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

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

Woodland Indian Art Gains Capacity & Elevates “Status”

As a cultural asset for Native communities, art has been an integral part of sustaining Native nations, their cultures, their languages and their traditional beliefs, thereby shaping community and family ties and cultural pride. First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) believes the continuing development of Native American art is an indispensable component of Native community economic development and the retention of Native cultures.

In 2014, First Nations launched the Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative (NACBI) to significantly increase the organizational, managerial and programmatic capacity of Native organizations and tribal government art programs. NACBI provides direct grants, technical assistance and training to Native organizations and tribal government art programs so they can continue to carry out essential work for Native American arts and artists.

NACBI is supported by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation along with contributions from tribal, corporate and individual supporters. In October 2014, First Nations awarded six $30,000 grants to Native art capacity programs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Woodland Indian Art, Inc. (WIA), a community organization located on the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin’s reservation, is one of six inaugural grantees. WIA promotes and educates the public about the unique artistic styles of Native Americans in the upper midwest and northeastern regions of the United States.

For eight years, WIA has existed as a volunteer-driven organization, with no full-time employees on its staff. Since there was no full-time management staff, it was often difficult to coordinate activities of volunteers and obtain much-needed funds for volunteer activities. Even so, WIA volunteers continued to grow the organization and move forward.

NACBI has enabled WIA to formalize its organization, achieve 501(c)(3) status and launch new marketing and fundraising campaigns to increase revenue to support and expand WIA’s activities. “We know that a diversity of funding is the key to becoming a sustainable organization,” said WIA Board President Rae Skenadore.

Achieving 501(c)(3) status has enabled WIA to diversify and expand its funding base. For example, the new status has enabled it to request funding from the Oneida Community Fund. WIA has leveraged those funds by submitting a proposal that doubled Oneida’s donation with matching funds from Wisconsin Public Radio.

These funds allowed WIA to reach its target market and increase awareness of its upcoming event: The 2015 Woodland Indian Art Show & Market. WIA secured more than $10,000 in promotion and marketing services to help increase awareness of the event.

During the past six months, WIA has also developed a new fundraising campaign to increase its presence through mailings, social media and email marketing. New board members and interns from the College of Menominee Nation led the campaign. “By participating in this campaign, a whole new generation is learning how to participate in and be successful in the Native nonprofit sector,” noted Skenadore.

The success of this campaign has allowed WIA to expand the Woodland Indian Art Show & Market from a small event to a large-scale festival that includes an art competition with performing artists, classes and demonstrations. The newly expanded festival will be held June 12-14 at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

As an organization that is approaching its ninth annual event, WIA’s current success reiterates the importance of consistent funding and institutional support for Native American arts and artists. “NACBI has allowed us to move one more step forward in achieving our vision of becoming a trusted, internationally-recognized organization,” said WIA Board Treasurer Loretta Webster. “It has helped jolt us to the next level.”

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator

Shakopee Mdewakanton and National Partners Launch $5 million Native Nutrition Campaign

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


Pathways: Dakota/Lakota Youth Camps Keep Tradition Alive

Preserving Dakota Pathways supported traditional Sundance ceremonies (of which photos are not allowed). However, at the Greenwood Powwow, folks were able to witness a wakanijan (sacred little one) learn the “sneak up dance” from adult traditional dancers.

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded the Dakota Indian Foundation (DIF) a $20,000 grant in 2013 through First Nations’ Native Youth and Culture Fund to support DIF’s program called “Preserving Dakota Pathways.”  Over the past 40 years, DIF has funded numerous cultural preservation and social enhancement projects. DIF, a nonprofit organization in Chamberlain, South Dakota, began in 1971.  It supports individuals, groups and organizations dedicated to preserving Dakota culture and language.

Jerome Kills Small, a Hunkpapa elder, is a storyteller at the horse camp sponsored by the Native American Advocacy Program in south-central South Dakota. Kids are able to sleep in tipis, canoe on Ponca Creek, practice archery and crafts and pick medicinal plants.

Last summer, DIF used its First Nations grant to purchase supplies and materials for several different “culture camps” across South Dakota. More than 100 Dakota and Lakota youth participated in the camps, which focused on various cultural practices, traditions and values such as archery, agriculture, equine skills, leadership and a female rite-of-passage ceremony. In many cases, tribal elders and youth interact significantly, which builds strong inter-generational bridges.

John Beheler, DIF Executive Director

“Traditionally, elders were always recognized as the seat of wisdom.  Our ancestors always turned to the headmen of the tiospaye for sage advice or direction for the tribe,” said John Beheler, DIF executive director.  “Unfortunately, our priorities today have shifted and we see too many youth who will forget to shake an elder’s hand.  Our grant allowed us to empower elders who found a voice in the 16-minute video “Preserving Dakota Pathways,” which can be viewed on our website at”

DIF purchased seeds for high school students on the Lower Brule Indian Reservation. At camp, these students learned traditional harvesting and planting techniques. The fruits and vegetables harvested were later used to cook traditional meals that were served at the annual Lower Brule Powwow and Fair.

Flossy Drappeau is an Ihanktonwan (Yankton Sioux) elder who preserves the cultural arts through her quilt-making, and shares her knowledge with the youngsters.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe also received funding through DIF’s grantmaking program to support a summer equine camp. The purpose of this camp was to help youth understand the important role horses play in Lakota culture.  At camp, Lakota youth learned equine life skills and safety.

Further, DIF helped purchase supplies and materials for a summer camp for Dakota girls on the Yankton Indian Reservation. Specifically, these items were used to help revive the Isnati “Coming-of-Age” Ceremony. During the ceremony, female elders imparted traditional teachings to female youth.  (For more on the Isnati, see the National Public Radio article here: )

The 2013 Dakota 38+2 Wokiksuye Ride

In addition to supporting these summer camps for tribal youth, DIF also used a portion of its First Nations grant to fund several powwows, including a special powwow for high school graduates and Sundance ceremonies in Fort Thompson and Martin, South Dakota. Also, a portion of these funds were donated to Dakota 38+2 Wokiksuye Ride to support its annual horseback trek to honor the 38 men hanged in Minnesota in 1862. The horseback ride, which included youth from several different South Dakota tribes, is a reflection of traditional Dakota healing practices.  The group traveled by horseback more than 300 miles from Crow Creek, S.D., to Mankato, Minnesota, in December 2013.

Preserving Dakota Pathways is an innovative program that allows DIF to reach a number of different Lakota and Dakota tribes across South Dakota. This grantmaking program is unique because it allows each tribe to tailor their summer camp to the specific needs of their youth and their communities.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator

Final Meeting Held for 4 Tribes in Asset-Building Project

Representatives from all project partners at the final meeting, plus First Nations President Michael Roberts (far left) and First Nations Program Officer Lisa Yellow Eagle (fourth from right, back row)

On May 2, 2014, First Nations brought representatives from the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, the Hopi Education Endowment Fund (Arizona), the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (Minnesota) and the Spokane Tribe of Indians (Washington) together in Denver, Colorado, for a final meeting of the Native Asset-Building Partnership Project.

The project was meant to strengthen tribal and Native institutions through peer learning and model development that will help improve control and management of assets for the Oneida Tribe and the Mille Lacs Band.  First Nations found tribal mentors to help the Oneida and Mille Lacs design programs that will support, educate and strengthen the capacity of the youth of each tribe.

The Hopi Education Endowment Fund (HEEF) is an Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7871 program that raises funds for Hopi students’ education.  This means HEEF is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as being a division of a tribal government that can receive tax-deductible donations.  HEEF has mentored the Oneida on designing and implementing an IRC Section 7871 program.  Oneida has chosen to put together a framework for an Oneida Youth Leadership Institute to encourage, empower and provide leadership training to tribal youth.  Oneida has chosen to use the IRC Section 7871 designation rather than the 501(c)(3) designation because it supports tribal sovereignty while still allowing donations to be tax-deductible.

The Spokane Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources has conducted a summer youth and mentorship program for more than a decade.  The department incorporates traditions and culture into its summer programs and learning camps to teach youth how their ancestors used science to fish, hunt, build housing, etc.  The department mentored the Mille Lacs on designing and implementing a summer youth program in Minnesota.  The Mille Lacs designed a curriculum for high school students as extra-curricular science classes that will incorporate traditions and culture.  The Mille Lacs also will implement a summer internship program at its Department of Natural Resources during June 2014.  This will allow a tribal youth to work with the staff and learn about the different programs within the department as well as learning about career opportunities.

At the final meeting, all partners presented on their projects to First Nations and to the other partners involved in the project.  First Nations also helped the two partnerships come up with action plans for the next year (after the grant is complete).  The meeting was a success and the two projects developed more definite plans that will help them implement their projects in the upcoming months.

By Lisa Yellow Eagle, First Nations Program Officer

Supporting Tribe’s Quest for Youth Degrees & Jobs

At the Spokane reservation in November are, L to R, Scott Hansen (Mille Lacs), Katie Eaton (Spokane), Andrew Boyd (Mille Lacs), Brian Crossley (Spokane), Warren Seyler (Spokane) and Brent Nichols (Spokane).

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has given a grant to support the strengthening of tribal and Native institutions through peer learning and model development, which will, in turn, improve control and management of assets for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. The Native Asset-Building Partnership Project has paired up the natural resources departments of the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

The Mille Lacs Band’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been partnered with a mentor, the Spokane Indian Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  The Mille Lacs DNR wants to implement a summer internship and mentorship program for tribal youth.  There is a low graduation rate from college and little knowledge of the many tribal departments that offer employment.  The ultimate goal is for tribal youth to gain interest in the environmental, scientific and natural resources fields, to attend college and to study those fields.  The final and ultimate goal is for the tribal youth to return to the Mille Lacs DNR for employment.

The Spokane Tribe’s DNR has a summer youth mentorship and internship program in place.  The program has been in operation for more than a decade.  The Spokane Tribe’s DNR incorporates culture and traditions into their summer internship and summer learning camps in order to teach their youth how their ancestors used science to fish, hunt, build housing and achieve other goals.  They have been developing their program through the years and are very willing to share that knowledge with the Mille Lacs Band.

The first in-person meeting was hosted by the Mille Lacs Band at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs in Onamia, Minnesota, in August 2013.  The Spokane Tribe presented on their summer internship and mentorship program.  Specifically, they brought a summer intern with them to present.  She described how the summer internship program is run, how many weeks each student dedicates to each program, and the outreach the tribes conducts to recruit interns.  She also presented on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) summer programs for the younger kids, 4th to 6th grade.  This presentation was part of her internship requirement of learning to speak in public.  The Spokane Tribe’s DNR also shared information on the history of the tribe to familiarize the Mille Lacs Band with the culture and tradition of the Spokane Tribe.  The Mille Lacs Band’s DNR staff was able to ask in-depth questions about the internship program as well as learn about their mentor’s cultures, traditions and history.

At the beginning of November 2013, the second in-person meeting was hosted by the Spokane Tribe in Wellpinit, Washington.  The Spokane Tribe’s DNR brought in their partner, the University of Idaho, to present on the Summer Learning Camp and the STEM Curriculum Development.  The university has partnered with the tribe to help develop the curriculum. The tribe provides the culture, tradition and historical knowledge that they want incorporated into the curriculum.  Further presentations included staff members from each DNR program discussing the impacts of the internship program and sharing best practices from their unique and individual points of view.   During this meeting, the Mille Lacs Band shared information on their history, culture and traditions.

The face-to-face meetings are a critical way to build trust between the two tribes, to share tribal culture and tradition, and a way to learn the critical knowledge that is needed to help the mentee tribe reach their goal.  Helping tribal youth see the value of college and learn about employment opportunities with their own tribe is a great way to lower the tribal unemployment rate, to build the knowledge base of tribal youth, provide opportunities for the youth, and to build up tribal sovereignty and independence.

The First Nations Native Asset-Building Partnership Project is supported by the Otto Bremer Foundation and The Nathan Cummings Foundation.

By Lisa Yellow Eagle, First Nations Program Officer

18th Annual L.E.A.D. Conference a Huge Success

First Nations President Michael Roberts opens the conference and introduces the first keynote speaker.

In early October 2013, First Nations held its 18th Annual L.E.A.D. Institute Conference at the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, Minnesota, at the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.  It attracted a record number of attendees – almost 200 – who journeyed to the event from numerous Native nonprofits, tribal governments, businesses and other entities across the U.S.  It also attracted foundation and corporate executives, many of whom presented at workshops or on panels during the conference.

Lori Watso of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community talks about renewable energy and sustainability efforts.

Although the group was diverse, they all shared one common purpose: they are deeply interested in building, rebuilding, growing and improving Native American communities and economies.  This is a purpose that aligns directly with First Nations’ own goal and mission.

L.E.A.D.  stands for “Leadership and Entrepreneurial Apprenticeship Development” program. It is a First Nations effort designed to provide training, mentorship and networking opportunities to emerging and existing Native American leaders and other professionals, particularly those engaged in nonprofit work but also for those involved in Native businesses and governments.

The conference kicked off with intensive pre-sessions that included the areas of agriculture and Native food sovereignty, financial capability, and urban Indian programs. Co-sponsors of these pre-sessions included the Shakopee Farm, Intertribal Agriculture Council, Northwest Area Foundation and The Kresge Foundation. The pre-sessions ended and the main conference began with a networking reception sponsored by Comcast|NBCUniversal.

The Funders Panel draws lots of interest and questions.

The next day and a half featured keynote presentations and breakout workshops on a variety of topics related to First Nations’ focus areas of asset-building, nonprofit capacity-building and Native food systems. Among the keynote speakers were Lori Watso, secretary/treasurer of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, who spoke about some of the tribe’s renewable energy and sustainability initiatives; and Bill Black, vice president and executive director of the Comcast Foundation and director of community investment for Comcast Corporation, who addressed why and how his company is supporting organizations in Indian Country. The breakout sessions covered areas such as marketing, communications and social media, financial and investor education, good agriculture practices, nonprofit incorporation and board development, Native food policy, and financial management.

Comcast Foundation's Bill Black keynotes about why and how Comcast is supporting Indian Country.

The conference ended with the ever-popular Funders Panel comprised of representatives from foundations that support Indian Country. They provided insights, guidance and tips on dealing with their foundations in seeking support for projects and initiatives. Panelists included representatives from Northwest Area Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation, CHS Foundation, Bush Foundation, Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and First Nations.
By Marsha Whiting, First Nations Senior Program Officer