lot of attention.” But the importance of this work weighs heavily on his mind … “If these traditions are lost, they are lost forever.”

2017 Acoma Farm Corps Program

2017 Acoma Farm Corps Program

Today, rare heirloom seeds lie suspended in baby-food jars, and ancient family plots lay fallow, in part due to centuries of federal policies and programs that forced assimilation into “modern” farming practices. These policies disrupted the transfer of traditional knowledge, incentivized unsustainable practices, and impaired food security.

One example was a federal program that offered tractors to families that sent their children away to Indian boarding schools. Tractor-based tilling requires fossil fuels and has high equipment costs. The greater use of water and nonrenewable resources make agriculture unsustainable in a desert environment. Today, federal programs continue to incentivize modern farming methods with subsidies and through extension services. As water is becoming more scare and weather patterns more erratic in the face of climate change, the risks of crop failures and system collapse is real.

Much work is needed to change policy, regulatory barriers and funding structures that suppress traditional farming, and central to this work is First Nation Development Institute’s belief that Native peoples hold the capacity and ingenuity to ensure the sustainable, economic, spiritual and cultural well-being of their communities. Lowden and many other traditional farmers have the knowledge, but their work requires support to overcome the legacy of federal policies and funding inequities.

2016 Acoma Farm Corps Member

2016 Acoma Farm Corps Member

First Nations is now working in partnership with Southwest tribes and pueblos to support a Native-led strategy to revitalize traditional farming. This work involves funder outreach and engagement. Together we hope to support a traditional farming movement that grows from culturally relevant planning and programming. The urgency of this work has increased due to climate change, as well as the continual need to ensure that elders pass on their accumulated knowledge, and baby-food jars full of seeds, to the younger generations.

There remains so much to learn from the people who have persevered through changes before. As noted by an Acoma elder: “We are so far behind, we’re ahead.”

Since 2012 First Nations has worked to support tribes in the Southwest in developing and implementing sustainable conservation strategies that build continuity of resource-management efforts, while reinforcing tribal community values. This work is growing and guided by feedback provided at a meeting on Increasing Ecological Stewardship of Tribal Lands, Natural Resources, and Historical Sites that was hosted in November 2018 and funded by the 11th Hour Project. The November convening focused on how to expand the use of traditional ecological knowledge and the resources needed to support this work. Strengthening tribal control of land and natural resources is essential to ensuring sustainability and a traditional way of life.

By Mary Adelzadeh, First Nations Senior Program Officer

Success Story Part 2: Room to Run, Play & Thrive at Zuni

Remarks during the Grand Opening of Ho'N A:wan Community Park

The Grand Opening was a celebration of the collaboration among community artists, culture-bearers, the tribal council and the community. Over 800 visitors attended, including parents, children, artists, tribal dignitaries and longstanding ZYEP partners.

The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project began in 2006 after a pediatrician named Tom Faber, MD, MPH, came to work at the Zuni Indian Health Service Hospital. Every year, he would ask his young patients, “What are you doing this summer?” And he repeatedly heard, “I’m not doing anything.”

Recognizing the importance of positive activities and role models in children’s lives, Dr. Faber started asking more questions and ascertaining interest in the community. From there what developed was a long-standing 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to providing healthy summers and healthy futures for Zuni children, backed by the values and traditions of the Zuni culture.

This second article of a three-part series tells the story of the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project, its mission and programs, and how it has fostered relationships and leveraged funding to grow from hosting one small camp to becoming an artistic landmark and a formal hub for the Zuni artist community.


Room to Run, Play and Thrive

For the first 10 years, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) found success as a community resource for improved childhoods and heathy, active kids. Yet, for these 10 years, the project had to borrow space from a school site to host its programs. Those familiar with the New Mexican landscape know that just playing anywhere outdoors is not always an option.

“There aren’t a lot of safe spaces,” says Joseph Claunch, Ph.D., co-director of the Zuni Enrichment Project.

Indeed, Zuni Pueblo is remote and open spaces are covered with rocks and glass and “bull heads,” which Dr. Claunch explains is slang for the extremely sharp, spiky plants of the area.

Ground-Breaking Funding

In 2016, this would all change. Through a rigorous application process, ZYEP was awarded a large and highly competitive grant through Art Place America, which would make it possible to plan, design and build a new youth center and community park. More than a safe place for children to play and interact, it would be specifically designed to reflect the identities and histories of the Zuni people. To do this, art would be incorporated at every stage, from design consultation with local artists, to the addition of artistic pieces throughout the physical park.

ZYEP was one of only six organizations to receive the grants from Art Place, which is a 10-year collaboration among foundations, federal agencies and financial institutions whose mission is to position arts and culture as a core sector of community planning and development.

Built on Collaboration

In creating the park, the ZYEP Artists Committee was formed. Now the group continues to meet regularly on projects that transcend the park to serve a broader set of needs beyond physical activity.

In creating the park, the ZYEP Artists Committee was formed. Now the group continues to meet regularly on projects that transcend the park to serve a broader set of needs beyond physical activity.

With funding established, ZYEP put plans in motion for Ho’n A:wan Park, which means “Belonging to All of Us” in Zuni. Knowing how the project would integrate Zuni art and culture, the organization immediately set out to connect with local artists. It formed an Artists Committee, who were called on to contribute artistic vision through every step of the process. Besides lending their talents in a range of traditional art forms, the six-member Artists Committee also provided a connection to community stakeholders.

“They were a bridge for us,” Dr. Claunch says. “In addition to being artists, these individuals were community members, parents and religious leaders. They had common Zuni interests, fears and strengths.”

During the more than 30 community planning meetings, the artists communicated with members of seven stakeholder groups, including parents, elders, potential park neighbors, artists, cultural leaders, tribal council, and program administrators. They were able to alleviate fears surrounding how the proposed park would impact neighborhoods and traffic patterns, and whether the park would truly be a resource to all.

“The artists were able to assure stakeholders that the park would be an asset and not a threat,” Dr. Claunch says. “And without their input, the park wouldn’t have happened, and some neighbors would still be upset.”

Culture and Art in Every Element

The Ho’n A:wan Park was not only developed with the insights of artists, it also was designed to be a vehicle for art and culture. Here is one of the many murals featured in the community center and created collectively by members of the Artists Committee.

The Ho’n A:wan Park was not only developed with the insights of artists, it also was designed to be a vehicle for art and culture. Here is one of the many murals featured in the community center and created collectively by members of the Artists Committee.

Through it all, Dr. Claunch and fellow ZYEP co-director Tom Faber, MD, MPH, made it clear to the Artists Committee and to the whole community that ZYEP was founded on facilitating the connection of Zuni youth to their culture in everything the project does.

As plans progressed, an official site for the park was found in the heart of the main plaza, which is the center of the Zuni Pueblo. In addition to the Artists Committee, ZYEP sought input from a Cultural Advisory Team, which ensured the site was not sacred and the park was built in accordance with Zuni culture. Because the site was close to religious areas, the Cultural Advisory team weighed in, making sure that the park architecture would not stand out and that it would blend with Zuni elements in color and design.

As the park broke ground, the artists continued to play a critical role, and there was a meeting of worlds among the artists and the architects. “In typical community development projects, you build a space with an empty wall and you ask an artist to hang a picture,” Dr. Claunch explains. “But in this project, the artists were involved in every aspect. As a result, Ho’n A:wan Park is not only a community center, it’s a functional canvas.”

Opened September 2018

Another feature of the murals is that they weren’t just done by master artists. The Artists Committee also reached out to children in local elementary schools and engaged them in designing and creating murals for the park. These projects gave Zuni youth participation in art for a park designed for them.

Another feature of the murals is that they weren’t just done by master artists. The Artists Committee also reached out to children in local elementary schools and engaged them in designing and creating murals for the park. These projects gave Zuni youth participation in art for a park designed for them.

The community park officially opened in September 2018 as a 2.5-acre complex. It features an athletic turf field so children can run and play and not fall on rocks and glass. A community kitchen includes a traditional bread oven for preparing and learning to cook traditional foods. There is a community center, walking trail, community garden and basketball court. There are classrooms and office spaces and a large indoor/outdoor performance area for dances and events. Interior and exterior walls feature 11 large-scale murals created by Zuni artists.

Invitation to the Grand Opening

Invitation to the Grand Opening

“Kids need fun activities and places to do them,” Dr. Claunch says. “Through this park, we can make sure they have these spaces. And we can do it in a way that is culturally responsive and goes hand in hand with the community in ways that reflect Zuni identity and history.”

Going forward, Ho’n A:wan Park is still a canvas on which to do more. According to Dr. Claunch, there is a need for a perimeter fence, which in the spirit of Zuni cannot be chain-link. Artists are being called on to create that perimeter artistically, providing not only a functional wall but a gallery for the Zuni culture. Other projects include water collection designs and a statue. In this space, art will not sit on shelves but will be part of the environment, ensuring the culture lives on.

According to Dr. Claunch, ZYEP has been built on Zuni ways from the beginning, but the planning and building of this park has made the organization more intentional. “It’s evolving our mission and improving our work.”

Moreover, by involving and empowering local artists, ZYEP has created a new network of artistic professionals, who can see through an artist’s eye to provide the very best opportunities for Zuni youth.

By Amy Jakober

Part 3 of this series, along with a conclusion, will appear in the May/June 2019 issue of Indian Giver. You can see Part 1 at this link.

A focal point of the community center is the showcase of pottery shards, each decorated with images and designs of Zuni culture. The table creates a display that visitors can walk around and experience.

A focal point of the community center is the showcase of pottery shards, each decorated with images and designs of Zuni culture. The table creates a display that visitors can walk around and experience.

Funding Supports Grantmaking & Roll Out of “Gather” Film

"Gather" will premiere during 2019

“Gather” will premiere during 2019

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has been awarded a $2.1 million grant from the Indigenous People’s Fund of Tides Foundation to support the nationwide rollout later this year of the Gather feature-length film about Native American food sovereignty efforts, as well as to fund a grant program, scholarships and trainings to further support such food initiatives in Native communities.

Photo of Sammy Gensaw (Yurok) with salmon, by Renan Ozturk. Image was taken as part of the "Gather" film and storytelling project about Native American food sovereignty.

Photo of Sammy Gensaw (Yurok) with salmon, by Renan Ozturk. Image was taken as part of the “Gather” film and storytelling project about Native American food sovereignty.

First Nations is involved in the production of the film. With Gather focusing on Native food sovereignty, it fits perfectly with First Nations’ longtime programming and grantmaking effort known as the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI), which has been underway since 2002. Gather outlines the destruction and appropriation of Native food systems over years of colonialism that sought to eliminate America’s original inhabitants through many means, including the decimation of their well-established food and agriculture systems. Further, the film, which will be released in 2019, chronicles the rise of the Indigenous food movement in North America.

The grant from the Indigenous People’s Fund of Tides Foundation will support dozens of local film screenings and community discussions across the U.S. It also will underwrite a new Gather-related grant program under NAFSI to further assist and enhance grassroots food sovereignty projects in Native communities over the next three years.

Photo of Tolowa Nation salmon by Adam Sings In The Timber (Crow).

Photo of Tolowa Nation salmon by Adam Sings In The Timber (Crow).

Additionally, it will allow First Nations to provide more college scholarships to Native students majoring in agriculture or related areas, and it will enable First Nations to expand other training and technical assistance activities it provides to existing Native farmers, ranchers and other food producers. The grant also will allow First Nations to work more closely with other organizations to advance Native food sovereignty, as well as update the Native food systems website.

The film features many of First Nations’ NAFSI grantees and partners, as well as others who are making huge strides in advancing Native food sovereignty as a way of asserting tribal sovereignty, reclaiming control of Native food systems, and helping restore the health and well-being of Native communities.

The film project and its related journalism effort are being underwritten by the Indigenous People’s Fund of Tides Foundation and The 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation, respectively. Gather is being directed by Sanjay Rawal (Food Chains) and produced by Tanya Meillier and Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muscogee). Renan Ozturk is the director of photography. The film’s website can be found at, and it can be found on Facebook at and on Instagram under @gatherfilm.

SONS of Mvskoke Model Stability & Presence

The tenets of physical wellness, Native American culture and spirituality come together as SONS participants build a sweat lodge.

The tenets of physical wellness, Native American culture and spirituality come together as SONS participants build a sweat lodge.

For men representing the values of respect and responsibility in rural Okmulgee, Oklahoma, the secret to success often comes down to just being there. It means coming together in support – and not in competition – as a steady, stable mentor and friend to the area’s young men and boys. Today, with support from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), the SONS of Mvskoke are consistently present, as role models and facilitators, committed to serving the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Here to Give Back

The SONS of Mvskoke began when several of its members first worked with the Muscogee Tribe in a family violence prevention initiative called Warriors Honor Women. Their focus was on involving men in solutions to protecting families. While that program eventually ran its course, questions remained about the causes of domestic violence.

Executive Director Monte Randall says SONS serves to give back to the Muscogee Tribe. Here, a SONS volunteer reads to students at Glenpool Elementary School.

Executive Director Monte Randall says SONS serves to give back to the Muscogee Tribe. Here, a SONS volunteer reads to students at Glenpool Elementary School.

“We continued to see a need to get men together to talk about what we all face,” said SONS of Mvskoke Chief Executive Officer Monte Randall.

Indeed, there were few channels in Okmulgee for men to collaborate and support each other in ways that were non-competitive and not blame-based. The SONS decided to continue meeting and to formalize their own structure to support men and give back to the tribe. Their focus would be mentoring and community-based programs and events that bring men together in ways that show responsibility and respect.

A Four-Tenet Focus

As a newly formed 501(c)(3) organization, the SONS began hosting monthly events and activities open to the community based on the SONS’ four tenets: spiritual, physical wellness, Native American culture, and leadership. These events and activities are designed to encompass at least one of those tenets. For example, fishing trips or sporting events incorporate physical wellness, whereas planting an elders’ garden, bow shooting, language lessons and sweat lodges involve several of the tenets.

Funding from First Nations and RISE will help SONS continue many programs, including the elders’ garden.

Funding from First Nations and RISE will help SONS continue many programs, including the elders’ garden.

Through all the activities, Randall said, men are called on in an environment of respect and responsibility. “By leading these activities, we participate, we show up. We convey that this is what men do, and this is what is important to who we are as a people.”

Randall underscored the importance of this male presence not just in Okmulgee but throughout the country. There are a lot of homes with single-mother families, or grandparents raising the children, he said. “Having that structure of male involvement serves as a model for having dads in their homes.”

Building on Culture

Fortunately, SONS of Mvskoke operates in a region steeped in Creek culture, and cultural settings in which to hold these activities are prominent. Still, SONS seeks to build on that culture, giving young men and boys a sense of their identity when it comes to what they believe manhood is about. “We have to go up against society, in how society says men should be,” he said. “We need to be men from a cultural aspect. What were the roles of men a hundred years ago, and how do we need to be today?”

What was effective then, Randall explained, is that sense of community that SONS aims to impart. “It was about community service, putting people first. It was about respect for each other and our responsibility to give back.”

Overcoming Barriers

At the same time, bringing men together – even in a cultural setting – does present challenges. One of the biggest, Randall said, has been participation. Randall explained that their first focus as a formal organization was providing a mentoring program. Yet, as they started identifying youth, they quickly saw a problem finding older men.

A field trip to the Tulsa Boxing Gym brings young men and boys together in respect and responsibility.

A field trip to the Tulsa Boxing Gym brings young men and boys together in respect and responsibility.

“The mentors are supposed to be men,” Randall said. “But where were they? We needed to get men to the program, too.”

Randall said he believes demands on men in the form of work, families and other commitments make it difficult for many to participate. Yet, he said, if we don’t take time to come together, to reinforce that culture, we’ll never be able to show that respect and responsibility, he said. “We have to see what it is and address it,” Randall said.

For All Who Can Come

To that end, SONS is moving forward with positive, action-based, non-blaming programming, making events open and available for all who can come. He said sometimes many men come, and sometimes only a few people can show up, but either way, SONS continues to instill that presence.

The SONS of Mvskoke mentoring program teaches young men hands-on skills such as car maintenance.

The SONS of Mvskoke mentoring program teaches young men hands-on skills such as car maintenance.

Funds from First Nation have supported this work, and the grant to SONS was made possible through RISE for Boys and Men of Color (BMOC). RISE BMOC 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).

The funding to SONS is being used to expand programming, including SONS’ recent Men’s Summit, annual Toy Drive luncheon, and Cultural Garden.

Importantly, funding is helping the SONS of Mvskoke continue serving the Creek Tribe. And for the men and boys of Okmulgee, the activities, events and role models for respect and responsibility are adding up to big impact.

“The heart of it is the presence that we have,” said Randall. “Sometimes it is just a small group of us, but we’re here. We’re steady and we’re consistent.”

By Amy Jakober

Donor “PapaJoe” Hartz: “What Makes Us the Same is the Size of Our Hearts”

Now retired 100% government and military, PapaJoe has time to spend with his favorite horse, 32-year-old Zip.

Now retired 100% government and military, PapaJoe has time to spend with his favorite horse, 32-year-old Zip.

For PapaJoe Hartz, everything we do comes back to us: Either good or bad. It is not the color of our skin or our politics or religion that make us different. It’s the size of our hearts. This belief has grown stronger over the years. Now, as a fervent donor to First Nations Development Institute, he shares his thoughts on life, Native causes, and what people can do to make their own hearts as big as possible.

A Kindred Spirit

Joe Hartz is not Native, but the Native approach to life strikes a chord with this 67-year-old U.S. Navy submarine disabled veteran. PapaJoe was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and adopted three months later in Memphis by a wonderful family. He says his knowledge of Native Americans was limited to playing “cowboys and Indians” and visiting nearby Indian villages. But the more he has learned about the plight of Native Americans, the more he has been humbled and inspired.

He talks of Native people being lied to, driven from their homelands and robbed of their cultures – and how the thought of little children being sent to boarding schools and stripped of their souls and identity is atrocious.

PapaJoe, for one, knows how important the loss of spirit is. “Without it, you have no soul,” he says. While serving onboard a submarine he sustained a debilitating knee injury that left his right knee disabled, and he was medically discharged. “For someone who is always active, this was hard to accept,” he says.

His disability contributed to a 14-year struggle with alcoholism and pain medications. “Once you think you are disabled it sometimes consumes your entire body, and you lose faith.”

PapaJoe says redemption came on January 1, 1987, when his prayers were answered. And since then he has remained alcohol and drug free for over 32 years. He says his spirit was renewed by the strength and power of traditional ways and knowledge.

One of his beloved friends and sponsor, who is part Cherokee, has given him words of wisdom and insight through the years, and now this knowledge has led PapaJoe to seek ways to help Native Americans. “I give because helping people get their spirits back is important to me. My dream is to see Native America made whole again.”

Positioned to Make a Difference

After he left the Navy, PapaJoe spent years in sales before going to work for the U.S. Postal Service. After 12 years, his service-related disabilities resurfaced, and he was forced to retire. He took the opportunity to go back to college at the University of West Florida in Pensacola and get a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies. He graduated Magna Cum Laude and was inducted into the National Honor Society. He trained as a hospital chaplain and also filled in as a part-time non-denominational minister. His education led him to adopt Taoism and Buddhism as his way of life.

PapaJoe says he plays the flute well enough to “make the dogs bark,” but it makes him happy, and that is what’s most important.

PapaJoe says he plays the flute well enough to “make the dogs bark,” but it makes him happy, and that is what’s most important.

He has toured the country in his RV and loves to play the flute. He says he plays “well enough to get the dogs barking and keep rodents away.” But in line with his outlook on life, he says, “It’s not about how good you play. It’s the fact that playing makes you happy and uplifts your spirit. You have to do what makes you happy.”

For PapaJoe, learning more about Native causes and being a part of First Nations also makes him happy because he sees First Nations as a key player in giving Indigenous people back their spirit. He appreciates that he in a position to support the work and that First Nations is in a position to have the greatest effect. He says he chose First Nations after extensive research through Charity Navigator. “It’s just the well-rounded program I was looking for. It gets people back to their roots.”

By giving to First Nations, he says he feels like he, too, is giving people hope and restoring that spirit he knows is so important. He wishes he could do more, a desire that likely led to his name “PapaJoe.”

A Papa to All

Married twice and divorced with one son, PapaJoe has no biological grandchildren, but he is “PapaJoe” to 13 grandkids and great-grandkids. “You don’t have to be a blood relative to show love to these kids. My kids know that PapaJoe will take care of them.”

For many of his grandkids, he is the only grandparent, and as such he provides support, love and insights into living a life with joy.

“I don’t care about material things,” he says. “I care about people, and when you learn about people, you learn the truth.”

He imparts on his family the importance of education and knowledge. Having traveled extensively across the country, PapaJoe considers the world to be his church and encourages his grandchildren to get out and experience the world and its people. “You will never learn the whole truth about people in a book or newspaper. You will only learn by becoming a part of the whole. We are the same people,” he says. “If you rely on others for the truth, you will always be ignorant.

Appreciation and Respect

PapaJoe reflects that people’s education and understanding throughout the years has changed slowly, and he acknowledges that what he learned about Native Americans as a boy in the 1960s is different from what is being taught today, to a small degree. “The truth is starting to come out,” he says. “We’ve come a long way, but we haven’t gone far enough.”

He says it’s still going to take years for the truth to take hold, and right now he’s happy to be part of an organization that is helping to move the needle. No matter his own heritage, he says he appreciates traditional knowledge and respects the spirit of Indigenous people. And, in supporting First Nations, he feels he has made a good investment in a cause that means so much to him.

“This is me doing my part,” he says. “Only you can increase the size of your heart. I do it through giving, love and compassion, and most importantly, by forgiving. It’s my goal and the way my heart feels.”

First Nations appreciates the support. Thank you, PapaJoe!

By Amy Jakober

Community Intellectuals & Learning are Aims of Project Partners

At the March 2018 kickoff meeting of partners under the “Supporting Community Intellectuals in Native Communities” project. Included are Shelly Fryant, Rene Dubay and Michael Munson of Salish Kootenai College, Carnell Chosa and Regis Pecos of Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, and Darren Kipp of The Piegan Institute. From First Nations are Michael Roberts, Raymond Foxworth, Catherine Bryan and Marsha Whiting. Monica Nuvamsa from The Hopi Foundation was unable to attend.

At the March 2018 kickoff meeting of partners under the “Supporting Community Intellectuals in Native Communities” project. Included are Shelly Fryant, Rene Dubay and Michael Munson of Salish Kootenai College, Carnell Chosa and Regis Pecos of Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, and Darren Kipp of The Piegan Institute. From First Nations are Michael Roberts, Raymond Foxworth, Catherine Bryan and Marsha Whiting. Monica Nuvamsa from The Hopi Foundation was unable to attend.

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), with generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation, has been engaged in an unprecedented project to support, reflect on and share learning about Native American community intellectuals in partnership with four Native-run nonprofit organizations: The Hopi Foundation, Salish Kootenai College, Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School, and The Piegan Institute at Cuts Wood School. Each of these organizations are anchors in their communities and are centers of excellence in supporting local community intellectuals and their work in elevating the Native voice in influential circles.

Through this project, each partner organization has worked diligently over the last year on projects that engage community-identified intellectualism representing diverse areas of expertise and ages to discuss concepts of intellectualism specific to their Native culture, its foundation, and historical and contemporary applications.

The outcome of the project is to raise awareness among Native community intellectuals and how it may manifest uniquely in different communities, identification of qualities of Native community intellectuals, best practices for communities and organizations to nurture and support these individuals, how community intellectuals’ contributions may best be documented and shared, and how the knowledge of Native community intellectuals may further or be furthered by Western education standards.

Here are brief profiles of the participants:

Salish Kootenai College

Salish Kootenai College

Salish Kootenai College is located in Pablo, Montana. It offers traditional education opportunities for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which provide programs and services that contribute to community development. Through this grant opportunity, Salish Kootenai College has created forums for community conversations with the Seliš, Ql̓ispé, and Ksanka (Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai) communities, engaging tribally-identified contributors representing areas of expertise important to each community. Meeting the needs of all three tribal communities has inherently been challenging for this project.

In addition, the most urgent issue faced within this community is the loss of knowledge through the passing of community elders. As a result, the goals of the project are to address the challenges within the community, utilizing traditional values and rebuilding the inter-tribal and inter-generational relationships to begin healing. This will result in the integration of knowledge transference, cultural values, seasonal activities, and ways of being and healing.

Throughout this process, Salish Kootenai College has used an advisory board to provide guidance and input on the projects within each respective tribal community of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai. The project seeks to create effective, healing conversations.

The Salish community has developed a traditional plant knowledge project. The advisory committee chose an individual working on a master’s degree at the University of Montana in Environmental Science, and who has already been working on this type of research on traditional plant knowledge, gathering, stories and eating. In the spring of 2019, the community will host events focused on plant gathering and preparation. These events will support the transmission of knowledge of medicines, community, language, history and stories.

In the Pend d’Oreille community, there is a remarkable individual who has created a youth warrior society for early teenage boys to apprentice under older men to be trained in traditional male responsibilities.

The Kootenai community project is focused on documentation of the creation of traditional dresses and moccasins. The elders have been interviewed by and work alongside the youth in making the traditional materials. This activity-based and video-documented project will capture knowledge that would not be captured otherwise, showcasing traditional-dress making, and how it has evolved.

With this project, there has been a shift within the community, bringing people together that normally would not have been brought together and giving a venue to consider these topics. There has been an added sense of urgency and awareness to capture knowledge.

Leadership Institute logo


Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School

The Leadership Institute was launched in 1997 to discuss the most critical policy issues that impact the Native tribes of New Mexico. Over the course of 20 years, the Leadership Institute has actively convened members of the New Mexico tribal communities to collectively learn and explore the issues that impact their communities and to constructively develop plans, projects and partnerships to address the specifically identified areas.

This grant project has opened the opportunity to explore community intellectualism as a pueblo community, and to redefine more broadly and holistically what this means to the community. The project has been structured with the goal of collecting information on community intellectualism through surveys and conversations, and within a framework of roles and resources in the community.

Throughout the project period, the participants have worked diligently to gather the communities’ definitions and inputs on what they feel and who they feel the community intellectuals are. In total, to date, they have received more than 200 responses. They are currently looking at the data to create information or a picture of that or who the youth and community feel are the intellectuals or knowledge sharers. Within the grant project, the Leadership Institute gathered information at the Pueblo Convocation on Education, which brings together more than 600 pueblo community members to provide input on what education should look like in their communities. They were able to see community intellectualism or knowledge sharing in practice.

This project was beneficial for the Leadership Institute and other organizations. While it created a concept that was somewhat foreign and complicated, it is now more accessible because they were able to share ideas and agree upon concepts.

The Hopi Foundation

The Hopi Foundation

Founded in 1985, The Hopi Foundation’s mission is “to help people help themselves.” The Hopi Foundation, established by local Hopis, believes in attending to the community by promoting self-sufficiency, proactive community participation in its own destiny, self-resilience and local self-determination.

With this community intellectualism grant, The Hopi Foundation will document traditional knowledge, historical events and stories that define the community, both historically and today. Much of this knowledge is only available through oral tradition and customary practices, but the group hopes to share these cultural teachings more broadly through the platform of the local radio station.

Over the past several months, The Hopi Foundation has met with six community members to define community intellectualism in the context of Hopi culture and practices. Instead of community intellectualism, the group decided to use the phrase Hopi knowledge keepers to describe the process of documenting their basic cultural understandings.

Recently, the foundation completed its vision statement on community intellectualism, and is currently in the process of translating it to the Hopi language. Language translation is a complex, time-consuming process. Once the group finishes translating the vision statement, it will share it with the rest of the community through the radio.

The Hopi Foundation is also currently working with community members to determine what stories and cultural teachings they can share on the radio during two hour-long radio programs, including the cultural discussion hour and youth hour. Determining what stories to share and how is a sensitive process that requires input and consensus from all community members. The foundation believes that it is important to preserve and perpetuate this knowledge for future generations.

Piegan Institute

The Piegan Institute at Cuts Wood School

The Piegan Institute Cuts Wood School is about collaboration and generosity bringing prosperity to the community. The institute was founded and chartered in 1987 to research, promote and preserve Native American languages, in particular the Blackfoot language of the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana.

The community intellectual project is about giving a voice to the people within the community who are creating effective work within the Blackfeet tribal community. The project is aiming to address the many challenges and solutions across Native American communities, gathering a group of community intellectuals who represent the traditional members and mainstream political leaders to discuss tribal history, language revitalization, economic challenges, and the future of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation community. The approach has simply been to sit and listen by asking a set of guided questions that engage a good conversation with each of the members, including community intellectualism, being a community member, and the responsibility of being a part of the community.

The long-term goal of the project is to produce a publication around the interviews that can be shared and used for the future within the community. The hope is that these projects within each of the communities are able to create a good discussion on what it means to be a community intellectual and to bring some insight into what it means to be a community member.

By Stephanie Cote