Gizhiigin Fosters Native Art Entrepreneurs

Gizhiigin Art Space

Art is an integral part of connecting people to community and culture. With this strong belief in mind, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) launched the Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative (NACBI) in 2014 to significantly increase the organizational, managerial and programmatic capacity of Native organizations and tribal government art programs. NACBI, which is supported by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation along with contributions from tribal, corporate and individual supporters, provides direct grants, technical assistance and training to Native organizations and tribal government art programs so they can continue to work with and support Native American arts and artists.

Gizhiigin LogoIn October 2014, First Nations awarded six $30,000 grants to Native art programs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Gizhiigin Art Place, located in Mahnomen, Minnesota, was part of the first round of grant awards through NACBI.

Under the umbrella of the White Earth Tribal Economic Development Office, Gizhiigin Art Place was formed with assistance from Michael Neusser, the economic development director for the White Earth Reservation Tribal Council, and in partnership with the City of Mahnomen. Gizhiigin focuses on developing the arts industry on the White Earth Reservation and supports the growth of local artists and entrepreneurs by providing business tools and resources that help them generate a sustainable income through their art.

Tom Ferrarello, project specialist with the Economic Development Division of the White Earth Nation, was instrumental in the initial start-up stages of Gizhiigin Art Place program. From the beginning, Ferrarello consulted with artists from the community and asked them to talk about their art and define their current needs. “The first thing I did was reach out to all the artists in the community. This program doesn’t work unless all the artists are involved from day one,” Ferrarello said. “We had a loosely defined idea of what we were going to do from the start of it, and we selectively choose artists who had been doing their art for a long time so they were able to inform how this program took shape.” Six artists were then chosen to receive business skills training in marketing, finance, accounting, portfolio development and business technology. According to Karen Goulet (Chibinesiikwe), artist advisor and coordinator for Gizhiigin, “A lot of artists are selling already, but we want to develop them so they are past the survival stage.”

Gizhiigin Workshop photoAside from the business training Gizhiigin offers, another important component to the program is the creative labs, which expose artists to other techniques and mediums. “It’s about making art to keep their creative spirit, not about making art just to sell. We want them to think about maybe diversifying what they do and intersecting what is art and what is crafts,” said Goulet.

Joseph Allen (Lakota/Ojibwe) who works at White Earth Tribal and Community College and has been an arts photographer for 25 years, is an artist advisor at Gizhiigin and has helped grow the program. He says, “Mahnomen is a pretty dead town. After 2 p.m. in the afternoon everything starts to shut down. We are the only thing open on Main Street in the late afternoon and evening. We need more opportunities for our youth, so we worked really hard to figure out what we were going to do to start making this more visible to the community.”

Within the space, artists have the opportunity to mentor youth and to host workshops, trainings and events for the larger community. There’s a printmaking class, a sewing lab and a photography lab that all members of the community can access, not just Gizhiigin’s artists.

nacbi-finalGiziigin also provides resources to prepare artists for grant or exhibition applications, and also offers assistance in photographing artists’ works as well as access to studio space. Ferrarello says, “Over the past year, we spent a lot of time building relationships with artists in the community and designed a service model that creates an economy that allows artists to thrive as artists.”

With the foundational support from First Nations through the Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative, Gizhiigin is doing just that. Successfully launching its services, completing community outreach and recruiting artists during its first year of programing. It is important to remember, however, that programs like Gizhiigin Arts Place can only continue to be successful with consistent funding that will continue to create opportunities to help nurture Native artists and entrepreneurs on rural reservations.

By Abi Whiteing, First Nations Program Officer

$2 Million in Grants a First Nations Record

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2015 was a record year for First Nations Development Institute (First Nations). During those 12 months, First Nations granted its largest annual dollar amount ever to Native American organizations and tribes. It also awarded the largest number of grants ever in a one-year period. The funding went toward projects aimed at grassroots economic development and Native community betterment, and covered areas ranging from agriculture and food systems, to Native arts-related efforts, to urban Indian centers, to Native youth and culture programs.

During 2015, First Nations awarded a record 103 grants totaling $2,174,494. The grants ranged from $90 up to $120,000, and went to Native organizations or tribes in numerous states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Previously, the annual record for First Nations in its 35-year history was 95 grants totaling $1,867,560 in 2012.

The 2015 amount brings the cumulative total of First Nations’ grantmaking over its history to $24,316,573 and over 1,067 individual grants.

Although First Nations has been able to increase capital for Native community-developed and led projects aimed at building strong and healthy Native economies, First Nations is still only able to meet about 17 percent of the grant requests it receives, leaving a significant unmet need.

Mike 300 px

Michael Roberts

“We are very fortunate to be able to support exciting and innovative work taking place in Indian Country aimed at strengthening economies and communities,” said First Nations President & CEO Michael E. Roberts. “But the sheer amount of underinvestment in Indian Country by the philanthropic community continues. We’ll continue to work to increase investment in the dynamic work taking place in Native communities.”

Much of the funding that First Nations receives so it, in turn, can provide grants and other services to Native projects comes from foundations and individual donors. Overall, studies have shown that even though Native Americans make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, only three-tenths of one percent of private foundation funding goes toward Native American causes, even in light of the fact that Native communities generally face significantly higher economic, health and housing disparities than the general population.

By Randy Blauvelt, First Nations Senior Communications Officer

First Nations’ Jackie Francke Named to USDA Advisory Council

Jackie Francke

Jackie Francke

In March 2016, First Nations’ own Jackie Francke (Navajo), vice president of programs and administration, was appointed to the USDA Regional Tribal Conservation Advisory Council (RTCAC) for the West Region. This is an advisory body for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Jackie will serve as a tribal organization representative, along with others who were appointed as tribal representatives.

The RTCAC will provide communications between the tribal entities and the conservation service, and gather feedback on tribal issues. Representatives provide a direct line of communication between tribes, tribal affiliates and Native organizations such as First Nations, and the conservation service. The RTCAC provides a needed platform under which the conservation service and tribes can work together at the state and local levels on conservation issues. The advisory council will assist the conservation service in identifying ways to improve relationships with tribes as it relates to these and other issues:

  • Providing quality service through programs and service, including technical and financial assistance.
  • Promoting strong partnerships and teamwork.
  • Providing tribes the opportunity to offer feedback on agency programs and services.
  • Assisting tribes in enhancing their capacity in natural resources conservation.
  • Delivering the most effective resource conservation technology.

Congratulations Jackie!

Hawaii Organization Farms Farmers and Drives Change

Wow Tomato Farm

Something amazing is happening in Waimea, Hawaii. Native Hawaiians are returning to farming, and driving long-term change for society. Families are coming together, and children are being raised in a culture people take pride in.

It’s all part of a vision of Mike Hodson, president of the Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders’ Association. He and his wife, Tricia, wanted to bring farming back to the community. But they wanted to teach it in a way their people best learned: Not from a manual, but through hands-on practice, on their own soil.

Mike Hodson

Mike Hodson

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) was the first funder of the “Farming for the Working Class” project, investing in the potential that other funders couldn’t yet recognize.

“We approached the State of Hawaii and the Native Hawaiian community, but we had no traction, and everyone looked at our project as just a theory,” Hodson said. “But First Nations saw what we wanted to do, and they believed in us.”

First Nations provided initial seed money of $45,000 through a grant from the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative.

Tricia Hodson

Tricia Hodson

“First Nations sees the power of projects that intersect food systems and economic development,” said First Nations President & CEO Michael Roberts. “What Waimea wanted to do was strategic and community-minded, and the impact it would have on Indigenous people is exactly what we look for.”

With funding from First Nations, the project was up and running, and true to Hodson’s vision, the impact on the Hawaiian people has been three-fold. By giving Native Hawaiians a way to work their land while keeping their current jobs, the Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders’ Association is benefiting farming, families and the future.

Return to Farming and Sustainable Food

Hodson explained that Native Hawaiians come from a culture of farming, where they have fostered sustainability and a true sense of community. But through the years, they had begun to lose this heritage. Their population in Hawaii declined, and they looked off the island for their livelihood and future. Further, many Native Hawaiians were not farming their land, and were forced to return their allotments to the U.S. government pursuant to the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.

IMG_0052Through the Farming for the Working Class project, families learn to farm again. They start with a hands-on, 17-week training course, where they study farming from “A to Z” and reconnect with their purpose and responsibility for the land.

From there, Waimea helps families build a greenhouse on their property, laying irrigation systems and providing education and tools. The greenhouse model is an imperative part of the program because it decreases the labor involved in typical outdoor farming ventures by as much of 85%. This makes it possible for families to run a sustainable farm in just a few hours a day and not have to quit their “day jobs” to do it.

Through the project, families grow food to feed their families. They generate extra income, and they trade food with other families, thus reducing their own expenses. In addition, Hawaii gets a source of locally grown food, which has become rare in the state, as 90% of food is shipped in from the mainland or Japan.

A Strengthening of Families

Building GreenhouseThrough farming, the project also brings families together. In the recent past in Hawaii, there’s been a weakening of family units. The divorce rate among Native Hawaiians is 60%, and reports show that children from single-parent homes have been more likely to end up in Hawaii’s jails. Further, the stress of money and bills has contributed to high rates of domestic violence, with nine out of 10 domestic violence cases stemming from financial issues.

The Farming for the Working Class project brings families together to work, and adds as much as $20,000 a year to the family budget, reducing the strain of making ends meet.

“People may just see a greenhouse on a piece of land,” Hodson said. “But they don’t see the social impact that greenhouse has. It lets people invest in themselves, and it keeps families together. To me, that’s the number one thing that is occurring.”

New Vision for the Future

Where once there were only two, now there are 45 out of 115 lots being farmed since Hodson began. The project has increased the amount of farmed land by 50% with hopes to increase it 75% in the next 10 years.

wow_351 600 pxFamilies are generating additional revenue. Income levels are rising, and Hawaii is able to reap locally grown food. Kids growing up in Hawaii have options for staying on the island and building a life. People are returning to their culture of self-sufficiency and self-determination. Families are seeing the therapeutic effect of farming, reconnecting with the earth and working with the soil. And the concept of community – extended beyond the family environment – is being embraced.

“It’s bringing us back full circle,” said Hodson. “Being a whole community is in our DNA. It’s the way our culture is supposed to be.”

In future plans, more greenhouses are in the works, along with a 35-acre community greenhouse, which will be open for use by Native Hawaiians, those on the waiting list for government lands, as well as all residents of Hawaii.

And now more funding is coming in from state and local sources, as other funders see all that’s possible based on Hodson’s vision.

IMG_0606“They didn’t want to fund us before because our theory wasn’t tested. But now we have that credibility, thanks to First Nations,” Hodson said.

Since 2012, First Nations has provided an additional $76,000 to strengthen the Farming for the Working Class project. With funding from the latest grant, Waimea will have the equipment and tools to develop a Farmers’ Market, a concept they’ve piloted through a three-month trial. Through the new market, farmers will have greater control over marketing and distribution, and be able to get more food directly to Hawaii’s chefs, stores and restaurants.

As an organization that has provided grants to more than 50 organizations in Indian Country in the last year alone, First Nations is proud to stand behind this project. “We invest in communities where others often aren’t. We see what they can do. And how it gives people hope,” Roberts said. “Things like Waimea give us incredible return.”

For more information about the Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders’ Association, go to http://hstrial-wwaimeahomestead.homestead.com/.

By Amy Jakober

Thunder Valley CDC is Helping Transform Pine Ridge

Lakota youth exploring the Food Sovereignty Initiative’s Community Garden

The people of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate are undergoing a revolution. After surviving generations of colonization, the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people are rising up from the weight of colonial legacies and building upon the work of their Indigenous ancestors to create a brighter future.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota, the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) is helping to lead this transformation by creating models of change that will overpower the inter-generational poverty that has spawned from colonization. One of the first grant recipients of First Nations Development Institute, Thunder Valley CDC is actively working to address systemic inequity by bridging Lakota culture with the rapid pace of change in contemporary society.

“We’re taught to meet the Creator half way,” said Executive Director Nick Tilsen. “There has been a disconnect between Lakota culture and the way the Lakota People are actually living.”

High suicide rates, poor health outcomes, poverty and unemployment are rampant throughout the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. To address these issues, a group of young Lakota people, including Tilsen, decided to take action. Starting more than 10 years ago with a “budget of nothing,” they set out to combat the root causes of poverty and lack of progress on Pine Ridge, and from these efforts Thunder Valley CDC was established.

Creating a Community

Nick Tilsen speaks to the crowd about what to expect from the Regenerative Community Development

According to Tilsen, at the time Thunder Valley CDC was founded, there were no community development corporations on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and only a handful in Indian Country. Thunder Valley CDC needed resources to get started and realize the vision of making systemic change, which for them entailed building a regenerative, sustainable community.

“We knew we had a responsibility to improve the quality of life for the Lakota people,” said Tilsen.

By building a regenerative community, Thunder Valley CDC is creating an ecosystem of opportunity as a point for leveraging regional equity. First Nations Development Institute helped Thunder Valley with this vision by providing a series of grants through the Native Youth and Culture Fund. Early objectives included acquiring a facility, and devising a development plan to create jobs, provide housing, and build the economy. Further goals included establishing a Youth Leadership Development Program to help young people connect with their Lakota culture, and engage them in finding ways to make the community stronger.

“It’s been a movement of people returning to their culture and spirituality,” Tilsen said. “They have started seeing themselves as stakeholders in the community, who want something better for us all.”

Providing Hope and Inspiration

Workforce Development crew unloads lumber for one of their construction projects

Ongoing support from First Nations has helped the organization grow in size and capacity, and position itself for additional funding opportunities. The organization has been able to not only break ground on the regenerative community development, but also continually seek new ways to improve the resilience, health and prosperity of the Oglala Lakota people.

Thunder Valley CDC’s first Youth Leadership Development Program cohort has organized several healthy living events for peers and community members, using Thunder Valley CDC as a resource for making their visions into reality. Events have included a basketball tournament, a color run, a mud volleyball tournament, and a glow run, all completely organized by the youth cohort.

“We’ve created a space for youth to make decisions about their own future, without us dictating what that future would be,” Tilsen said.

Creating a Model to Build From

Today, Thunder Valley CDC has grown from a $50,000-a-year organization to over $2 million, and from having no facility and a few volunteers to over 24 employees in two locations. Through the years, they have served more than 1,000 people of Pine Ridge, engaging an additional 2,500 people in various programs and activities. They have established several initiatives and programs, including a Workforce Development Through Sustainable Construction programs (in its first cohort), Youth Leadership Development Program (also in its first cohort), Food Sovereignty Initiative, Lakota Language Initiative, Social Enterprise Initiative, Sustainable Home Ownership Program, and Self-Help Program. And where once there were no blueprints to follow for this type of impact, there are now nine community development centers on Pine Ridge, all benefiting from the model of Thunder Valley CDC.

“It’s our goal that what we’re doing here not only serves our community, but is an inspiration throughout Indian Country,” Tilsen said.

A little learner at the Lakota Language Initiative’s Immersion Childcare Program learns the Lakota alphabet.

Tilsen said Thunder Valley CDC is grateful to First Nations for the ongoing partnership, citing funding from both the Native Youth and Culture Fund and the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative. In addition to providing funding, he said First Nations brought Thunder Valley CDC together, helping them learn best practices of other grantees, providing technical assistance for communications and fundraising, and opening the door to additional opportunities and funders.

“First Nations made it possible for us to build our capacity and establish a track record,” he said. “No matter how big we’ve grown, First Nations’ continued support shows an investment in what we’re doing, and that means a lot coming from an organization whose mission is clearly aligned with ours.”

For more information on the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, visit http://www.thundervalley.org/.

By Amy Jakober

Do You Know Elizabeth Peratrovich? You Should!

For the second year in a row, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) will be closed on February 16, 2016, in honor of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. First Nations, headquartered in Longmont, Colorado, is likely the first entity outside of Alaska to recognize this as an annual holiday.

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

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

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

Back in the 1940s in Alaska, it was not uncommon to see “No Natives Allowed” signs at stores and public accommodations, or even “No dogs or Natives allowed.” But those were simply the most visible manifestations of pervasive discrimination against the original Alaskans. Learn more about Elizabeth Peratrovich online, or particularly on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Peratrovich or on the National Women’s History Museum site at https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/elizabeth-wanamaker-peratrovich/.

“Giving Stories”: Native Grantmaking Boosts Communities

Across the U.S., there are 63 active, Native American-led grantmaking programs that are making major contributions to the social and economic well-being of their local communities, regions and the nation as a whole. These efforts are aimed at improving education, health, economic development and cultural preservation. A recently-published report tells some of the stories behind these Native-driven philanthropic endeavors that show the substantial and lasting impact of tribal philanthropy.

Titled “Telling Our Giving Stories: Native Philanthropy and Community Development” and published by First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), a highlight of the report is a case study of Oregon’s community-based Native foundations. The Oregon case shows that by working collectively and collaboratively, tribal giving programs can multiply their outcomes beyond their individual grantmaking contributions and leverage their investments into greater influence, resources and impact. For example, since 2001, these tribal foundations have given more than $100 million in grants, positively impacting the local community, state and beyond.

“As educators and advocates for Indian County, we at First Nations are painfully aware that few people know there are actually numerous Native-led grantmaking programs in North America,” noted First Nations President Michael Roberts (Tlingit). “As such, we felt it was important to share the giving stories of these grantmakers and catalyze a national conversation on the very positive contributions they are making inside and outside their communities.”

Authored by Sarah Dewees of First Nations and John Phillips of John Phillips Consulting, some of the report’s major findings include:

  • Tribal governments are very active in formal philanthropy. Of the 63 active Native grantmaking programs in the nation, a majority (41) are tribally-affiliated. The remaining 22 are non-tribally affiliated Native nonprofit grantmaking programs.
  • The majority of Native grantmaking programs have no endowment, which represents a significant area of need.
  • The report documents that a large and growing number of tribes and Native nonprofit organizations are using philanthropy to protect Native financial assets, capitalize economic development programs in their communities, and support their cultures.
  • Oregon’s six community-based Native foundations, in particular, represent a potential model of Native philanthropy at a state level that may help tribes leverage their giving programs into statewide philanthropic and political influence, among other things, including an opportunity to educate non-Indians on their histories, cultures, values, assets and aspirations. The six formal tribal foundations in Oregon gave more than $5.6 million in grants in 2014. 
  • Staff members at most Native-controlled grantmaking programs interviewed for the report expressed a need and a desire for increased technical assistance, networking opportunities and leadership development in order to boost their organizations’ capacities. 
  • Several Oregon tribal foundations are moving toward giving programs aimed at other tribes and to national Native American organizations, which represents an interesting development in tribal giving.


The full report is available as a free download from the First Nations online Knowledge Center at this link:
http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/strengthening-nonprofits. (Note: You may have to create a free account if you don’t already have one in order to download the report. Your account will also give you free access to numerous other reports and resources.)

Video Explores Changing Landscape of Native Food Sources

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently posted a new video on its YouTube Channel titled “Traditional Food Systems: The Changing Landscape of Native American Food Sources” at this link as part of our Native American food security effort that was underwritten by AARP Foundation.

The video features insights from elders and others involved in food-systems work at three pueblos in New Mexico: Cochiti, Nambé and Santo Domingo. In particular, it asks elders to describe what the food systems were like in the pueblos back when they were younger and how they have changed. Today, the goal is to reclaim control of local food systems for better health, nutrition, security and well-being.

The video was photographed and edited for First Nations by students and faculty in the Cinematic Arts & Technology Department at the Institute of American Indian Arts [IAIA] in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A second video from the project is completed and is now being finalized by IAIA.

Statistics indicate that approximately 12 percent of all Native Americans living in poverty are age 55 or older. Additionally, Native American seniors often suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related illnesses. Through First Nations, AARP Foundation has contributed significant funding toward improving the health and nutrition of Native American seniors.

AARP Foundation is working to win back opportunity for struggling Americans 50+ by being a force for change on the most serious issues they face today: housing, hunger, income and isolation. By coordinating responses to these issues on all four fronts at once, and supporting them with vigorous legal advocacy, the foundation serves the unique needs of those 50+ while working with local organizations nationwide to reach more people, work more efficiently and make resources go further. AARP Foundation is a charitable affiliate of AARP.

To watch this video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q3zrLdFbLE.  You’ll also find numerous other videos related to our work on our YouTube Channel.

Cochiti’s Return to Native Foods Brings Better Health & Economy

In Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, young people are returning to farming and reigniting a passion for their Pueblo ancestry. Thanks to the Cochiti Youth Experience, they are embracing quality food and what it means to their culture, sustainability and future.

A-dae Romero-Briones

“We take a big-picture approach to health,” said A-dae Romero-Briones, co-founder of the Pueblo de Cochiti-based nonprofit organization. “In our equation, food equals health, but food encompasses community, economics, land and spirituality. If you improve food, you improve all those things.”

It is a belief that immediately resonated with First Nations Development Institute (First Nations).

“First Nations believed in us,” she said. “We were a small group, concerned about supporting our community. We wanted to start a program that focused on culture and on potential. We came up with ideas to get people focused on what we were eating – foods that our grandparents ate – and the importance of food to our ancestors.”

First Nations provided initial funding in 2012, then an additional grant in 2013, to support the Cochiti Youth Experience and promote the power of farming in core Pueblo values and healthy living. Immediate objectives were to create a localized food system – supporting existing farmers, teaching Cochiti youth traditional farming techniques, and reinvigorating the tradition of farming to strengthen the social institutions of the Cochiti people.

Starting with a few cooking classes, the Cochiti Youth Experience grew every year, creating opportunities for youth to establish food networks, such as farm-to-table programs, and programs that provide food to tribal elders and the local school district. The group also established the Cochiti Farmers Mentorship Program that develops mentoring partnerships between youth and older farmers in order to pass traditional Cochiti agricultural knowledge to the next generation.

Ken Romero

“We continually evolved our program to help as many people as possible,” said Executive Director Ken Romero. “That’s how everything needs to be done – from the bottom up. It’s not about how big we can get, it’s about how can we help: What’s the best way for us to minimize concerns or health problems and do the most good?”

In creating this food system, the Cochiti Youth Experience has stayed focused on investing in today’s youth, learning from and respecting elders, and creating a sustainable economy in Pueblo de Cochiti.

Youth Focused

First and foremost, the Cochiti Youth Experience starts with youth, said Romero. The organization reaches children and teens at an age when they may be at risk for truancy or alcohol use, and reconnects them back to the land and their legacy. “We are here to enable all youth to make better lifestyle choices – nutrition, exercise, diet – and empower them to make good decisions for their future.”

Elder Inspired

The Cochiti Youth Experience also prioritizes the role of farming for the Cochiti people. “You can hear about our language, traditions and ceremony, but what’s essential is that we are farmers. If we overlook that, what’s next?” asked Romero. To embrace the farming tradition, the organization focuses on the input of elders in the community, and helps young people learn directly from grandparents working in the field.

“Long ago, food and agriculture was both a community and individual choice,” Romero-Briones added. “But the food industry now is national, and the food we eat is all manufactured. With food tied into both economics and land access, it’s important to get back to our heritage, and advocate for tribal communities to define, maintain and perpetuate our customs – through the food we grow and value.”

Future Ready

Finally, the Cochiti Youth Experience has built an economy, a place where youth can begin careers in education, administration, conservancy, public service and a host of other industries. The organization aims to show young people that they can return to Pueblo de Cochiti to make a difference, and that they don’t have to move away to create a life elsewhere.

Another aspect of building that economy and fostering the Cochiti food system is making farming and agriculture a viable career option. To that end, the Cochiti Youth Experience makes a conscious decision to pay its farmers. “Young people need to know that farming is a valued profession. This instills pride and confidence, as we recognize that their knowledge and time is worth money,” said Romero-Briones.

Ongoing Impact

Today, the Cochiti Youth Experience recognizes that it can’t sit back and be happy with the status quo – they have to keep working to make things better, said Romero. The organization continually seeks new opportunities for producing quality food. “There is so much of the Pueblo life that’s involved throughout the whole circle – planting, harvest, storage and preparation. We want what’s best to empower everyone, everywhere.”

Since 2012, the Cochiti Youth Experience has served more than 2,311 meals to the community. The number of farm mentors has almost doubled, and the number of youth participating in the food programs has grown from 6 to 26.

But Romero underscores the ripple effect of these numbers. “If we reach 25 teens, we’re also reaching 50 parents, and their grandparents, and their brothers and sisters. It increases exponentially. These programs benefit the whole community,” he said.

Another benefit is that the Cochiti Youth Experience model is fully replicable, and Romero welcomes organizations throughout Indian Country to implement it in full or in part. “We want to share this with everybody. Come visit, take the time, try it out. It can make a huge difference,” he said.

Romero-Briones again thanks First Nations for believing in the Cochiti Youth Experience. “It’s allowed programming like ours to happen,” she said. “When you feel supported in communities that historically are least supported, it allows this renaissance to happen. First Nations focuses on potential.”

Learn more about the Cochiti Youth Experience and watch a First Nations Development Institute video about “The Changing Landscape of Native American Food Sources” featuring Ken Romero and the Cochiti Youth Experience, along with the pueblos of Nambé and Santo Domingo.

By Amy Jakober

Advancing Native Hawaiian Home Ownership With Aloha

First Nations is proud to partner with – and highlight – the work of Hawaiian Community Assets (HCA) through our Strengthening Tribal and Community Institutions focus area. HCA provides housing counseling and is a community lending institution that serves Native Hawaiian communities across the State of Hawaii.

As a 2015-2016 Urban Native Project grantee, the goals of the HCA’s “Building Sustainability in Housing Project” is to establish an integrated asset-building system within five Native Hawaiian-controlled nonprofit organizations and Community Development Financial Institutions that will increase affordable housing for Native Hawaiians residing in urban trust lands.

The HCA has started working with organizations to create an integrated asset-building system which are at different stages, and HCA foresees partnerships with other organizations in the project period. Current partner organizations are the Council of Native Hawaiian Advancement, the Hawaiian Community Development Board, INPEACE, and Queen Liliuoakalani Children’s Center.

The HCA’s work is encouraging, relevant, effective and ambitious. The origins of HCA are simple: to increase the success rate of its clients in achieving and sustaining home ownership. HCA’s housing and financial services include financial counseling, rental counseling, pre- and post-purchase counseling, and foreclosure-prevention counseling. The HCA also provides microloans to assist low-income families and individuals in reducing debt, building credit, and securing or sustaining affordable housing. Other activities include financial literacy workshops, tax preparation, matched savings accounts, training and technical assistance, and community-based curriculum. In 2014, HCA served more than 1,022 families, successfully assisting 257 children and adults in securing permanent housing.

Having a program like the HCA is valuable, and vital, because their education and housing services can help give families and individuals the tools and skills they need to work toward safe and permanent housing solutions. It supports Native Hawaiians in moving toward self-sufficiency, which strengthens their capacity to weather life’s financial storms with a stable economic footing.

Economic security and prosperity is a dream that the HCA is making a reality by closing the economic gap for Native Hawaiians in the #1 state in the nation where you’re most likely to live paycheck to paycheck, according to Huffington Post Business (1/18/16).

HCA is creating opportunities for advancement and is making a big difference for Native Hawaiians in achieving housing stability. For more information about the HCA, visit their website at www.hawaiiancommunity.net.

By Montoya Whiteman, First Nations Senior Program Officer