Power to Fundraise: Investing in Native Development Capacity

The NFCoP project team included First Nations’ core NFCoP project staff, the NFCoP program designer, facilitator, and trainer, and the NFCoP advisors.

The NFCoP project team included First Nations’ core NFCoP project staff, the NFCoP program designer, facilitator, and trainer, and the NFCoP advisors.

At the back end of every organization is the development component — the internal system of fundraising, donor engagement, and donor stewardship that is imperative for successful operations and sustainability. But for many Native-led organizations, leaders and staff are in the weeds of programming and are not ideally positioned to carve out time to dedicate to fundraising. At the same time, many funders of these organizations support only programs and services and not necessarily the technical assistance or professional development needed to build their fundraising capacity.

Adding to this is the backdrop of diminished funding overall. In June 2018, First Nations reported that since 2006, on average, large foundations have given less than four-tenths of one percent of grants to nonprofits serving Native people (about half goes to Native-controlled organizations or organizations governed and led by Native people). What’s even more distressing is that, taking into account for inflation, that amounts to $4.3 million less every year to Native American organizations and causes. Further, a survey of First Nations Native food system community partners from 2011 to 2017 found that the top need of First Nations’ grantees today is training on fundraising and developing financial sustainability. This is why First Nations launched the Native Fundraisers Community of Practice.

About the NFCoP
The NFCoP, founded in 2019, was designed specifically based on the belief that change can only occur when Native people, Native-controlled nonprofit organizations, and tribal nations have the capacity to generate financial assets and implement solutions resulting in more equitable and impactful funding to ensure the economic, spiritual, and cultural well-being of Native communities, families, and children. At the core of this program is the creation of a community of practice, which provides critical functions, including teaching about fundraising, supporting collaboration, cultivating partnerships and encouraging sharing.

The project falls under First Nations’ larger project, Building a Sustainable Future for Native American Organizations, which was funded with generous support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and the Simmons Sister Fund. As such, the NFCoP focuses on stability and sustainability to grow the fundraising capacity of Native nonprofits and tribal government programs by ramping up the quality and quantity of philanthropic funding solicitations. The end goal: Increase their ability to serve their communities.

The NFCoP brought together core NFCoP project staff; the program designers, facilitators, and trainers Eileen Egan and Daryl Melvin from Melvin Consulting PLLC; and the four NFCoP advisors who are leaders in the field of philanthropy to deliver the main program components:

• Advising and Peer Support
• In-Person Training by Fundraising Experts
• Online Grants Course and Virtual Study Sessions
• Ongoing Post-Program Support

All activities and supporting program elements were intended to establish a trusting environment and a safe place for sharing, testing ideas, and taking risks.

Sharing and learning
Participants said the experience was valuable for both formalizing processes and strengthening projects and approaches to improve sustainability. Participant Aretta Begay, Executive Director of Diné be’ iiná Inc. (The Navajo Lifeway), said this training was one of the “most self-investing things” the organization could do for themselves.

 All NFCoP program activities were grounded in the following six core values: creativity, innovation, humor, knowledge sharing, storytelling and relationships.

All NFCoP program activities were grounded in the following six core values: creativity, innovation, humor, knowledge sharing, storytelling and relationships.

“In fundraising, a lot of us do what we do without realizing the structure behind it,” she said. For example, she explained that while she’s been a grant-writer for some time, she never had any formal training. But through the NFCoP, she heard from well-qualified advisors and trainers who actually broke down the grant-writing process.

One of those professionals was Joanie Buckley, Internal Services Division Director of the Oneida Community Integrated Food System for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. Buckley said as an advisor for the NFCoP, her focus was on participants and what they would gain from the training, which she described as eye-opening for many of them. “It gave them a different perspective in determining their needs and how they articulate them,” Buckley said. “Through the training they learned about new resources and were able to find funding sources for their respective projects and exchange ideas and philosophies.”

She said the emerging fundraisers in her group were not necessarily the grant-writers, and that they wear many hats. “They were in fact the program directors and this experience let them see how funders may think,” she said. “These directors often get removed from the process because they are busy developing their programs. In reality, they are actually the appropriate people to tell their story.”

Metrics-based outcomes
During the first in-person training, NFCoP members learned about the purpose and value of a community of practice and how to use this tool to build their fundraising skills and networks. They also were introduced to a prospect research database to develop a prospect list. The second in-person training, focused on storytelling and messaging using the Reclaiming Native Truth Messaging Guide; culturally responsive evaluation; federal grant writing; perfecting your pitch; and making “the ask.”

A key component that made the NFCoP stand apart from other grant-writing programs is that it addressed the negative and false narratives that exist about Native Americans in both the public and in mainstream philanthropy, and it introduced narrative change strategies to the benefit of the group’s fundraising efforts and overall services provided in Indian Country.

Participants left with the resources and skills to inspire their own organizations and make significant progress in advancing the sustainability of their work and communities. Since the conclusion of the 2019 NFCoP in November, several members have attributed fundraising success to their participation with over $2.5 million in grants received, including one participant who never wrote a proposal before but applied for and received a $5,000 grant for his organization.

For Alicia Gourd-Mackin, Social Work Instructor, Social Worker and Co-Founder of the Indigenous Birth and Breastfeeding Collective of North Dakota, knowledge gained through the community of practice provided her with not only technical skills but also the ability to articulate and present their programs to potential thunders. “It put things into perspective for me,” she said. “It helped me see the process from the grant provider’s side, which allowed me to better organize our approaches.”

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Participants left with long-lasting knowledge. One member said, “Overall it was a life-changing experience for me. I loved every minute of it and I learned so much about grant writing and myself…I left Boulder, CO, feeling refreshed and motivated to change lives and make a difference for Indian Country as a whole.”

Another participant, Leah Hennessy, Volunteer Executive Director of Laulima Kuha’o, added that among the most important takeaways were the tools to better connect with funders. Instead of just waiting for a list of grants to come out, she learned how to narrow down funders and opportunities based on the activities they want to accomplish, see what other organizations are doing, and identify people they could work with. She said she learned strategies for team development and she gained a number of partners and connections just by being in the cohort. “All of the NFCoP advisors brought something to the table,” she said. “This is a resource I can continue to turn to even now that the training is complete.”

Moving forward
Findings from the pilot year of the NFCoP overwhelmingly indicate the opportunities and trainings offered were invaluable and have already yielded a substantial return on investment. First Nations is hopeful that the community of practice approach will help these organizations and future participants support and sustain their operations in the face of competing demands and the ongoing effects of coronavirus, which have made the need for fundraising skills even more important. To that end, plans are underway for future outreach to more participants in 2020. Catherine Bryan, First Nations’ Director of Programs for Strengthening Tribal and Community Institutions, said, “We’re looking forward to building on this model and having an even greater impact for the future of Native communities and the organizations that serve them.”

Teens Donate Funds Where They See the Most Need

 Eesha and Liya meet online for their fundraising efforts, United Against COVID-19. Together, the high school sophomores raised $4,000 to support Native communities.


Eesha and Liya meet online for their fundraising efforts, United Against COVID-19. Together, the high school sophomores raised $4,000 to support Native communities.

When coronavirus hit the nation, future high school sophomores Eesha Neunaha and Liya Chen knew they wanted to do something to help. Calling on connections, resources, and innovation, they began collecting masks and funds. But, from there, the question soon became: Where would their donation do the most good? The answer: Native communities.

“After reading about how vulnerable Native people are to coronavirus, we realized that they might really appreciate as much money as we can help raise for the community,” said Liya.

That’s when they learned about First Nations Development Institute and the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund and made a generous donation of $4,000 to help Native communities.

The two philanthropists are classmates at The Hockaday School in Dallas, where they regular work together on community service projects. In the middle of March when closures and medical needs increased nationwide, the teens learned that a lot of hospitals did not have enough masks. At the same time, China had an excess of masks, and Liya’s father helped Liya connect with several companies in China to facilitate a donation of 3,000 masks to the Dallas community.

Meanwhile, others learned about the girls’ outreach and wanted to lend a hand by giving monetarily. Eesha worked with her parents in setting up a Go Fund Me page, and both teens set out to spread the word. The donations quickly poured in, as the teens researched where the funds could be best used.

“We were looking for a community that was more in need,” Eesha explained. “We started thinking about Native communities, and that’s when we learned about First Nations.”

Liya said that reading the descriptions on First Nations’ website about the impact of the pandemic in areas that are already at risk was a learning experience. “For me, in our daily lives, we don’t really hear about what’s going on in these communities. But this project really opened my eyes to a whole new world.”

Eesha shared that it’s a world that resonated with the teens, as they are both considered minorities and both daughters of immigrants, with Eesha’s parents originally from India and Liya’s parents originally from China.

Those parents are proud of the girls and supportive of their efforts. “They were glad that we chose an organization near us and close to our hearts,” Eesha said.

First Nations is grateful for both girls’ contribution. Eesha and Liya’s donation went directly to First Nations’ COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, from which 100% of donations were given out in the form of grants to 81 Native-led organizations for general operating, response and relief expenses. “Only through contributions were we able to do so much,” said Eileen Egan, Director of Development for First Nations. “And the contribution of Eesha and Liya were beyond commendable. They inspired us and touched our hearts, and we are ever grateful for their advocacy, awareness, and generosity.”

Fundraising and Development: Building Capacity to Do More at Dakota Wicohan

Sunktanka Standing Rock 2016

When it comes to initiatives to improve life in Native communities, the investments that are direly needed are often not the shiny, exciting ones that make headlines. Instead what’s needed is the back-end structure, the technical, operational aspects that lay the groundwork for greater things to happen. First Nations Development Institute recognizes this need and provides essential training and technical assistance to tribal organizations throughout Indian Country. As a result, organizations like Dakota Wicohan in Morton, Minnesota, are accomplishing feats that may not be shiny and exciting but are every bit as crucial to their missions.

Investing in the Internal

Eileen O’Keefe, program director for Dakota Wicohan, says that establishing a fundraising and donor management structure was key to her organization’s future, but getting support for such an operational cost has always been a challenge. “Without direct outcomes and a demonstrated impact, it doesn’t necessarily make a good story for funders,” says O’Keefe. “It’s not exciting, external work. First Nations knows that, as small organizations, we need to build that internal capacity.”

Dakota Wicohan is a non-profit cultural resource center focused on the celebration and transmission of Dakota cultural lifeways, art, and language. The organization is a long-term grantee of First Nations and has received seven grants over the last eight years through both the Native Youth and Culture Fund and the Native Arts Initiative. As part of this funding, the organization has received two Supporting Native Arts Grants that provide for training and technical assistance from First Nations during specified grant periods.

The training and technical assistance began by having O’Keefe’s team complete a comprehensive questionnaire regarding operations, capacity, and programmatic infrastructure. “They asked us what we wanted, what we needed, and what was the most important,” she says. “From there they really drill it down to the main items and what you could most benefit from.”

An investment in fundraising is an investment in the organization’s work, such as leading field trips like this one to the Minnesota Historical Society to see a screening of the film Warrior Women.

An investment in fundraising is an investment in the organization’s work, such as leading field trips like this one to the Minnesota Historical Society to see a screening of the film Warrior Women.

For the first funding session, they decided to concentrate on board training and project management. For the next session, they moved their focus to individual donors and fundraising. To help them build this essential framework, First Nations arranged for nonprofit experts at Melvin Consulting PLLC to partner with the leaders of Dakota Wicohan.

One expert was Eileen Egan, who calls on her experience in individual giving to provide technical assistance to nonprofits and tribal nations to help them reach their full potential. On this project, Egan worked with Dakota Wicohan to create a fundraising plan and select a donor database with electronic marketing capacity. “She looked at where we were hitting, and where we could improve,” says O’Keefe. “That meant looking at fundraising broadly, not just at foundations, but how we were connecting with individual donors.”

Egan felt what was needed was a framework or structure.

“For Dakota Wicohan, the answers are right there in the community. They have a talented team and knowledge,” Egan says. “But by working together we could create more intentionality, including an identifying an online marketing tool so they could reach new levels in fundraising, expand their individual donor base of champions, and progress toward their mission. The training and technical assistance provided the resources needed to step back and consider where they want to be in five years and how they can diversify revenue streams to lessen their reliance on a few sources.”

The plan for Dakota Wicohan involved investing in the technology to organize and streamline their development operations and better reach and engage with potential donors. Egan’s team helped acquire and set up donor management software, transition their records, and train Dakota Wicohan on its use.

“We are a small non-profit, so most of our resources were spent running programs. We weren’t actively accessing our funding sources or cultivating our donors,” says O’Keefe. “We used to have a couple lists here, and an Excel spreadsheet there.”

Egan’s team helped them establish processes and identify opportunities, as well as evaluate and elevate the things the organization was already doing for marketing and outreach, such as its website, newsletter, and social media.

Imperfect action versus perfect inaction

Dakota Wicohan has dived into the new fundraising plan and embraced the training, and is now learning about the full power of the software. O’Keefe says that in addition to the technical assistance, they’re gaining lessons in confidence and intentionality.

“A lot of times, we would get overwhelmed or would hold off making a decision because we would be operating in an area, fundraising, that was entirely new to many of us,” she says.

One quote that is embraced by First Nations President and CEO Michael E. Roberts and resonated with O’Keefe is by Harry S. Truman and it really resonated with O’Keefe and her team: “Imperfect action beats perfect inaction every time.”

“I think we’ve drawn a lot of strength from that,” says O’Keefe. “It stops us from getting paralyzed, but to keep moving ahead. We can do this.”

Tapping potential

The training and technical assistance from First Nations is just wrapping up, however, the organization is already seeing results. O’Keefe says they’ve seen a 5% increase in the number of new donors, many coming from California and other states in which Dakota Wicohan had not expected it was having an impact. There has also been an increase in monthly sustainer donations as well as nationwide exposure to the organization.

O’Keefe says her team has been able to implement their overall fundraising efforts in a more concentrated and systematic way, making sure they’re ready for certain fundraising timeframes and events, and being much more deliberate. In addition, the planning has opened the doors for future development goals including planned giving.

“We’re been able to do so more than we thought, and First Nations has been so generous and helpful,” says O’Keefe. “We’re taking baby steps moving forward, but there’s more on the horizon, and with their support, we know we can get there.”

With greater fundraising capacity, Dakota Wicohan can also continue engaging youth in outreach projects, such as this Water Walk and Prayer Ride.

With greater fundraising capacity, Dakota Wicohan can also continue engaging youth in outreach projects, such as this Water Walk and Prayer Ride.

It is true that fundraising strategies and donor management software are not shiny and exciting, and they’re not tied directly to outcomes that are moving the needle in Indian Country. But they are part of the everyday actions that can be perfected so that Native organizations can move the needle themselves. They are key factors in empowering tribal groups like Dakota Wicohan. And they are directly in line with First Nation’s mission to invest in and create innovative institutions that strengthen asset control and support economic development. This is indeed exciting and shiny, and First Nations is proud to be a part of it.

Native Youth Get Opportunity to See Everything “Out There”

Youth leaders welcome participants to the competition. Photo credit: NCAIED

Youth leaders welcome participants to the competition. Photo credit: NCAIED

It was the chance for Native teens and young adults to see Native entrepreneurs in action. An opportunity to stand before a crowd and present their own innovative ideas. And a unique door-opening to meet role models, explore possibilities and envision a future where they will soon play an active role.

This was the inaugural Native Youth Business Plan Competition at RES 2020, a partnership by First Nations Development Institute and the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) to engage Native youth in business, leadership, and success, made possible by an investment from the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation.

“The experience showed me what else there is to offer. For people like me to get off Reservation and see what is out there in the world, it opened up a lot of new opportunities,” said Josh Bushman, a student from Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa whose team took first place in the high school division for their project Coffee Cart: Latte for the Oyate.

A partnership for the future
This was exactly the purpose of the Native Business Plan Competition, which grew out of a collaboration between First Nations and NCAIED to let Native students see up close and personal Native business owners and entrepreneurs excelling and thriving in the world and being given a chance to participate themselves.

Chris James, President and CEO of NCAIED, said bringing the two organizations together to highlight students and their ideas just made sense. “We were blown away with some of the ideas that came out of this competition and hopefully we’ll be able to see some of those ideas turned into businesses. It’s our goal to plant that seed,” James said.

“At First Nations, we’ve been building the court, hanging the backboard and finding the balls and the jerseys, and now it’s time for us to put the players on the court,” said Michael Roberts, president and CEO of First Nations. “This is an opportunity for young people to flex that muscle. And we can move forward and get them into business rather than just talking about it.”

Opportunity by design
The competition process began in 2019 when First Nations put out a call to Native communities inviting Native youth to submit abbreviated business plans for their products or companies. From these applications, five semifinalist teams were selected from each age division (high school and college) to receive additional mentoring from Native business owners, entrepreneurs, and other professionals working in this space to further flesh out their business plans and design. Then, semifinalist teams participated in an on-stage competition held in conjunction with the Reservation Economic Summit (RES), where a team of Native judges and investors decided which business venture they would most likely fund.

RES is a multifaceted event from NCAIED featuring unparalleled access to respected tribal leaders, members of Congress, federal agency representatives, state and local elected officials and top CEOs on a national platform. Here, on day three of the event, youth participants honed their projects through a full lineup of workshops: Business Plan Essentials, Perfecting Your Pitch, Assessing Your Business Plan for the Future, and Accessing Capital & Building Your Budget.

Nine high school and college teams then had five minutes to pitch their ideas and business plans outlining the value of their products and services, operational and technological viability, and capital requirements and financial forecasts, and more during the onstage competition later that evening. Winning teams in each division were awarded cash prizes: $7,500 for first place, $5,000 for second place, and $2,500 for third place.

Participants presented their ideas before a panel of Native leaders and entrepreneurs. Photo credit: NCAIED

Participants presented their ideas before a panel of Native leaders and entrepreneurs. Photo credit: NCAIED

First Nations Senior Program Officer Kendall Tallmadge, who helped organize and facilitate the competition, said all participants, from the applicants to the final winners, should be commended. “These students represent a bright next generation of innovation and excitement. It was an honor to be in a position to hear their ideas and see how they are valuing their culture and heritage through innovative business designs to make a difference in their communities.”

Value beyond dollars

Regardless of prize winnings, the experience the students took away from the competition was priceless, said Prairie Blount, who was the advisor for the winning high school team for Latte for the Oyate and who served as the emcee for the event. “It gave the students exposure to the larger Indigenous world. They were amazed that there are so many Indigenous professionals in business,” she said. “As a student, you’re consumed with your campus. But this gave them an opportunity to step outside and see that we’re all working toward bettering our communities. Others are coming along and paving the way.”

Nate Lee, Vice President of Native American Financial Services for BOK Financial who served as a mentor for the High School team Lumbee Nation Youth Enterprise, said that the value of the experience was enormous. “For the students it was a powerful and rewarding experience to compete on a national stage and also to interact with Native professionals in finance and economics.”

The students agreed:

Josh Bushman of Latte for Oyate said he would 100% recommend the program to his friends. His teammate Antone Manning from Pyramid Lake Paiute added that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in a unique environment, and that winning was a validation of all his team’s hard work.

Kristall Vega (Cloverdale Pomo), who was on the College first place team, California Indian Museum with their product Acorn Energy Bites, said she loved seeing all the Native youth present on projects they are passionate about to better their communities. “I believe there is a lot of value in experiences like this one because it gives a platform for Native youth to share their voices,” she said.

The Native Youth Business Plan Competition is one of the many ways First Nations invests in Native Youth and gives them opportunities to learn, be mentored, and connect with Native leaders who set an example for collaboration, success and advancement. It’s the type of opportunities that Mentor Nate Lee said are imperative in creating sustained and repeatable financial success in our Native communities. “It must start with our youth, and that includes opportunities to showcase their talents and raise the bar. The future of business is bright for our Native communities as we fill the pipeline of talented and ambitious Native youth, but we must go further to keep that pipeline full by preparing the next class of Kindergartners.”

Indeed, the first-ever Native Youth Business Plan competition will fuel that pipeline, and the 2020 event has built the groundwork for further entrepreneurial opportunities for young people who are ready to explore them.

Advisor Prairie Blount concluded: “These students are the future leaders, who are actually leaders already.”

Participants take home connections, experience and confidence. Photo credit: NCAIED

Participants take home connections, experience and confidence. Photo credit: NCAIED

Genetic Ordinance Protects Yurok Tribe’s Natural Resources

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Food policies have a tremendous impact on how food is produced, processed and distributed in Native communities. Often, these policies are determined at the federal and state levels. Today, more and more tribes are exercising their sovereign rights and establishing tribal food policies to meet the specific needs of their communities.

Tribal food policies empower tribes to protect their food, land and natural resources from federal and state systems that attempt to claim jurisdiction over these assets. These policies are powerful tools that enable tribes to control, manage and regulate their food systems.

Yurok LogoIn 2015, the Yurok Tribe in California, the largest tribe in the state, established the Yurok Tribe Genetically Engineered Ordinance (GEO) as part of its tribal food policy. This first-of-its-kind tribal ordinance prohibits the growth of genetically modified crops and the release of genetically engineered salmon within the tribe’s territory.

The Yurok Tribe serves as an important model to other tribes interested in developing their own food policies, ordinances and practices. This is the tribe’s story:

The Yurok remain one of the few tribes that have maintained its presence in its ancestral homelands in California. This presence is a great feat as California Indian history epitomizes the cruelties of American settlement in Indian territories. The Yurok Reservation is located approximately five hours north of San Francisco along iconic Highway 101. This scenic drive parallels the Klamath River and consists of old-growth redwood trees (some 1,000 to 2,000 or more years old), breathtaking coastal views, and fresh inland waters that are home to both the Yurok people and one of the most iconic fish in the world: the Pacific Salmon.

20160419_161844The Yurok people and the Pacific Salmon model an existence that resembles the fury of the Klamath River itself. Every year, the salmon return to the river, their natural breeding grounds, despite the increasing environmental odds that threaten their demise. Along this river, a new battle was brewing. Over the last few decades, the Yurok have tirelessly fought for the survival of the salmon, advocating for dam removal on the mighty Klamath River to feed other rivers. The tribe’s – and others’ – efforts were successful in advocating dam removal. The dams on the Klamath are slated for removal by 2020. (See http://www.times-stan-dard.com/article/NJ/20160406/NEWS/160409926).

On December 10, 2015, the Yurok Tribe passed tribal legislation banning genetically engineered (GE) salmon and plants, essentially making it the first tribal food and agricultural code in the country. Stephanie Dolan, one of the primary authors of the Yurok Tribe GEO, says: “The main goals in creating this code are to prohibit GE salmon from crossing into Yurok county, prohibit GE crops from being planted, grown or harvested in Yurok Country, create an advisory committee to look at reducing pesticide use on the reservation (which impacts all of the plants, animals and health of the Yurok people) and to encourage other tribal communities to exercise their jurisdiction.” Cheyenne Sanders from the Yurok Tribe Office of Tribal Attorney also assisted in drafting the GEO.

This code has been inspired, in part, by other food policy movements across the country at both the local and state levels. However, it is important to note that tribal communities maintain a unique government-to-government relationship with the United States that recognizes the need and responsibility of tribal nations to govern their own territories, communities and people that lends force to this type of legislation. It is important for tribes to be proactive in defining their jurisdiction over precious resources such as food and land so that they continue to pass these resources down to future generations.

20160419_161838Abby Abinanti, the Chief Judge of the Yurok Tribal Court – and the first Native American woman admitted to the State Bar of California in 1974 – is responsible for enforcing this code in Yurok Territory. Abinanti firmly maintains: “It is only natural that the Yurok Tribal Court can enforce the Yurok ordinance. The Yurok Tribal Court is meant to serve the people, and salmon has always been a part of that.” Abinanti’s courtroom is based on the tenants of traditional Yurok justice and seeks to enforce Yurok community standards. Abinanti and the Yurok have made it clear they will protect the Yurok lifestyle and the traditional salmon that are central to it.

The Yurok are trailblazers for asserting these sovereign powers. They have made history in several important Indian law cases such as U.S. v. Kagama; Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Association; Jessie Short vs. U.S.; and the unforgettable fish wars when tribal fisherman occupied the mouth of the Klamath River to assert their right to fish for salmon. In many respects, the passage of the GE salmon ban in Yurok territory is an extension of occupation that occurred in Yurok Territory more than 40 years ago.

20160419_090659Today, the Yurok Tribe continues to assist other California tribes – including the Karuk Tribe, Tolowa-Dee-ni’ Nation, Hoopa Valley Tribe and Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria – in their efforts to pass similar tribal food policies and ordinances in their communities. These five tribes are a part of the Northern California Tribal Court Coalition (NCTCC), a group of tribal courts that encourage other tribes to take steps to enact similar laws to protect their lands and peoples.

To see more information about NCTCC’s other Rights of Mother Earth initiatives, including the recent Tribal Food Sovereignty Gathering, visit the website at http://www.nctcc.org/.

The Yurok Tribe is advocating for dam removal so that salmon can reach more than 250 miles of historic spawning habitat, among other reasons. Additionally, removing the dams will alleviate major water-quality issues, including unnaturally high water temperatures, massive toxic algal blooms and high populations of deadly fish parasites.

(Note: A designed/printable version of this story can be downloaded for free from the First Nations Knowledge Center at this link: http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center.)

By A-dae Romero-Briones, First Nations Associate Director of Research & Policy, Native Agriculture

Edited by Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Consultant

Board Profile: First Nations Chair Thomas Vigil

Chairman Thomas Vigil

Chairman Thomas Vigil

Beyond the grants, past the technical assistance, and before becoming a nonprofit organization, First Nations was formed to be a voice and advocate for Indian people. “It’s why we started, and it’s what we still do,” says B. Thomas Vigil (Jicarilla Apache/Jemez Pueblo), longtime Chairman of the Board and one of the first board members of First Nations Development Institute.

Reflecting on the world he was born into in the 1940s, and the world we live in now, he says the need for this voice continues today.

“The rest of the country has had a 250-yard head start on us, and we have a long way to catch up,” he says.

Indians in a “Desperate State”

Vigil was born on a reservation and raised in a tent behind a shed made from waste lumber.

“This was my life. We were poor. But I wasn’t unique,” he says. “People either grew up and left the reservation, or they stayed, and many died drunk.”

Tom addresses the gathering at First Nations' 35th Anniversary celebration in 2015

Tom addresses the audience at First Nations’ 35th Anniversary celebration in 2015

When state schools were made available, Vigil and many of his classmates were tested and determined to be “illiterate.” Vigil himself didn’t learn to read or write until high school. And because Indians “did not pay taxes” they were not even given the right to serve on the school board.

Vigil called together school leaders, rallied students and parents, and sought a voice for Indian people. By the time he graduated, New Mexico changed the laws, and Indians were on the board and voting for their schools.

From there, Vigil went on to New Mexico Highlands University, where he earned a degree in economics/accounting in 1968. After graduation, he began his first job as a staff accountant for the University of New Mexico. Part of his job was to help tribes set up the accounting processes needed to become community action agencies – an essential component for them to receive federal grants under the War on Poverty.

Again, he saw a world that echoed his experience on the reservation. Indians either had no resources, or they weren’t allowed to manage them, Vigil explains.

“We had no freedom. We were wards of the government,” he says. “We were completely in bondage. Government had all the control.”

A Time for Change

A young Tom Vigil

A young Tom Vigil

A lot would happen over the next decades that would have an impact socially and politically on the life of Indians, and Vigil’s career intersected with these changes at several points.

He left his job at the University of New Mexico to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, thinking that the environment for Indians could be changed by working within a government agency. Yet, there he didn’t see people working to make lives better for Indian people. “They were just sitting around being bureaucrats,” he says.

From there he was recruited to be a contracts officer for the Department of Labor in Los Angeles. At that time, President Nixon introduced revenue sharing, opening up federal funding to the states. Vigil was assigned several California counties and cities of over 400,000 people to help them access and manage the funding, teaching them how to use it and what it could be used for. This experience led to a position as coordinator of strategic planning in the Mayor’s Office for the City of Los Angeles, and concurrently to an official appointment by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Commission. Work in Los Angeles also provided the opportunity to receive a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California.

The Chairman celebrating his 70th birthday in December 2014 with staff and other Board members

The Chairman celebrating his 70th birthday in December 2014 with staff and other Board members

Around that time, President Nixon also announced his Indian Policy and the concept of self-determination. This would lead to the creation of the Indian Self-Determination Act, which established a government-to-government relationship between Indian people and the United States of America. When the Ford administration carried the act on, Vigil was brought to Washington to help conceptualize and implement the policy through the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Health and Human Services.

While the legislation was a long time coming, he says, many Indians were not ready for it, and some were actually opposed to it. They feared that the Bureau of Indian Affairs would no longer be providing the services Indians had been accustomed to. They were used to just accepting whatever the Bureau of Indian Affairs said as gospel, and they did not know how important self-government was.

“One of my jobs was to go around the country and talk to Indians,” he says. “Over time, we won them over.”

The Start of First Nations

Original FNDI LogoVigil could see that more had to be done to align tribes and help them fully understand what sovereignty and self-determination meant. In 1978, Vigil worked with Rebecca Adamson and David Lester to conceptualize an organization that would continue the battle. That organization ultimately became First Nations Development Institute.

Early on, First Nations also gave birth to the notion of a specialized arm to address the lack of capital and financial infrastructure holding back economic development in Native communities. This notion became First Nations Oweesta Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary that supports economic growth in Native American communities through the creation, development and capitalization of Native Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs.

First Nations President and CEO Michael Roberts says Vigil’s background was essential to First Nations back then and going forward. “It is Tom’s perspective having come from and being part of his community – along with his broader perspective of Indian Country history and self-determination – that has provided much of the grounding First Nations enjoys today.”

Indeed, Vigil says an essential tenet of First Nations is that it would be funded by private donors and not the government. “That’s why other organizations failed. We had to be sure we were not run by something that had controlled us, or could try to control us in the future.”

FNDI Stacked Logo.pngA second tenet is that the organization would not take a political position. This neutrality would keep First Nations focused on helping Indians and ensure the organization was not swayed by any political parties or agendas. Finally, a third tenet is that the organization would not become public relations focused. Instead it would let its work speak for itself, with the accomplishments of Indians being its key message.

In the early 1980s, First Nations was formally organized and Vigil became chairman in 1982.

“We’re one of the longest existing Indian organizations. But you can’t think about First Nations without thinking about the history of Native American people in this country,” he says. “It’s not about what we’ve done or what we’re doing. It’s about who we are as Indian people, where we came from, and who we are today. That’s what First Nations is really about.”

Roberts agrees. “Whenever we get a little too big-headed around here, it is Tom’s counsel that keeps coming back – we don’t do things in Indian Country, we invest in the genius of Indian people and Indian communities. Our job is to provide a little capital, a little technical assistance, and a heaping scoop of peer networking – and then get the heck out of the way so the real work can happen.”

Returning to His Roots

Since his work in Washington, Vigil has returned to Dulce, New Mexico, where he launched a successful career in hospitality and in the Indian gaming business. And here he continues serving on multiple boards, including the Board of First Nations.

He reflects on his childhood and a time he escorted a high-level political figure on a trip to a nearby reservation. The visitor pointed out with wonder at the makeshift structures on a distant hillside. “You think they’re shacks,” Vigil told the visitor. “But people live there. Those are homes.”

Vigil explains that this is where his people came from and what they were up against. And while Indians have come a long way in catching up on the 250-yard head start the rest of the country has had, what will always be needed is the voice for Indian people.

“It will take some time to grow out of that,” he says. “But we will. We will keep speaking out.”

By Amy Jakober

Updated “Building Native Communities” Curriculum Released

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In honor of National Financial Literacy Month during April 2016, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) and First Nations Oweesta Corporation (Oweesta) released the 5th edition of the Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families curriculum. The revised curriculum includes an updated Participant Workbook and Instructor Guide.

First Nations partnered with Oweesta to convene an advisory committee to revise the Building Native Communities Participant Workbook. Funded by the Rose Foundation and the AMB Foundation, the workbook has new content that incorporates feedback from the field and addresses changing technology. There are new sections that cover topics like online banking, consumer savvy (recognizing persuasion tactics), and constructing a record-keeping system. The revision team also removed outdated material and greatly enhanced the math content of the workbook. New “Money Math” activities throughout the workbook help students apply what they have learned. In addition, the revised workbook includes new illustrations, photos, infographics and charts. The resulting workbook has a more modern and visual feel.

FNOC2clogo.1Oweesta and First Nations also updated the Instructor Guide that accompanies the Building Native Communities curriculum. New chapters address training techniques, learning styles for various demographics, financial education program design, and best practices for financial education classes.

Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families is a culturally-appropriate guide to financial education in Native communities that helps individuals make informed financial decisions for themselves, their family, and their community. Since the release of the first edition of the curriculum in 2000, Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families has become the leading financial education curriculum in Indian Country. To date, First Nations and Oweesta have distributed over 18,000 copies of the Financial Skills for Families workbook and over 1,400 leaders from 28 states have become certified trainers through nearly 60 Oweesta/First Nations train-the-trainer events.

“We are excited to revise this workbook and honored by the input of our advisory committee,” shared Sarah Dewees, Senior Director of Research, Policy and Asset-Building Programs at First Nations. “The 5th edition is a great workbook and we are happy to announce its completion.” Krystal Langholz, Chief Operating Officer of First Nations Oweesta Corporation, stated, “We look forward to rolling out this new edition with revised train-the-trainer workshops and several webinars to introduce people to the new content.”

To pre-order copies of the 5th edition curriculum, contact Chris Hansen at chris@oweesta.org or (303) 774-8838. To download a PDF copy, visit the First Nations Knowledge Center.

By Benjamin Marks, First Nations Senior Research Officer

New Web Resource for Native Financial Educators

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In April, First Nations Development Institute and First Nations Oweesta Corporation announced the launch of a new financial education web portal at www.BNCweb.org. It serves as a resource center for Native financial education practitioners and educators.

The site contains our suite of financial education curricula, downloadable instructor guides, trainer tools, research and publications, and additional materials. The website also contains links to the My Green campaign, the investnativeonline.org website, and videos and materials that can assist financial educators.

All resources will be in a centralized location and will address topics such as Minor’s Trust Accounts (training resources, research, etc.), an online curriculum about investing for Native youth, and supplemental training resources. These efforts were funded by the Rose Foundation and Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

Cultural Movement of Change Underway at Thunder Valley

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Nick Tilsen

On a recent visit to Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) in Porcupine, South Dakota, something extraordinary was evident. A spark had been ignited and a cultural movement of change was happening at Thunder Valley CDC, which has become a powerful catalyst of innovative change for the Oglala Lakota people of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and all across Indian Country.

As an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation in Rosebud, South Dakota (neighbors to Pine Ridge), and being part Oglala Lakota myself with family still living in Pine Ridge, it struck me how Thunder Valley has been able to create considerable change in the area. What once used to be barren prairie land, a pathway out of poverty has been created with a master-planned community being built at the Thunder Valley Community Development center site.

Thunder Valley Logo smallFirst Nations Development Institute (First Nations) saw this cultural movement of change first-hand while attending a planning design meeting for phase II of the Thunder Valley community development project on February 8-9, 2016. Three members of First Nations’ staff – Senior Program Officer Catherine Bryan, Grants & Program Officer Kendall Tallmadge, and myself (Program Officer Tawny Wilson) – were able to attend this important meeting with Thunder Valley Executive Director Nick Tilsen, Deputy Director Sharice Davids, Director of Advancement Liz Welch, and Director of Design Kaziah Haviland. Other attendees included BNIM Project Manager Christina Hoxie, BNIM Associate Principals Vincent Gauthier, Laura Pastine and Adam Weichman, KLJ Engineering’s Dana Foreman, and Art Space’s Senior Vice President of Asset Management Greg Handber, as well as Allen Orechwa, Chief Financial Officer of Clearing House CDFI (community development financial institution). Rural & Native American Initiative Director Russell Kaney and National Renewable Energy Lab’s Engineer Chuck Kurnik were also an integral part of the phase II planning meeting.

mapThe plan involves building a sustainable community powered by wind energy and solar panels with strategically designed dwellings aimed at reducing energy costs and improving efficiency. In phase one of the community development plan, a community center and single-family homes will be built at a cost of $9.5 million, and is projected to take three years for completion. Within 10 years, when phase II is fully completed, the community will house approximately 1,000 people. The community development efforts of the people at the meeting and their partners across the country have contributed to this innovative and unprecedented community development project’s growth on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The Thunder Valley CDC project is the development of a 34-acre planned community with single- and multi-family housing, emergency youth shelter, food-growing operations, grocery store, powwow grounds, youth recreational areas, community and educational facilities, as well as retail spaces for local businesses. As Thunder Valley notes: “It’s not just about building homes. It’s about building up a people and, in the process, creating a national model to alleviate poverty and build sustainable communities.”

TV buildingNormally hope and inspiration are not easily found in one of the most economically challenged places in the country, but what is happening on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is not considered normal by most standards. Thunder Valley began as a movement and cultivation of being empowered spiritually and taking responsibility for the future by creating a movement to build a healthy and sustainable community. Instead of just talking about creating change, the team members at Thunder Valley have rolled up their sleeves and are making it happen by doing.

First Nations has been an ongoing supporter of Thunder Valley since 2005 and has awarded the organization with various grants and technical assistance through our Native Youth and Culture Fund, Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, and Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative. In addition to providing funding, First Nations administers technical assistance to Thunder Valley CDC.

Thunder Valley has proven that a little bit of funding and a whole lot of hope, belief and sheer determination go a long way.

By Tawny Wilson, First Nations Program Officer