Language, Culture and Food Come Together at Lakota Waldorf School

Students learn to speak and understand the Lakota language through gardening, food preparation, and learning about traditional Lakota plants, sustainability, and ecology.

Students learn to speak and understand the Lakota language through gardening, food preparation, and learning about traditional Lakota plants, sustainability, and ecology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re a Lakota child born in South Dakota, you can now find a place to belong, where your culture and language are fostered, creating a Lakota identity that will help you thrive. This is possible thanks to the Lakota Waldorf School, formed over 26 years ago at a time when Lakota children never had such an option. Now, with its latest project funded through First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), the school is bringing culture and language to the understanding, production and awareness of food, strengthening Lakota identity and improving health outcomes.

The Need for Lakota Waldorf School

The Lakota Waldorf School serves the children of the Pine Ridge Reservation living in or near the town of Kyle and outlying districts. Isabel Stadnick, development director and one of the founders of the school, explains that children here are among the most vulnerable, disadvantaged children in the country. Poverty is high, and as a social determinant of health, it has resulted in epidemic proportions of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease on the Reservation. According to Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation, life expectancy is only 47 years for men and 52 years for women, and the teenage suicide rate is 150% higher than the U.S. national average.

While the causes for these statistics are broad and deep-rooted, one reason stems from the insufficient culturally appropriate education available to Lakota children, says Stadnick. Noting the high dropout rate of Lakota students, Stadnick, her husband Robert, and a group of parents saw that the local public schools were not designed for Native children and the way they best learn. In addition, Lakota identity was not fostered or encouraged. As a result of both, performance among Native children was lacking.
“We said, if something is not good, then you have to change it,” Stadnick explained. From there, the parents mobilized, and the concept of Lakota Waldorf School took hold.

Learning with Head, Hand, and Heart

Stadnick explains that the parent group was made up of individuals from education and the community, and together, they agreed that children of a different culture need a different curriculum. Curriculum must be understandable and must reflect the essence of the people. Further, the approach must strengthen children’s self-identity, which includes their culture, ceremonial practices and their language.
Knowing this, the parents set out to explore different approaches to education and the one that resonated was Waldorf.

“In public school, learning is linear. You learn one thing, then the next, in a subsequent fashion,” says Stadnick, “But in the Waldorf method, learning is circular and story based.”

Stadnick explains that Waldorf bases curriculum on the development of the child, focusing on three capacities: thinking, feeling, and doing. For example, in Waldorf schools, teaching facts, numbers and places might be done through a story. Then the students might participate in an activity, conveying that story through clay, paper mâché, or drawing. It becomes an experience that creates a feeling, which translates into greater learning.

“It is learning with head, hand, and heart,” added adds Stadnick. “It connects and involves the students in a deeper way. Here, they learn how to apply their newfound knowledge in real life, which gives them a higher success rate.”

Stadnick says that this approach is very much in line with the Lakota culture, and the story-telling technique is how Lakota elders pass down the heritage. Committed to the Waldorf curriculum, the parents first formed a Lakota kindergarten. From there, the group formed a 501(c)3, and now offers K-8 classes. Currently at capacity, the school has 46 students and is in the process of seeking funding for a larger school bus to be able to transport 60 plus students.

Through the Lakota Waldorf School, kids are given every opportunity to learn a strong cultural identity and reverence for the heritage.

Through the Lakota Waldorf School, kids are given every opportunity to learn a strong cultural identity and reverence for the heritage.

Immersed in Language, Enriched by Culture

More than a Waldorf-based school, the school is an educational resource that integrates Lakota culture with a large emphasis on language. This is where funding from First Nations has played an important role.

Core to the school’s design is Lakota language immersion. All children begin each day with a sacred Lakota verse. They learn vocabulary, numbers, and concepts by singing, reciting, and having interactive dialogue. Language is not a class here-and-there, but a full immersion process, in which children learn language the natural way — by ear and by speaking. By integrating the Waldorf approach with a focus on Lakota language, the school empowers Lakota children to create positive futures for themselves and their communities.

“We see one of the challenges that students have is low self-esteem and low self-confidence. So this is where we put a strong emphasis,” Stadnick commenteds.
Kids at Lakota Waldorf School are given every opportunity to learn a strong cultural identity and reverence for the heritage, acquire a solid foundation for Lakota language, and gain the academic, social, and practical skills to thrive as Native people.
“Culture and language are major components of self-esteem and self-advocacy,” says Stadnick. “Research has proven that children who grow up with a strong identity are more successful — in school, life and higher education.”

In 2019, the school received a First Nations grant through the Native Language Immersion Initiative, which aims to build the capacity of and directly support Native American language-immersion and culture-retention programs. With this funding the school will expand its current classroom language program and its school gardening program, teaching students how to speak and understand the Lakota language through gardening, food preparation, and learning about traditional Lakota plants, sustainability, and ecology.

This makes a valuable tool for experiential learning. As the project develops, students throughout the school are taking part in the classes, making use of a school garden, and hearing directly from Lakota-fluent elders and Lakota-learning teachers. Parents are being engaged as volunteers, and students are presenting their knowledge of Lakota words to the community, which raises awareness of Native plants, culture, and sustainable foods.

“Children learn easy and fast, and eating healthy meals is something we do every day,” she says.

Moreover, the students are learning through imagination and by doing. “We are surrounded by plants, but we cannot name them in Lakota,” she explains. “But through the project they can learn 10 new plants every month, and that’s something they can use every day.”

Further, Stadnick notes, “If you have an experience planting potatoes, and you learn the word for potatoes, right there you have a connection to it. That’s a piece of the language that lives on.”

While the project is just beginning, it is laying the groundwork for the future. Children are finding more opportunities to use the language, and the community is gaining a food source, and ultimately even a source of revenue, as food can be grown organically and then sold locally. And, in the long-term, it is hoped that the access to Native grown food can make a dent in the staggering diabetes and obesity rates that have plagued this community.
Using gardening, students learn language and culture through head, hand and heart.

Using gardening, students learn language and culture through head, hand and heart.

Creating the Future of Lakota

Stadnick acknowledges that the road ahead is a long one, but their work is a building block. Through the Language Expansion program, the school is focusing on involving parents, training more teachers, and increasing community involvement. The simple act of labeling a garden in the Lakota language is creating an opportunity to share, and every opportunity adds up as a strategy to retain the language and the culture.

“Waldorf is not a concept, it’s a tool to infuse a rich and very old culture into the future,”  Stadnick says. With the support of First Nations, this community is strengthening this resource, training more teachers, and finding more ways to create the best outcomes for Lakota children. “It’s the most important aspect. They need the identity and culture – just like they need food and love.”

By Amy Jakober

Finding a Voice and Making it Heard: Defending Native Rights on the Border

New construction at Three Rivers is considered the hub for the Jupiter Oil Pipeline running to Brownsville, Texas.

New construction at Three Rivers is considered the hub for the Jupiter Oil Pipeline running to Brownsville, Texas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas — on the border and in the pathway of “the wall” — the future is precarious. Not federally recognized as a tribe and threatened daily by the impact of the Texas Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal and associated pipelines, the Carrizo/Comecrudo is in a race to identify its villages, gain proper recognition, and form a voice to protect its rights and land. It is an uphill fight, but with a new project funded in part by First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), progress is being made.

The Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe works to protect the Garcia Pasture, a sacred site in the Rio Grande Valley that contains remains of ancestors and cultural artifacts from various nomadic tribes, including the Carrizo/Comecrudo. The need for protection abounds: The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are huge environmental implications. And moreover, the members and sacred aspects of the original pre-Columbian villages surrounding Garcia Pasture have been not only ignored, but not even identified. And although the Carrizo/Comecrudo is not the official holder of the site, they are taking a stand.

“We, as Native people, have a right to speak out for what has been happening,” says Tribal Chairman, historian, storyteller, and Keeper of the Lifeways Juan Mancias.

Mancias explains that it’s something their people have to do because the threats are so pervasive. Before and beyond battling the LNG terminals, the Tribe has fought for a stronghold in Texas. The Tribe has endured centuries of historical trauma and oppression. It is not federally recognized, so there is no federal funding. Its people have scattered, and some were forced into Mexico when the border was established. Pollutants from the sale of substandard coal to Mexico have jeopardized their natural resources and the quality of the air and water. Ancestors are buried on the land they can’t defend. And the health of the Rio Grande, the home of Carrizo/Comecrudo for generations, is at risk.

Now, with the help of a First Nations Broad Reach Grant, which supports Native American-led community efforts toward environmental justice, the Tribe is addressing one of the biggest challenges through the “Build a Village, Save the Earth: Project Stop Texas LNG.”

Juan Mancias stands before Mariposa Village, one of the three camps in South Texas. Funds for Project Stop Texas LNG will go toward replenishing these camps with supplies, food, water, gas, and video and monitoring equipment.

Juan Mancias stands before Mariposa Village, one of the three camps in South Texas. Funds for Project Stop Texas LNG will go toward replenishing these camps with supplies, food, water, gas, and video and monitoring equipment.

Mancias explains that “liquefied natural gas” is natural gas that is cooled to a liquid state to make it easier to transport, as it becomes 1/600th of its original volume. He says Texas LNG aims to create an export facility on 625 acres at the Port of Brownsville near the Gulf of Mexico – a site chosen because it is close to the Permian Basin, where natural gas is extracted, and near existing pipelines. With the new facility will come more pipelines, from a supplier that has not been identified, and more fracking practices, which are already having an impact. Mancias says the region has already experienced over a million small earthquakes, and there are significant concerns that natural springs and the underground aquifer is being polluted by wastewater that is being reinjected into the ground. And all of it is happening directly on the Garcia Pasture site.

“Everything is being connected,” adds Mancias. “It affects us as a Tribe, our people living along this river, and all the way up. We’re concerned about the desecration of our burial sites, but also for our clean water. Everything is coming where we maintained an existence.”

By Amy Jakober

The ocean Derricks that are brought into Port of Brownsville for repair will add to the panorama if the three LNGs and Jupiter Refinery become part of the Bahia Grande area.

The ocean Derricks that are brought into Port of Brownsville for repair will add to the panorama if the three LNGs and Jupiter Refinery become part of the Bahia Grande area.

Investing for the Future at the Isleta Pueblo, NM Helps Build Native Communities

Investing at Isleta small group 500 pixels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Achieving Native Financial Empowerment, a key program of First Nations Development Institute, is an undertaking dedicated to fostering healthy financial habits and lifestyles among Native people of all ages and backgrounds. Each summer First Nations conducts at least one Building Native Communities-themed train-the-trainer workshop to expand a growing base of community trainers who deliver financial empowerment classes to eager audiences across Indian Country.

On July 31st and August 1st, 2019, First Nations conducted Investing for the Future in Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico. Hosted in partnership with Tiwa Lending Services and made possible by generous support from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation, the interactive workshop introduced participants to engaging curriculum that featured activities, techniques, and resources specially designed for teaching basic investing skills to Native American audiences.

“We’re very pleased with the favorable response for Building Native Communities: Investing for the Future,” stated Jackie Francke, Vice President of Programs and Administration at First Nations. “We hosted attendees from a wide range of organizations that included tribal housing, the CDFI industry, and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. All these partners share a common need for investing education content that is not only timely but also highly relatable to Native communities.”

Investing for the Future builds upon First Nations’ other Building Native Communities financial empowerment training programs by focusing on challenges a beginning investor in Indian Country might face such as budgeting tribal per capita dividends, managing sales proceeds from the Land Buy Back Program for Tribal Nations, or simply building a retirement nest egg. Sharon Yatsattie, an office automation assistant from the Office of the Special Trustee, an office under the Secretary of the Interior with the fiduciary responsibility to manage Indian funds held in trust by the federal government, attended the workshop to improve her training skills and gain insights on money management.

“It was a wonderful training and it helped me look at my own finances in a new light,” commented Yatsattie. “I’ve taken finance courses before but Investing for the Future enabled me to take ownership of topics such as emergency savings, wealth building, and asset allocation in a more personalized context.”

In addition to Investing for the Future First Nations has created an investor education tool kit in partnership with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. The co-branded materials include Fighting Fraud 101 and Investor Alert: New Money Coming into Indian Country to address issues confronting recipients of lump sum and windfall payments. These free brochures and handouts can be downloaded at FirstNations.org while hard copies can be requested using the FINRA Foundation online warehouse at SaveAndInvest.org.

For more information on Investing for the Future and other financial empowerment programs offered by First Nations Development Institute please contact Shawn Spruce, First Nations Programs Consultant at agoyopi@gmail.com.

By Shawn Spruce

Investing at Isleta group photo 500 pixels

 

Philanthropy Opens Doors for Native Innovation

The Catalyst Fund is an example of the philanthropic community listening to the Native community and responding with action. In August 2019, the Network announced 14 grant award recipients, including four Indigenous Communities recipients.

The Catalyst Fund is an example of the philanthropic community listening to the Native community and responding with action. In August 2019, the Network announced 14 grant award recipients, including four Indigenous Communities recipients.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s no secret there is innovation in Indian Country. It is especially apparent in landscape conservation, where Native populations have called on their centuries of knowledge, practices and traditions to honor, maximize and sustain their land for generations. But limits in philanthropic grant guidelines have made it difficult to implement and expand Native approaches and also contribute them as best practices for other conservationists. Now, in efforts to harness this Native innovation for the good of collaboration and progress, the Network for Landscape Conservation is launching a new grant program, opening new doors for Native communities and new collaborative, effective solutions for the environment.

A Mission to Meet

The Network for Landscape Conservation is an umbrella network of more than 250 organizational partners and 3,000 individual practitioners that implement and advance strategies that conserve our natural landscapes. The network supports the evolution of land conservation as a larger and more holistic approach, as people increasingly recognize that landscapes encompass our water, ecosystems, communities, culture, and recreation, and that protecting and sustaining them is essential to people’s identity, health and future.

Conservation at this necessary landscape scale calls for moving beyond piece-meal or top-down approaches and embracing inclusive, community-grounded conservation focused on the health of whole landscapes. And it means collaborating across the private-public land continuum to achieve enduring landscape health.  

This essential paradigm shift in conservation has been building for several decades, with landscape-scale partnerships forming in multiple regions across the country, but, according to Network Director Emily Bateson, these groups weren’t talking to each other at first.

“Everyone was recreating the proverbial wheel, trying to figure out how to work collaboratively across large landscapes,” Bateson explains. “The Network was launched in 2011 by more than 25 nonprofit groups, academic institutions, and agencies to connect people to the best resources, and practices, and to each other in order to accelerate the pace of collaboration and conservation on our imperiled landscapes.” The Network is fiscally sponsored by one of its founding organizations, the Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC) in Bozeman, Montana.

Bateson notes that we can all learn from each other as we advance collaborative conservation of whole landscapes, and that we have much to learn in particular from the Native community, which has embraced this holistic approach for thousands of years.

Catalysts for change: Emily Bateson, director of the Network for Landscape Conservation, poses with Loren BirdRattler, project manager for the Blackfeet Tribe’s Agriculture Resource Management Plan, and Beth Connover, director of the Salazar Center for North American Conservation and coordinating committee member of the Network for Landscape Conservation.

Catalysts for change: Emily Bateson, director of the Network for Landscape Conservation, poses with Loren BirdRattler, project manager for the Blackfeet Tribe’s Agriculture Resource Management Plan, and Beth Connover, director of the Salazar Center for North American Conservation and coordinating committee member of the Network for Landscape Conservation.

A catalyst for change

The Network is fortunate to operate a new grant awards program to help accelerate the pace and effective practice of place-based, collaborative landscape conservation across the United States, generously funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Hewlett Foundation has specifically designated some of its funding for Native population grants.

Opening the doors to Native populations has required some careful thinking by the Network and CLLC on how to best award money for landscape conservation projects. To that end, they created the Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund, which recognizes that:

“Indigenous collaboratives are often rich with qualities that embody and enhance landscape conservation—including a multigenerational approach, the use of traditional knowledge, the integration of other important societal issues (health, jobs, education, etc.), and a value system that prioritizes symbiotic health between the landscape and its inhabitants.”

Based on this, applying for grants through the Catalyst Fund is open to all Indigenous-led partnerships that are focused on the long-term health of their ecological or cultural landscapes or that focus on advancing and conserving indigenous/aboriginal interests, territories, and rights across a specific landscape.

And yet, Bateson explains how the new Catalyst Fund first required applicants to be designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations – a requirement that excluded many Native organizations, including those with the most need and the most promise in holistic, effective landscape conservation.

The Fund quickly adapted to include applicants with a 7871 designation, an IRS tax code applicable to sovereign nations.

Melly Reuling, deputy director of the CLLC, says that Native communities understand that conservation efforts have an ecological, economic, and cultural impact and that the Catalyst Fund provides an opportunity to build on their efforts, whether they be in wildlife, protecting natural habitats, enforcing hunting and fishing rights or treaty rights, entering into MOUs with other agencies, or other initiatives in conservation.

“CLLC is here specifically for raising money for coordination and collaboration — to get the money to the right groups, and support in Indian communities is an extension of that,” she says. “We all do better work when we’re together.”

Listening and responding

The Catalyst Fund is an example of the philanthropic community listening to the Native community and responding with action. Not only has the eligibility criteria changed, but the Fund also addresses the lack of broadband and internet connectivity issues in Indian Country, as Catalyst Fund Native population applications can be submitted by hard copy instead of online only. The Fund also support webinars and in-person convenings so that grantees – Native and other landscape partnerships – can connect and learn from each other in new and vibrant ways. “We know we have a lot to learn from our Native partners and hope the Catalyst Fund can help facilitate that,” notes Bateson.

To get the word out about the funding opportunity, the Network turned to a Native advisory committee and personal outreach to the Native community, and they received almost 50 indigenous applications in the pre-proposal stage and 271 pre-proposals overall, says Bateson. Applicants may request a one- or two-year grant of $10,000 to $25,000, drawing from $330,000 per year in the overall fund. A request for proposals will be released for the second year of funding in early 2020 and native communities are encouraged to learn more about the effort and apply.

In August 2019, the Network announced 14 grant award recipients, including four Indigenous Communities recipients.

Loren BirdRattler, project manager for the Blackfeet Tribe’s Agriculture Resource Management Plan, is a member of the Network’s leadership and is excited about how the fund can tap into knowledge that the Native community has known all along.

“Indigenous people can be leaders in this field. The Blackfeet alone have been on our land for 15,000 years. They’ve led a spiritual life and they know how people and the land are integrated,” he says. “I would hope that non-Native people could learn from that.”

And there is a lot to learn. According to Reuling, “This is a funding resource people can use to share ideas, form partnerships, and benchmark their own progress,” says Reuling. “This can build bridges where there were none.”

Pictured with BirdRattler, Melly Reuling (left) is the deputy director of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, the fiscal sponsor of the Network and a key partner in the Catalyst Fund.

Pictured with BirdRattler, Melly Reuling (left) is the deputy director of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, the fiscal sponsor of the Network and a key partner in the Catalyst Fund.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Inclusive Philanthropy

The call for learning from Native communities is a mandate by the two funders of the Catalyst Fund, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Reuling says that the Network and CLLC are grateful for their support and vision.

Indeed, Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation reports that Hewlett programs are committed to examining how they can expand their networks to new grantees; support field-wide efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion; and be more inclusive of the views of the people their philanthropy ultimately seeks to help.

In backing the Catalyst Fund, the Hewlett Foundation sends a message to the philanthropic community that it is listening and responding to the needs of organizations and agencies trying to effect change.

Lindsay Austin Louie, Program Officer of Philanthropy Grantmaking for the Hewlett Foundation, explains that the Foundation’s Effective Philanthropy Group supports high-quality research by a range of organizations about how to do philanthropy well in order to improve funders’ work. “We know that much of what influences their practice is peers, so it is exciting to see the Catalyst Fund making changes so that their philanthropy will be more inclusive.”

Mike Roberts, President of First Nations Development Institute, which has also received grant funding from Hewlett Foundation for other projects, applauds both foundations and the Network for recognizing the potential inside Indian Country and improving their approaches to making funding available. He cites research contained in First Nations report, “We Need to Change How We Think,” about the declining levels of giving by large foundations, as well as minuscule levels of giving by community foundations, to Native American organizations and causes.

“Seeing the philanthropic community take active steps to make their giving more inclusive is vital to the sustainability and success of Native-led organizations, which are some of the most innovative out there,” Roberts says. “We never doubted whether grants that included the sophisticated practices of Indian people could make a difference, and we now look forward to seeing how practices like this make a long-term difference in philanthropy and grant making.”

Bateson too sees promise in the direction. “It’s our hope that we show people the tremendous value in this area for funding and that the Catalyst Fund continues to grow,” she says. “We’re at the beginning of an important process, and the need is clearly there.”

For more information about the Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund, please see http://landscapeconservation.org/catalyst-fund/, and sign up for the Network e-news to receive   future updates.

By Amy Jakober

 

Protecting Native Resources through Education and Outreach

For the RedTailed Hawk Collective (Collective) in Pembroke, North Carolina, funding from First Nations couldn’t have come at a better time, says RedTailed Senior Campaigner Donna Chavis. “We are facing an onslaught from just about every angle in terms of environmental degradation,” she says. But now, they are able to ramp up outreach and community education, taking advantage of a lull in corporate activity to get people more informed and to stop further damage to their land, air and water.

An Environment Under Threat

The Collective operates in a coastal area of North Carolina that is characterized by high poverty and extreme underservice by the state and economic developers. It is an area where Native tribes are fragmented, with many members having moved away over time. The ones remaining often have minimal knowledge of their tribal rights, or ways to unite together to stand up for them.

When companies and developers start advancing projects, there is little organization of Native populations to come together in opposition. Many Native landowners have already been talked into selling or leasing their properties, and tribal members in the area face ongoing threats against their rights, homes, and health that they may not even realize – land degradation, deforestation, fossil fuel pollution, and an increase in chicken and hog farms that produce biofuel from animal waste.

One of the biggest areas of concern is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is being proposed to transport liquified natural gas across 600 miles from West Virginia to southeastern North Carolina. The path of the pipeline will cross streams, forests, swamplands and even graves, causing direct damage to culturally important areas and the Native resources of four tribes – the  Lumbee, Haliwa-Saponi, Coharie, and Meherrin.

Organized for Action

To activate a voice for these tribes, the Southeast Indigenous Climate Change Working Group was formed under the RedTailed Hawk Collective. This group provides a unified base for the four tribes to collectively oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and raise awareness about the impact the pipeline – and all corporate undertakings – will have on the environment.

A member of the Lumbee Tribe and an anti-pipeline activist, Chavis is leading the group’s efforts, with support from the Hawkeye Indian Cultural Center and Friends of the Earth. So far, progress has been made in developing a Memorandum of Agreement to formalize a tribal partnership and generate attention to tribal, cultural and natural resource concerns, which have been greatly ignored by politicians, the media, and even mainstream environmental organizations. Through the working group, the four tribes are reaching out to the additional tribes of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi, Sapony, and Waccamaw Siouan. They are bringing in Native leadership from North Carolina State University and drawing from the large Native population at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, a school steeped in Native allegiance based on being the first state-supported four-year college in the country to accept American Indians.

Through this involvement, Chavis says, the group is doing the important on-the-ground work, organizing, and mobilizing volunteers all in an effort to amplify the Native voice – a voice that is crucial for not only protecting Native rights but ensuring tribal determination for Native health and welfare.

Perfect Timing

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline had been expedited through environmental review under the Trump Administration, and, based on this, did not follow federal law requiring tribal consultation. Construction began in West Virginia in May 2018; however — to the benefit of the working group — development was halted in December 2018 in response to concerns over federal permits issued by the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of which would have allowed the pipelines to cross two forests and the Appalachian Trail. The court vacated this permit, but now the developer is appealing to the U.S Supreme Court and lobbying Congress to override the court’s decision.

To advance education and outreach efforts during this delay in political and environmental activity, the Collective applied for and received funding through First Nations Development Institute’s Broad Reach Fund, a grant program designed to support Native American-led community efforts pursuing environmental justice.

“The timing is perfect,” says Chavis. “It’s like a train got out of control and is now off the tracks. We can use this time to ramp up our local organizing surrounding the pipeline and the LNG facility.”

Indeed, funding from First Nations will allow the group to identify and develop materials that will help expand the knowledge base of tribal communities. The scope of work is large. Project objectives include:

  • Reaching out to Southeastern Indigenous Peoples and letting them know that, despite the claims of developers, the pipeline is neither necessary to meet the energy needs of the community, nor economically or environmental responsible.
  • Providing training opportunities for people to connect and strengthen their efforts to protect Native resources.
  • Leading strategies to unite the Native population and mount an opposition to pipeline developers and legislators.
  • Investigating legal remedies, including how the pipeline abuses eminent domain and uses misleading information to apply for and obtain permits.

Chavis asserts that outreach like this is costly and would not be possible without the help of First Nations.

“A lot of times funders won’t support conferences and convenings, but First Nations recognizes the importance of bringing people together,” Chavis says. “With the infusion of these resources, we’re able to focus more directly on our organizing.”

The need to organize is growing by the day, as there are already ramifications of “dirty industry,” Chavis explains. There have been increases in toxic elements from animal waste and a surge in respiratory illnesses. And without a proper opposition, the damage from both the pipeline and the LNGs will only continue. The area, known as the “Amazon of North Carolina” for its diversity in  waterways, plants, animals, and other lifeforms, will become a cesspool, says Chavis.

“It really is that serious,” she says. “This is everyone’s issue, not just one community’s.”

Going forward, the group hopes to create a ripple effect of education and awareness about the pervasive power of energy companies, the true footprints of proposed pipelines, and the effects that all pollutants have on the environment, whether it’s biofuels in North Carolina or fracked gas coming down from Pennsylvania.

“These threats come in all forms, and we do not differentiate,” says Chavis. “They all impact our resources and rights, and we’re here to address them all.”

While there is an uphill climb ahead, Chavis says Native people are becoming much more informed and empowered about their rights and ready to stand their ground when it comes to land ownership and federal laws. She is also optimistic about the mobilization of Native peoples and what it can mean for Native communities, perhaps even laying the groundwork for tribal nations to get control of their own energy sources. “We’re excited about the possibilities and the interest that the tribes have already shown,” she says. “And without funding from First Nations, that sort of thing couldn’t happen.”

By Amy Jakober

Beating the Clock to Keep the Yuchi Language Alive

94-year-old Maxine and 3-year-old Chaské Turning Heart represent the oldest and the youngest Yuchi speakers.

94-year-old Maxine and 3-year-old Chaské Turning Heart represent the oldest and the youngest Yuchi speakers.

In Sapulpa, Oklahoma, over 20 years ago, the Yuchi language was disappearing. With the Yuchi people withstanding generations of trauma and annihilation, their language had dwindled to a few Native speakers, and it was on the verge of extinction. The Yuchi Language Project has changed that destiny. And now, with funding from First Nations Development Institute’s Native Language Immersion Initiative, this organization is building on its programming in a race against time to ensure that the Yuchi language – and the culture, identity and perseverance that come with it – lives on.

Language of a People

Halay Turning Heart, project administrator for the Yuchi Language Project, explains that Yuchi is an isolate language. This means it is completely distinct, without related languages from which it has borrowed words or blended. It is guessed that the language reflects the culture of the people who speak it: exclusive, select, proud and, moreover, tenacious despite many obstacles.

Turning Heart explains how the Yuchi people were among the Native tribes forced from their homelands to Oklahoma on the “Trail of Tears.” Through the genocide, oppression and trauma, the Yuchi survived and remained unyielding, even years later when assimilation efforts were in full force, their children were sent to boarding schools, and “English Only” laws were implemented throughout their communities. Today, the Yuchi Tribe is not federally recognized as its own nation. Much of the tribe has been fragmented, with many members now enrolled Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Further, the remaining roughly 2,400 Yuchi people are spread out, with the Yuchi language concentrated in the Sapulpa area.

The Yuchi Language Project immerses people of all ages through classes at the “Endangered Language Habitat.”

The Yuchi Language Project immerses people of all ages through classes at the “Endangered Language Habitat.”

Still, while it can be said that the Yuchi language is weak in that its number of speakers became reduced to a handful. More accurately, the fact that the language has withstood through so many hardships is more a testament to its strength.

“The Yuchi people are very independent, self-reliant and self-determined,” Turning Heart says. “This has reinforced our language.”

It is the fortitude of the Yuchi people and their commitment to their language that brought them to the point 25 years ago when the Yuchi Language Project was founded.

Endangered Language Habitat

The Yuchi Language Project is a community-based organization dedicated to restoring the strength of the Yuchi language and thereby the cultural health of the Yuchi people. Since its inception it has worked to produce written Yuchi materials where none had existed, harvest the knowledge and stories of the few Yuchi-speaking elders, and develop immersion practices that would build fluency and create the next generation of Yuchi speakers. The project serves the entire Yuchi community through language classes for all ages, culture camps, master-apprentice sessions, curriculum development and youth programs like sports and clubs.

Learning the language young, kids soon become ambassadors for Yuchi culture throughout the community.

Learning the language young, kids soon become ambassadors for Yuchi culture throughout the community.

Now, with funding from First Nations, the organization is building on its success with the project gOnEEnû O’wAdAnA, meaning “A New Generation of Yuchi Speakers.” This project is designed to further sustain the Yuchi language by targeting young people (preschoolers and students in K-12). Turning Heart explains how it is critical to offer a program that engages children in learning Yuchi starting from an early-childhood stage through their schooling years so that they can keep growing their language skills.

Key to these efforts is the project’s “Endangered Language Habitat,” a physical space in which only Yuchi can be spoken and to speak English, one must step outside.

“We are dedicated to that boundary,” says Turning Heart. “Once we literally open the door to English, we see that it seeps in.”

Allowing English not only jeopardizes the students’ ability to learn Yuchi, it also oppresses the Native language and the pride and identity it encompasses. “When English is the language of commerce and the legal system, it becomes the only language that is valued, and the only one that matters,” says Turning Heart. “By creating an endangered language habitat, we’re raising the prestige of our language. We’re building pride in our students and their ability to speak Yuchi.”

The project takes steps to also make the learning process fun, with processes focused on peer-to-peer learning, sports, and active games in which teams may “lose points” if they accidentally speak English. Through it all, they are already seeing children learning the language faster and at a younger age. Moreover, the success of the language immersion is spilling into other areas.

For example, Yuchi language instructors use a method called Total Physical Response, Native sign language, and curriculum materials based on seasonal themes relating to the Yuchi cultural cycle. This means students learn the Yuchi language, and they learn in the way that Yuchi people best learn, which promotes academic skills and results in higher scholastic achievement.

This approach directly addresses a misperception in the local community about Yuchi children and how many automatically believe they need English as a Second Language classes. “There’s a lot of ignorance about our language, and as a result it can be looked down on,” Turning Heart says. “But all our kids are also fluent English speakers. We work to educate everyone that learning Yuchi doesn’t displace their English fluency. It actually builds both languages.

“It’s a misunderstanding that kids who speak Yuchi need extra help,” she says. “In reality, studies show that people who are bilingual are more likely to outperform in every area and to do better academically.”

Documenting the Language, Learning from Others

Through the First Nations funding, the Yuchi Language Project is also aiming to train more language instructors and create multimedia learning materials that document not just the language but also the memories and perspectives of the Yuchi elders.

They are having elders retell old stories and capturing their presentations on video. They are also collecting older recordings of Yuchi speakers who have passed away and having current elders interpret their words as youth create accompanying visuals. In the end they aim to have a series of videos that can be shared in classes or with the public. Kids will have a way to watch, listen and learn and there will be more ways to access the stories and traditions of the Yuchi culture that would have been lost forever.

Sports are played using the Yuchi language only. To make the learning fun, team that use English by mistake may lose points.

Sports are played using the Yuchi language only. To make the learning fun, teams that use English by mistake may lose points.

Also – through a separate travel scholarship from First Nations – delegates of the Yuchi Language Project were able to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2019, during the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages. The forum is the UN’s central coordinating body for matters relating to the concerns and rights of the world’s Indigenous peoples. There, Turning Heart says, they were able to meet with other language advocates and teachers who were in the same situation.

“We all have elders getting into their 80s and 90s, and we all only have a few years to capture their insights. We’re not alone in this struggle,” she says.

At the same time, Turning Heart says it was inspiring to feel “unity at a global level.” They could see what was happening internationally and locally, and how others are prevailing at passing down language so key to people’s cultures.

“At the end of the day, language is tied to everything,” she says. “It is a lens through which we see the culture. Without the language, we would lose our foods, ceremonies and stories.”

Speaking of Strength

Indeed, thanks to the Yuchi Language Project, the Yuchi language is sustaining, reflecting the strength and perseverance of a people. It is known as one of the world’s most ancient and richest languages and it continues to carry centuries of tradition, history and the unique Yuchi perspective. The project has future goals of expanding its programming, reaching more students and continuing to build fluency in the next generations. Moreover, it is bringing joy to Yuchi elders who thought the language would die with them.

English Stops Here

One of those elders is 94-year-old Maxine Wildcat Barnett, who has served as a bridge to the past, with memories and stories dating back to the 1800s, and who hadn’t heard the language spoken by young people since she was a little girl. Now, seeing the young students participate in Yuchi ceremonies and be ambassadors for the language, has created a huge source of pride. “I think seeing the language live on has been her purpose,” Turning Heart says. “I think it’s how she’s lived so long.”

Turning Heart is grateful for the support of the Yuchi community and First Nations in advancing the project’s efforts. “They understand the importance of our language and the strength of our people,” she says. “We’re up against the clock, but we’re not going to let it die on our watch.”

By Amy Jakober

Sister Cities Brings Arapaho Youth to Traditional Homelands

Northern Arapaho youth, chaperones and Sister Cities personnel at the Longmont Civic Center.

Northern Arapaho youth, chaperones, Longmont youth and Sister Cities volunteers at the Longmont Civic Center.

“We want your homeland to be your home,” affirmed Mayor Brian Bagley of Longmont, Colorado, speaking to Arapaho high schoolers and their chaperones at First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), which is headquartered in Longmont. The youth were joined by their Longmont youth partners and chaperones, Sister Cities volunteers and First Nations staff members who hosted the group for breakfast on June 14, 2019.

The Arapaho youth and their chaperones, Jana Grey and Grayson Medicine Cloud, were hosted in Longmont as part of the city’s effort to create an official Sister Cities relationship with the Northern Arapaho of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

“It’s great to have you here,” said Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Vice President of Grantmaking, Development and Communications. “Our work here is about making Native communities strong and innovative, and young people are important to that.” In April of this year, First Nations awarded a $90,000 grant to the Northern Arapaho as part of its Native Language Immersion Initiative to support the development of a master-apprentice language program to educate and empower Northern Arapaho tribal members.

First Nations' Raymond Foxworth, left, with Sister Cities volunteer Ray Ramirez during the visit to First Nations.

First Nations’ Raymond Foxworth, left, with Sister Cities volunteer Ray Ramirez during the visit to First Nations.

Jace Buffalo, 15, enthused, “It’s actually pretty great, the things that First Nations talked about – what they are doing for all the tribes. I’m excited about all these people here we’re getting to know. The students from Longmont are pretty awesome to hang out with. At first, I was hesitant – I’m mostly a homebody – this is a kind of new experience for me.”

“This is a great chance for the kids to have this experience,” explained Medicine Cloud, who was chaperoning the youth as part of his position as Northern Arapaho Youth Coordinator. “We worked hard to encourage kids to come. I pitched it to the parents, and they were excited. Their parents want them to do things. The kids liked the idea at first, but then they would get afraid and change their minds.”

“Take Healthy Risks”

“Some of our kids have never even left the reservation,” added Grey, also a chaperone and a youth coordinator for the tribe. “We want to encourage them to take risks – healthy risks – for new experiences that help them grow and learn confidence.”

Longmont has been involved in the Sister Cities International initiative since 1991 and has partnerships with Chino, Japan, and Ciudad Guzman in Mexico. Sister Cities International was the vision of President Dwight Eisenhower, who proposed the program at a White House Conference on Citizen Diplomacy in 1956. Eisenhower believed that forming relationships between peoples of different cultures around the world through building city-to-city partnerships would foster peace and prosperity and help to avert future conflicts. The developing partnership with the Northern Arapaho, when it is finalized, would be the first of its kind: an American city in partnership with a sovereign Native American nation.

The youth listen to a brief presentation at First Nations, along with chaperones Jana Grey at right, and Grayson Medicine Cloud in the back of the room.

The youth listen to a brief presentation at First Nations, along with chaperones Jana Grey in foreground at right, and Grayson Medicine Cloud, wearing a hat in the back.

The seeds for the connection between Longmont and the Northern Arapaho were planted when Mayor Bagley, deeply impacted by a documentary on the Lakota of Pine Ridge Reservation, decided he needed to be responsible to the history that has so severely disadvantaged the Indigenous peoples of the U.S. With help and advice from Carmen Ramirez, Longmont’s Community and Neighborhood Resource Manager, and her husband, Ray Ramirez, a recently retired staff member of the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colorado, Mayor Bagley reached out to Sister Cities volunteer board members and the Northern Arapaho to open a conversation about the possibility of a Sister Cities relationship between the city and the tribe.

In August 2018, a delegation from Longmont traveled to the Wind River Reservation to open a dialogue with the Northern Arapaho. Led by Mayor Bagley, the delegation included Carmen and Ray Ramirez, Janice Rebhan – the Sister Cities board member who manages Longmont’s Sister Cities relationships with Mexico and Japan – and other Sister Cities volunteers and City of Longmont staff members. The Longmont group met with the Arapaho elders, known to the Arapaho as the Four Old Men, and the Tribal Business Council.

The dialogue ranged across topics from the sharing of Arapaho knowledge to expectations of a plan for conserved open space for tribal use in Longmont to ideas for managing efficient electricity and broadband.

A Starting Point

“At this starting point, we discussed beginning with something small scale,” explained Rebhan. “We opened the idea of a getting the youth of the communities together, and that was important to Crawford [White, one of the Four Old Men] – to do something that would make the kids comfortable and to allow them to expand their horizons and know their actual homeland.”

The youth enjoy breakfast burritos and fruit during their visit to First Nations.

The youth and chaperones enjoy breakfast burritos, granola bars and fruit during their visit to First Nations.

Just a few weeks later, in September, the Arapaho Business Council including Chair Lee Spoonhunter and Stephen Fast Horse, along with the rest of the business council and other tribal members, visited Longmont. The group decided to use the Sister Cities template for youth exchanges to organize a visit during which Longmont youth would host Northern Arapaho youth.

Jenny Diaz-Leon, a chaperone for the Longmont youth during the gathering, has been a chaperone for the Longmont Sister Cities youth exchanges to Mexico and Japan. Diaz-Leon emphasized the importance of building youth relationships across cultural lines: “My culture is who I am; I am submerged in my traditions, celebrations and norms. I believe when we come together and honor other people’s cultures, learn about their music, dances, food, ceremonies, we learn so much; we learn more about ourselves and build genuine friendships.”

To prepare for the visit, the Longmont youth and their parents engaged in an experiential exercise on the Doctrine of Discovery with Boulder Friends Meeting, a Quaker group, called “Toward Right Relationship with Native American Peoples.” Jennifer Kamenides, mother to Gwendolyn, one of the Longmont youth participants, said the experience impacted her deeply. “History is not history,” she emphasized, “it’s now. We are living on Arapaho ancestral lands because they were forced away. We have to figure out how to understand and deal with that in a fair way.”

“Need to Keep Learning”

Longmont youth host Estella Percarpio added, “After learning about such a dark and sad history, I thought there would be a lot of heaviness for the weekend. But there isn’t. We’re having fun. We’ll keep getting to know each other, and we need to keep learning.”

“Guilt should never be the base of this relationship,” affirmed Ray Ramirez. “We need these kids, the parents, everyone, to be open to education and for people to be willing to be responsible and take good actions.”

The Arapaho teenagers first met their Longmont youth hosts at dusk in Dawson Park for pizza and cake. Silhouetted by the sunset and reflections off Macintosh Lake, they began to get to know each other. It did not take long for them to share smiles and start their journey toward friendship.

The youth learn about First Nations during their visit to Longmont.

The youth learn about First Nations during their visit to Longmont.

The next two days were filled with events like painting ceramic tiles and skateboard decks, learning about interviewing and storytelling with local radio station KGNU, swimming and game-playing at Longmont’s recreational center, sharing communal meals, and each Arapaho teen sharing supper at the home of their Longmont partner host.

“This has been such a wonderful experience to be a part of,” stated Carmen Ramirez. “We’ve worked in Native communities, and there are always the stereotypes. This generation needs to be proud of who they are, their own cultures, and proud of where they come from. We older folks need to step back and allow them to grow into leaders and to lead.”

Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley, near left in suit, discusses the city's developing relationship with the Northern Arapaho Tribe of the Wind River Reservation.

Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley, near left in suit, discusses the city’s developing relationship with the Northern Arapaho Tribe of the Wind River Reservation.

Final Celebration

On the final night of the youth gathering, the Arapaho visitors, hosts, city officials and allies met at the Longmont Museum and Cultural Center for dinner and a celebration of the gathering. The celebration featured a ceremonial dance and blessing of the youth by Tlahuitzcalli, an Aztec dance group, a Grass Dance by 14-year-old Nemo Divers, a performance of songs by sisters, Cedar and Miracle Manzanares, and a video sing-along thank you from the Longmont youth, featuring the lyrics to the Beatles’ iconic “Hey Jude” and photos from the weekend. The Manzanares sisters also led the audience in a Round Dance on stage to, in their words, “promote love and good feelings.”

Cedar was reflective in the quiet moments before breakfast at the Ramirez home the morning after the closing celebration. When asked about why she participated in the youth gathering, she explained, “Sometimes kids don’t get to have a life or they make bad decisions, get stuck just partying and not thinking about the future. I want to keep this partnership, to keep in touch, to be a role model for kids so people can be proud and don’t give up. It’s all about kindness and communication and making community.”

By Virginia Kennedy, West Nottingham Academy

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

Tour participants and staff at the beach.

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

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

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

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

Traditional Foods

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

Tour attendees learned much about traditional foods and medicines.

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

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

Traditional Medicines

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

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

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

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

View of trees from Neah Bay on the Makah reservation.

View of trees from Neah Bay on the Makah reservation.

House of Myths

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

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

Healing to Wellness Court

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

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

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

Ethnobotanical Gardens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting Inherent Powers, Keeping Wisdom for the Sicangu Lakota

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

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

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

The Keepers of Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broad Reach Funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treaty council meeting

Treaty council meeting

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

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

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

Broad-Scale Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Seven Generations

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

By Amy Jakober

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

Charity Navigator 4 Stars 600px

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

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

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

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

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

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