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.

Little Earth: Promoting Self-Determination & Advancement

 

Little Earth of United Tribes is regarded as the “heart and soul of the American Indian community” in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Founded in 1973, Little Earth is the only federally subsidized housing complex in the United States for American Indians. The complex, located in south Minneapolis, comprises 212 townhomes and apartments, a community center and early learning center. It is home to nearly 1,000 residents representing more than 30 different tribes and tribal nations.

Seventy percent of the residents at Little Earth are under the age of 30. Approximately, 94 percent of its residents live below the poverty line and experience high rates of unemployment.

Robert Lilligren

Robert Lilligren, president and CEO of Little Earth, does not believe these statistics are an accurate representation of the community’s potential. He says, “Little Earth residents are smart, energetic and enterprising, but lack the skills and tools to engage in the economy more fully.

Over the past year, Little Earth has restructured its governance system and improved management practices with the goal of engaging and empowering its residents. To this end, Little Earth established several new programs that emphasize financial literacy, self-sufficiency and access to homeownership.

In 2014, First Nations, with generous support from The Kresge Foundation, awarded Little Earth $40,000 to assist with efforts to grow and improve these new programs. With this grant, Little Earth launched the Community Wealth Creation and Employment Program.

The Community Wealth Creation and Employment Program is a three-year program that assists residents with personal and business financial planning. Recently, 20 residents completed the first year of the program, which focused upon basic financial skills, job search skills and professional development.

The second and third years of the program will introduce residents to the key steps and tools required to start a small business. Little Earth leaders will work with residents to establish Little Earth’s Food Truck and Catering and Little Earth’s Online Market. Little Earth’s Food Truck and Catering is expected to launch in 2015 and Little Earth’s Online Market is tentatively scheduled for early 2016.

The Community Wealth Creation and Employment Program is intended to increase employment rates and decrease poverty rates in the community. Lilligren says, “We expect program participants to gain the experience, motivation and wherewithal to achieve their employment and entrepreneurial goals, and to inspire others in the community.”

Additionally, completion of this program will allow residents to take advantage of Little Earth’s other programs such as the new homeownership initiative. The Little Earth Homeownership Initiative provides support services to help Little Earth residents purchase their first home. To qualify for this program, residents must have a reliable and steady source of income.

The Community Wealth Creation and Employment Program functions as a pipeline that will helps ensure that potential applicants are prepared to meet this criteria and achieve their long-term goals. Through these innovative programs, Little Earth is able to promote self-determination and community advancement. Little Earth reiterates that American Indians have the knowledge, power and resilience to strengthen their own tribes and tribal communities.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator

Collaboration & Partnerships Expand in Urban Indian Program

Jay Grimm, executive director of the Denver Indian Center, talks about the project

The Denver Indian Center, Inc. and the Denver Indian Family Resource Center are partners in the “Building Strong American Indian/Alaska Native Communities” effort, which is a three-year project that is funded by The Kresge Foundation.

As grant recipients in First Nations’ 2013-2014 Urban Indian Organization program, their project strategy is to improve and expand collaborative opportunities for the two organizations, as well as other partner organizations in metropolitan Denver.  They plan to increase participation in new and existing programs, build resources, explore new ways of working together, and enrich communication that creates the most impact.  Proposed activities involve resource development, case management, outreach, marketing, information exchange, database management, and developing best practices.

The National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) and First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) are also strategic partners in this project.  The main objective of their partnership is the amplification of services to the grantees to aid in sustainability and growth.  It is the right business match.  We are committed to the design and co-management of the program with open access to information, networks, resources and skills.  Our tasks are to deliver technical assistance and training along with assessments, site visits, media development, and information-sharing forums.

Partnerships and collaboration are motivating philosophies at First Nations.  Collaboration builds the Native American nonprofit sector.  It is a process that prompts individuals with diverse interests to share their knowledge and resources to improve outcomes, innovate and enhance decisions.  When we share our expertise we become deeply involved in the design and delivery of outreach, programs, and services.  As partners we solve problems, meet objectives, build support, and utilize our strengths more effectively for greater success.

Under the Kresge project, First Nations and NUIFC also selected two other organizations to receive grants. They are the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland, Oregon, and the Little Earth of United Tribes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Each of the three projects is receiving a $40,000 grant.

First Nations’ and NUIFC’s overall effort aims to help organizations that work with some of the estimated 78 percent ofAmerican 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 services.

To learn more about these organizations and the project, please see the First Nations/NUIFC press release at this link: http://www.firstnations.org/node/645.

By Montoya A. Whiteman, First Nations Senior Program Officer