In late March 2015, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) in Minnesota and three nationally significant partners — including First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) — announced “Seeds of Native Health,” a major philanthropic campaign to improve the nutrition of Native Americans across the country. The SMSC committed $5 million to launch the campaign and plans to recruit other funding and strategic partners.
“Nutrition is very poor among many of our fellow Native Americans, which leads to major health problems,” said SMSC Chairman Charlie Vig. “Our Community has a tradition of helping other tribes and Native American people. The SMSC is committed to making a major contribution and bringing others together to help develop permanent solutions to this serious problem.”
Generations of extreme poverty and the loss of traditional foods have resulted in poor and inadequate diets for many Native Americans, leading to increased obesity, diabetes and other profound health problems. “Many tribes, nonprofits, public health experts, researchers, and advocates have already been working on solutions,” said SMSC Vice Chairman Keith Anderson. “We hope this campaign will bring more attention to their work, build on it, bring more resources to the table, and ultimately put Indian Country on the path to develop a comprehensive strategy, which does not exist today.”
The Seeds of Native Health campaign includes efforts to improve awareness of Native nutrition problems, promote the wider application of proven best practices, and encourage additional work related to food access, education and research.
“Native health problems have many causes, but we know that many of these problems can be traced to poor nutrition,” said SMSC Secretary/Treasurer Lori Watso, who has spent much of her career in community public health. She provided the original idea for the SMSC’s nutrition campaign. “Traditional Native foods have a much higher nutritional value than what is most easily accessible today. By promoting best practices, evidence-based methods, and the reintroduction of healthy cultural practices, we believe that tribal governments, nonprofits, and grassroots practitioners can collectively make lasting strides towards a better future.”
Besides First Nations, partnering with the SMSC are the Notah Begay III Foundation, based in New Mexico; and the University of Minnesota. First Nations has longstanding expertise in efforts to eliminate food insecurity, build the health of communities, and support entrepreneurship and economic development. It received $1.4 million from the SMSC for regranting to projects relating to food access, food sovereignty and capacity building. The application period for those grants through First Nations just expired on May 21, 2015.
“First Nations has spent 35 years working to build healthy economies in Indian Country, and we are thrilled for the opportunity to be a strategic partner in an initiative that will coordinate so many of the crucial efforts happening today,” said First Nations President Michael Roberts.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is a federally recognized, sovereign Indian tribe located southwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul. With a focus on being a good neighbor, good steward of the earth, and good employer, the SMSC is committed to charitable donations, community partnerships, a healthy environment, and a strong economy. The SMSC and the SMSC Gaming Enterprise (Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Little Six Casino) are the largest employer in Scott County. Out of a Dakota tradition to help others, the SMSC has donated more than $325 million to organizations and causes since opening the Gaming Enterprise in the 1990s and has contributed millions more to regional governments and infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer systems, and emergency services.
For more information about Seeds of Native Health, visit www.SeedsOfNativeHealth.org.