Penobscot Club Provides Safe Haven for Micmac Youth

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Club

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

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

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

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

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

Responding to Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reinforcing Native Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Amy Jakober

Report: Youth Programs Underfunded, Overstretched

Positive Pathways

Positive Pathways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Artists and Sustaining the Dakota Way of Life

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

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

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

Art as a Lifeway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art for Healing. Art for All.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Capacity to Grow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positioned to Meet Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Amy Jakober

First Nations Publishes Ecological Stewardship Reports

Eco Stewardship Convening Report cover 500px

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

They are:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The report shares examples of programs in which:

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

 

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

Success Story Part 3: An Artist Community

ZYEP now reaches over 700 kids, a record high, and ZYEP participants report greater psychological well-being. The Ho’n A:wan Park will further the mission of ZYEP and provide a dedicated space for Zuni culture to continue to thrive.

ZYEP now reaches over 700 kids, a record high, and ZYEP participants report greater psychological well-being. The Ho’n A:wan Park will further the mission of ZYEP and provide a dedicated space for Zuni culture to continue to thrive.

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 third and final 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.

ZYEP_logo11

PART 3
An Artists Community

In building the Ho’n A:wan Park, a new standard was set.

While Zuni Youth Enrichment Project had always collaborated with the community and pursued only approaches that integrate the Zuni culture, the input of artists was not always sought. Zuni Youth Enrichment Project was a youth development project but not an arts-based organization, says Joseph Claunch, Ph.D., co-director of the Zuni Enrichment Project.

In moving forward with the Ho’n A:wan Park, ZYEP approached local artists and ensured their voices were heard. What everyone soon realized was the perspective and resourcefulness of this population. And ultimately, this artists’ group not only became critical contributors to the park, it established itself as a resource for future projects at ZYEP and throughout the entire community.

Belonging to All of Us

While 80 percent of adults living in Zuni Pueblo identify as artists, they did not always come together in purpose. But with objectives of the ArtPlace America Community Development Initiative calling for local artists to lead ZYEP’s development of a park space, getting their input was essential.

Through a connection with the local artists, ZYEP advertised for participation for the official Artists Committee. To participate, artists had to be masters in their art form, well-respected in the community, and willing to advocate for their ideas. The organization brought together 15 artists, and ultimately had six active, engaged members.

Their buy-in and participation was essential, but they were cautious in the beginning, not about coming together as artists, but about the park project, Dr. Claunch recalls.

Indoors and outdoors, 11 murals showcase the skills of local artist while illustrating Zuni cultures and traditions. Having this ongoing spotlight on their work ensures that art is always valued and Zuni lifeways are being passed along to next generations.

Indoors and outdoors, 11 murals showcase the skills of local artists while illustrating Zuni cultures and traditions. Having this ongoing spotlight on their work ensures that art is always valued and Zuni lifeways are being passed along to next generations.

“They were skeptical, voicing that a lot of people came to the community and said they wanted to do this or that, but plans would typically fall through,” he says. “It was humbling to hear.”

Dr. Claunch says the mistrust was justified, and all he could do was assert that they had funding, and they had the commitment to seeing this project through.

As plans continued, the artists overcame doubts and came together in regular weekly meetings among ZYEP, the Artists Committee and the architecture firm. Through the five months of planning, there were natural delays, Dr. Claunch says, which did trigger questions from the artists. Still, they remained committed, and he says he was continually impressed by their perspectives and insights.

“I was always amazed by how deep their strategies could go compared to ours,” he says. “They could approach youth development through a lens of art, and in doing so they could give Zuni youth a better sense of who they are, where they come from, and what’s important about being Zuni.”

Respected and Resourceful

As the planning and design went on, the artists were called on more and more. For example, when the project required wood posts for fences, the artists had resources to make that happen, Dr. Claunch says. “There were so many things in addition to producing art. They were resourceful and well-connected, and that led to them being sought out more by the community.”

Beyond sports, the park provides a gathering place for summer camps and youth-enrichment activities. Most importantly, it creates a space for art to be passed down and for Zuni children to learn about their culture and traditions. Here, kids learn Native design that will be featured on murals, pottery and signage throughout the community center.

Beyond sports, the park provides a gathering place for summer camps and youth-enrichment activities. Most importantly, it creates a space for art to be passed down and for Zuni children to learn about their culture and traditions. Here, kids learn Native design that will be featured on murals, pottery and signage throughout the community center.

He tells of his experience serving on a panel that was asked to question candidates running for governor of Zuni. Opinions were diverse and there were conflicts in regard to priorities and vision. “I was able to say, ‘We need an artist on this panel’,” he says. “Artists make up one of the largest stakeholder groups in Zuni and it makes sense to advocate for them.”

When an artist did join the panel, it changed the nature of the questions. “The focus became art-based. And that provided clarity that contributed to the success of the panel,” Dr. Claunch says.

A Model for the Future

The formalization of the Artists Committee has elevated the role of art in ZYEP programs. What became evident in the park design was the creativity and communication style of artists and an inherent approach that can make any project better.

For Tom Faber, MD, MPH, co-director of the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project, the Ho’n A:wan Park represented what is possible when the whole community comes together. “The tribe trusted us enough to provide a long-term lease for the land; cultural leaders offered insights on how to ensure that the park fit within the context of the Pueblo; community members identified their priorities for the space; and Zuni artists literally designed the park,” he says.

Their involvement has been memorialized with art throughout the community center and park and on plaques presented to them at the grand opening of the space. Dr. Claunch reports that upon seeing their names engraved, the artists were glowing.

The perimeter of the Ho’n A:wan Park and Community Center provides for an ever-evolving canvas. The Artists Committee played an integral role in not only sourcing the perimeter wall, but also ensuring it would be a vehicle to display and share Zuni art.

The perimeter of the Ho’n A:wan Park and Community Center provides for an ever-evolving canvas. The Artists Committee played an integral role in not only sourcing the perimeter wall, but also ensuring it would be a vehicle to display and share Zuni art.

Local artist and committee member Jeff Shetima was the first to be contacted by ZYEP for the project and was present at the public meetings to help recruit fellow artists. He says he’s been honored to be involved. A specialist in carving, jewelry making, metal art, drawing and painting, Shetima says the project empowered him to work with the architects and to see the artists’ vision come alive through the blueprints. He says the committee became like a family, and it provided a structure for bringing art to the community. “Every piece of art tells a story of our history and our culture, and every time someone sees a piece of art it opens a dialogue and becomes a learning tool,” he says.

Dr. Claunch adds that the committee also opened doors for artists to further contribute to the community. He says many are becoming increasingly organized in their efforts, and seeing this ArtPlace grant in action has inspired them to look for other opportunities to organize as community artists.

One of those opportunities has been the forming of an Arts Cooperative, says Shetima, which is further uniting many of the members of the Artists Committee in advancing Zuni art. “It’s made us stronger,” he says. “It’s given us a way to do what’s important for our community.”


In summary, this is a success story, illustrating what can happen when an organization has a vision and builds on momentum. It is what’s possible when programs take hold and funders see positive outcomes that inspire other funders.

Catherine Bryan, Director of Programs at First Nations, speaks of how ZYEP has thrived over time, and that by demonstrating impact, the organization has been able to achieve multi-year funding, which is imperative to long-term growth and sustainability, especially in Indian Country. “That’s what awesome about this model. It has allowed them to build capacity and that’s something all organizations need to aspire to.”

Invitation to the Grand Opening

Invitation to the Grand Opening

From the initial programming, to the establishing of a Ho’n A:wan, to elevating art through an Artists Committee, ZYEP is positioned well to keep going.

“If you would have asked us in 2008 if we would have done all this, it would have seemed very far-fetched,” adds Dr. Claunch. “Now there’s potential for even more.”

Through the park, he says, ZYEP has room to grow. They want to continue developing relationships, involving the community, and recognizing long-term partners, including First Nations, who have contributed to ZYEP’s mission. There is potential, Dr. Claunch says, in being a model for other youth organizations, and for developing more parks on the Zuni Pueblo.

“We want to have as many families and kids as possible doing fun, healthy things in the way of the Zuni people,” he says. “We want to dream big.”

By Amy Jakober

This is Part 3 of a three-part series.
You can see the previous sections at these links.

Part 1: http://indiangiver.firstnations.org/nl190102-04/
Part 2: http://indiangiver.firstnations.org/nl190304-01/

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 http://indiangiver.firstnations.org/nl190102-09/)

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

Agenda Shaping Up for Food Sovereignty Summit

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First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) and the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin (Oneida) again are co-hosting the national Food Sovereignty Summit. It will be held September 23-26, 2019, at the Radisson Hotel in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The Summit agenda is near final. Check it out here. Then get yourself registered!

The Food Sovereignty Summit began in 2013. It is the undisputed national forum for sharing and collaboration to build healthy food systems within Native American communities. Hundreds of attendees come from tribal communities all over that are actively involved in food sovereignty work, including caring for our land, sustaining food systems, and strengthening tribal sovereignty and partnerships between Native nations.

In addition to the numerous learning workshops, general sessions, traditional food tastings and networking opportunities, conference participants have the option of also attending an Experiential Learning Session at one of Oneida’s integrated food system sites. These Experiential Learning Sessions are extremely popular and fill up fast, and because space is limited, pre-registration is required. These sessions include:

  • Apple Orchard & Apple Fest
  • White Corn Husking Bee
  • Oneida Market and Oneida One-Stop Tour
  • Oneida Cannery Processing
  • Bee Keeping
  • Ecological Restoration

 

The conference workshops are divided into three tracks: Sustaining Food Systems, Strengthening Tribal Sovereignty, and Caring for Our Lands. Full information and a registration link can be found here.

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.

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PART 2
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.