I come from a long line of Eastern Band Cherokees that my great uncle George Owl once described as “mixers.” He was referring to a family who resisted removal from their homeland and the damaging effects of assimilation, but who also explored the world beyond the reservation. They mixed with people of many races, worked side by side with Indians and non-Indians, and actively pursued their own education so they could be of service to Native Americans. As a person who lives and works off the reservation, it has been important for me to find ways to stay connected to this tribal and family legacy and to support work that benefits Indian communities throughout the U.S. This is one of the reasons I support First Nations Development Institute (First Nations).
In September, I was fortunate to attend the 2014 First Nations L.E.A.D. Institute Conference, which stands for Leadership and Entrepreneurial Apprenticeship Development. Over my two days at the event, I connected with the people who are making a difference in Indian Country through the support of First Nations’ grants and initiatives.
“First Nations is helping to build a sustainable future for Native America by supporting the people who live in and are deeply invested in Native communities. Having seen and experienced this organization firsthand, I urge you also to support the work of First Nations; there is so much more that we can all accomplish.”
At meetings and meals, I witnessed former colleagues and college friends reuniting and encouraging one another in their lives and work. I saw young professionals using their education, ambition and ingenuity to tackle the urgent problems in Indian Country.
I spoke with established leaders in education, law and politics who are taking stock of the needs and assets of their tribes and making action plans for both the short and long term. It made me wish I could tell my grandfather, Frell Owl, about the good work these dedicated individuals are carrying out. He was an early pioneer in the movement of Indian people taking leadership in their own community development.
I sat transfixed as First Nations’ grantees described the process of turning an idea into a successful program with the support of First Nations. These presentations inspired me to get to work, especially on a problem that is near to my heart: the widespread problem of Indian food deserts (the lack of access to healthy and affordable food for Native people). First Nations programs are tackling this issue in creative ways through community food assessments, farms and gardens, farmers’ markets, food trucks, school lunches and community meals. In fact, the need is so great for programs such as this, that First Nations is only able to support 7% of the projects requesting their funding for Native agriculture and food systems initiatives.
As a supporter of First Nations, being at the conference validated the reasons I was originally attracted to this organization – their programs are local, progressive, ambitious and relevant. First Nations is helping to build a sustainable future for Native America by supporting the people who live in and are deeply invested in Native communities. Having seen and experienced this organization firsthand, I urge you also to support the work of First Nations; there is so much more that we can all accomplish.
By Tiana Melquist, First Nations Donor (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians)