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

By Montoya Whiteman, First Nations Senior Program Officer

Updates on the Joint “Urban Native Project”

Representatives from the Native American Youth and Family Center (Portland, Oregon), Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties (Buffalo, New York), Little Earth of United Tribes (Minneapolis, Minnesota), the Chief Seattle Club and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) (both in Seattle, Washington) met in Denver, Colorado, Oct. 20-21, 2015, to tap into the experience of nonprofit leaders, as part of First Nations Development Institute’s “Strengthening Tribal & Community Institutions” focus area and, specifically, the Urban Native Project.

Through a series of cohort meetings, participants utilize diverse areas of learning, build their professional networks, and gain valuable insights by talking with peers about the ways they have tackled particular challenges at their organizations. These meetings are sponsored by the Comcast Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. The meetings enable leaders to step back from the pressures of their jobs and to look at the big picture, learn new skills, strategize policy or action, leverage opportunities, and reflect on the unique perspectives of their organizations and their programs.

First Nations Senior Program Officer Montoya Whiteman and NUIFC Executive Director Janeen Comenote head up the Urban Native Project, which is a joint effort between First Nations and NUIFC.

Separately, on Nov. 9, 2015, the two organizations announced the newly-selected grantees for the 2015-2016 cycle, which is the third year of the Urban Native Project. Under the effort, First Nations and NUIFC, as partners, are working to build the capacity and effectiveness of American Indian and/or Alaska Native nonprofit organizations by providing project funding, training and technical assistance.

The project is made possible through a grant made to First Nations by The Kresge Foundation. It aims to help organizations that work with some of the estimated 78 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives who live off reservations or away from tribal villages, and who reflect some of the most disproportionately low social and economic standards in the urban areas in which they reside. Urban Indian organizations are an important support to Native families and individuals, providing cultural linkages as well as a hub for accessing essential human services.

The four projects selected for the 2015-2016 period are:

  • American Indian Child Resource Center, Oakland, California, $40,000, for the “Positive American Indian Directions” (PAID) program, which is an asset-building and self-sufficiency effort for urban Native youth. The target population is “disconnected” (out-of-school, out-of-work, and not served by any other agency) Native youth living in Oakland and surrounding areas, ages 14-21.
  • American Indian OIC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, $40,000, for the “Integrated Community Placement Project” that seeks to reduce unemployment for the Native community living in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area by training students for specific occupations such as web designer/developer, computer support specialist, and administrative professional, and providing related apprenticeships in the agency’s own social enterprises.
  • Hawaiian Community Assets, Inc., Honolulu, Hawaii, $40,000, for the “Building Stability in Housing” project. The goal of the Building Stability in Housing project is to establish an integrated asset-building system within five Native Hawaiian-controlled nonprofit organizations and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that will increase access to affordable housing for Native Hawaiians residing in urban trust lands.
  • Little Earth of United Tribes, Minneapolis, Minnesota, $20,000, for a project to reform its corporate and governance structure in order to better support its mission through asset-based community development. By developing board and governance policies and improving its organizational structure, Little Earth intends to encourage the growth and expansion of the organization in a coordinated and integrated manner.

Kipuka Lana’i Farms: Holistic, Sustainable Pig Farming

Lana’i, Hawaii, once known as Pineapple Island, produced more than 75 percent of the world’s pineapple. Although pineapple production ceased more than 20 years ago, traces of pesticide residue are still evident in some of the island’s soils and vegetation.

The island relies upon imported food for its community members. Once a week, food is barged to the island to stock stores with dry goods and perishable items such as fruits, vegetables and meat.

In 2015, First Nations awarded Kipuka Lana’i Farms $12,539 through the Native Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Initiative (NAFSI) to support a natural pig farm. The pig farm is based upon a holistic approach that uses natural resources to help the community reclaim control of its local food system.

The pig farm is an innovative project that will allow farmers to achieve both their immediate and long-term food-production goals. In terms of their immediate goal, the pig farm will help produce healthy, chemical-free pork for community gatherings, celebrations and family events.

More than 4,000 pounds of pork are shipped to the island each week. “Where does our pork really come from?” asks farm manager Lea Hennessy. “What do we know about the environment where these pigs are raised? How has the meat been processed? How long has it been frozen?”

A natural pig farm will help increase the community’s knowledge of where its food comes from and how it gets to their tables.

Kipuka Lana’i Farms has adapted the Korean Natural Farming (KNF) method to raise the pigs. The farm raises the pigs in open-range pens that are lined with a natural bedding composed of soil, logs, wood chips, leaves and pig manure. Additionally, cardboard, imu ash and microbes are added to the soil to boost the breakdown of animal waste and promote healthy bacteria growth for more fertile soil.

The KNF method is an innovative technique that uses both nature and animal waste to help remediate and revitalize the soil. Eventually, this process will help Kipuka Lana’i Farms reach its long-term goal of growing healthy fruits and vegetables. This process, admits Hennessy, will take time.

“We want our project to be resilient,” she said. It is important to grow our own food and increase awareness of waste management. Raising our own pigs will help us ensure that our food is grown here and not flown here.”

Kipuka Lana’i Farms has decided to share this important message with the community’s youth by launching a hands-on, experiential learning program. Currently, six youth ages 2-14 participate in the program that emphasizes animal husbandry and the important role that animals – especially pigs – play in Hawaiian culture and tradition.

During this program, youth learn how to feed, water and care for pigs. Typically, they feed pigs with the kokua (cooperative effort or help) from family member, neighbors and local restaurants who provide kitchen scraps and leftovers. More than 1,250 pounds of food is donated to the farm each week through the kind act of kokua.

This arrangement has benefits for the entire community by eliminating more than 5,000 pounds of garbage and waste from local landfills. Additionally, restaurants have saved approximately $600 a month in waste-management fees.

During this program, youth participants also learn how to kalua (cook/steam) a pig in a traditional imu (or underground oven). They work alongside community leaders and kupuna (elders) to help prepare and cook a pig for a family celebration.

Together, youth and elders dig a shallow pit that they line with kindling and logs of kiawe (mesquite wood). Next, they cover the logs with smooth lava rocks and light the oven fire. Once the fire reaches the right temperature, they cover it with a bedding of traditional vegetation including mai’a (banana) and ki-ti (plant) leaves.

They place the meat upon this bedding and steam it overnight. Ash from the imu is saved and used again later in the pig pens. “It is hard work and takes several hours to prepare, but it is definitely worth the effort,” said Hennessy.

The youth component of this program will help ensure that future generations learn to appreciate and respect the environment. Overall, Kipuka Lana’i Farms’ holistic approach to pig farming is a positive example of sustainable agriculture because it is meeting the community’s present needs without compromising their future ones, and ensures a healthy food and environment for generations.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator

Molokai “Superheroes” See Sustainable Future

A bamboo building being constructed by Sust ‘āina ble Molokai in order to store produce.

For a period of my son’s childhood, his daily attire consisted of a superhero costume and cape, flying about the house, working to save us and our dogs from a catastrophic meteor. As his trusty sidekick, I assisted our superhero in saving the world by making sure he had a sturdy cape, healthy meals, and the strength to fight the good battle — sidekick duties I enjoyed just as much as I enjoy assisting with our community superheroes in my work at First Nations Development Institute (First Nations).

Papaya is among the produce under cultivation.

At First Nations, we work with community superheros on a daily basis through assistance and support as they strive to revive local foods systems, combat predatory lenders, and protect the sovereignty of Native people. In restoring local food systems, our superheros work incognito as volunteers, board members, executive directors, staff members and tribal council members. Their work in protecting native seeds, reviving agriculture and rebuilding regional trade routes contributes to the defeat of obesity and diabetes, the increased access to fresh food and restoration of self-sufficiency in our Native communities.

One such organization is Sust ‘āina ble Molokai, located on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, in Kaunakakai. Situated approximately 55 miles southeast of Honolulu and seven miles from the island of Maui, the island has lush, beautiful scenery as well as bountiful land prime for farming. Since 2010 Sust ‘āina ble Molokai has been taking a community-wide approach to restoring a thriving, sustainable Molokai. Efforts that have included conducting community agricultural and energy assessments, installing energy efficient refrigerators, replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs and working toward the availability of electric vehicles and charging stations throughout the community.

Malia Akutagawa, one of the founders of Sust ‘āina ble Molokai

Under the First Nations Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) project, these superheros are working to revive small agriculture and develop a food hub as a pathway to regaining control of their local food system and generate economic opportunities for the island. With 90 percent of the food arriving by barge, the island is designated a food desert, in which residents do not have ready access to fresh affordable foods. This dependency on the twice-weekly barge arrivals is what drives the staff and board members of Sust ‘āina ble Molokai. As one of the founders, Malia Akutagawa notes, “We were called the abundant land and envied by all for the wealth and bounty of our island. We gave from our infinite store because we always perceived that there was more than enough. There was never a lack, only in the perception and limitations imposed by our own minds.”

Today the land has degraded as a result of overgrazing and fish ponds have become catchment basins for topsoil washed away by heavy rains. But, through efforts by Sust ‘āina ble Molokai, gardens are reviving, kids are learning about where their food comes from, and healthy foods are once again becoming a part of the community.

The work of Sust ‘āina ble Molokai helps preserve part of paradise.

Like many of our food superheros, Sust ‘āina ble Molokai works tirelessly. They are dedicated to restoring the local food system and with support and assistance from First Nations through funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, they are making it happen. It was an honor to visit with the staff, volunteers, families and board members during a recent site visit that enabled us to witness the construction of their first “food hub” packaging center and outdoor classroom made of bamboo, partake in the fresh produce grown in the school garden used to educate the students on where their food comes from, and assist leadership in fine-tuning the organization’s compass so that they can continue to excel.

It was great to see on-the-ground efforts that bring to life the inspiration and dedication of these superheros. As their trusty sidekick, we appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the mission, to advocate on their behalf and to celebrate in their success. After all, every superhero should have a trusty sidekick for support.

(For more information on Sust ‘āina ble Molokai, please visit To see a short video, visit

By Jackie Francke, First Nations Director of Programs and Administration

A-dae Romero: A Happy Success Story for Native Agriculture

A-dae at home in Lanai, Hawaii

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is always happy and proud when our grantees and the various projects we have supported achieve good success and begin to make positive ripples in Indian Country. We’re happy and proud a lot because we have many of these stories, but one of the recent ones is about our good friend A-dae Romero.

A-dae first flew onto First Nations’ radar in 2011 when we provided her with a USDA Community Food Projects travel scholarship to attend our L.E.A.D. Conference. At the time, A-dae was thinking of starting a nonprofit organization related to food.

That thought soon became reality with a new organization called Cochiti Youth Experience, Inc. at Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico. (A-dae was born and raised in Cochiti Pueblo. She is Cochiti and Kiowa.) She co-founded this nonprofit so it could create positive opportunities for Cochiti’s young people, and it has a special focus on strengthening Pueblo agriculture as an economic, political and social anchor for the community. First Nations provided a grant to assist Cochiti Youth Experience in 2012 under First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, then another grant in 2013 under our Native Youth and Culture Fund.

Since then, A-dae has continued to accomplish good things, both personally and professionally. She recently received important honors and achieved major milestones that recognize her growing impact, especially in Native American agriculture.

A-Dae (front and center in gray suit) at The White House for the "Champions of Change" honors.

In July 2014, The White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture honored A-dae as one of 15 local “Champions of Change” leaders from across the country “who are doing extraordinary things to build the bench for the next generation of farming and ranching. These champions are leading in their industries and communities, inspiring others who want to find careers and a life on the land, and providing food, fiber, fuel, and flora around the world.”

Then, she was recently named a U.S. Fulbright Scholar, a very prestigious academic accomplishment. She will use it to study the Maori people of New Zealand. Then Agri-Pulse, a national agricultural news source, included her as one of the most influential rural agricultural advocates in its “50 Under 50” report.

Further, A-dae recently completed her LL.M. (master of law) degree in agricultural and food law through the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law. A-dae was the initiative’s first student to complete this multi-disciplinary research, service and educational opportunity, and the initiative itself is the first of its kind nationally. This advanced law degree comes on top of her J.D. (juris doctorate) degree from Arizona State University’s College of Law, and her degree from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (her focus was on public policy and economic policy).

A-dae now acts as a consultant with First Nations Development Institute on several of our Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative efforts, plus she walks in two worlds by farming with her family in New Mexico – raising blue corn and varieties of Pueblo corn – and farming with her husband’s family in Hawaii, growing taro. She also serves on the board of Native American Farmers and Ranchers through New Mexico Community Capital, and on the board of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA). And, she was just named a legal researcher for the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), in partnership with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), for the new Global Network on Legal Preparedness for Achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

After earning her LL.M. degree, First Nations honored A-dae at our offices in Colorado. Left to right are Jackie Francke and Marsha Whiting of First Nations, A-dae, and Sarah Hernandez and Raymond Foxworth of First Nations.

It’s no wonder A-dae is becoming a leader in Native agriculture. According to the Agri-Pulse article, her grandfather was a leader among his people. When construction of the Cochiti Dam flooded agricultural land used by their tribe, A-dae was just a child. Yet she remembers playing nearby as her grandfather and other leaders discussed the loss of the land for farming, which was vital to the pueblo’s livelihood.

A-dae said it was “very intimate and powerful time” in her life, as the community, dependent on agriculture, struggled with the question of who they would be without farming. As she began to develop an interest in a profession that could help her to be a voice of her culture, she found a mentor who encouraged her to pursue her dreams of law school. Since then she has found a fertile and fruitful field of endeavor at the intersection of law and agriculture.

“After all,” she said in the Agri-Pulse interview, “farming is about getting our hands dirty, and there is a simple kind of happiness in that.”

By Randy Blauvelt, First Nations Senior Communications Officer