35 Years of History: A Look Back at Some Milestones

In observing our 35th Anniversary during 2015, we’ve been taking a look back at some of our history. We’ve been sharing some of these historical tidbits over the course of this year. Here’s our third installment:

  • In 1986, First Nations testified before Congress on land, trust funds reform, and BIA asset management.
  • In 1987, the Umatilla Land Project begins. Based on the model established at Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, First Nations provides technical assistance for land consolidation efforts at other reservations.
  • In 1991, First Nations is a founding board member of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity. That same year, First Nations initiates a series of tribal investment workshops.
  • In 1993, First Nations provides information that the U.S. Justice Department will rely on in bringing successful legal actions against two border town banks for their lending policies toward Native Americans.
  • In 1998, First Nations formed its Native Assets Research Center, consolidating the organization’s long concentration on research as an instrument of policy reform.
  • In 1999, First Nations created a program called International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP). Today, IFIP is a separate 501(c)(3) organization based in San Francisco, California.
  • In 2002, First Nations establishes its Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, or NAFSI.
  • In 2003, First Nations launches its Native Youth and Culture Fund.
  • In 2013, First Nations acquires its own building at 2432 Main Street in Longmont, Colorado.
  • By mid-year 2015, First Nations had given 1,039 grants totaling $23.7 million to Native American projects and organizations in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territory American Samoa. (We announced our 1,000th-grant milestone with this press release on July 16.)

Shown at First Nations' 25th Anniversary event in 2005 are, L to R, First Nations President Mike Roberts, Peter and Jennifer Buffett of NoVo Foundation, and First Nations Founder Rebecca Adamson.


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

Tradition & Technology: San Carlos Apache Tribe’s Food Database

Fluent Apache speaker Twila Cassadore helped conduct, record and analyze well over 100 interviews with Apache elders.

Can tradition and technology co-exist? The San Carlos Apache Tribe, located in southeastern Arizona, has developed a first-of-its-kind traditional food database system that seems to suggest the answer is yes.

The database allows tribal healthcare leaders to preserve traditional Apache recipes so that nutritionists can analyze the nutritional content of these foods to replicate the traditional Western Apache diet. This project will allow the tribe to design a healthy, pre-reservation menu that will help reverse the growing trend of diet-related illnesses on the reservation.

In 2013, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded the San Carlos Apache Tribe $37,500 through First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) to launch the database. With this grant, the tribe hired a fluent Apache speaker, Twila Cassadore, to conduct 100 interviews with tribal elders. Those elders helped identify more than 200 traditional Apache edible plants and nearly as many traditional Apache recipes.

The traditional food database led to new partnerships that aimed to involve the youth in Native food systems work.

A nutritionist has analyzed more than half of these recipes and modernized them so that they are more accessible to home cooks. For example, some recipes call for wild plants that are not typically sold in the grocery store or sown in the garden. The nutritionist, by finding a modern equivalent to these traditional ingredients, will help tribal members revive their pre-reservation diet.

“This database allows us to approach traditional cultural knowledge as a science,” says botanist Seth Pilsk. “To respect it in a traditional manner, but not shy away from studying and analyzing it. We are using traditional knowledge as a means to solving contemporary problems.”

Traditionally, the tribe incorporated food and food production into every aspect of their lives, from sacred rituals and ceremonies to their social and political structures. This project seeks to re-establish the tribe’s healthy relationship with food and, in the process, alleviate some of their current social and economic ills, including substance abuse, suicide, domestic violence, diabetes, obesity, poverty and unemployment.

Apache elders firmly believe that a return to a healthy, pre-reservation diet will help reverse these negative trends and enhance the lives of their tribal members – culturally, physically, socially and politically. Indeed, the information gleaned from this database has already started to have a positive impact on the community.

Tribal healthcare leaders have partnered with the Diabetes Prevention Program, the Wellness Program, The Department of Forest Resources, and the Language Preservation Office to develop a model program based on traditional – mostly food-related – activities. Most recently, they have held a series of meetings with the tribe’s Elders Cultural Advisory Council to identify the major principles needed to inform a Tribal Food Policy Committee. This committee will recommend policies for the tribal leadership to support traditionally-based food systems, health and economic development.

This project has allowed the tribe to successfully merge tradition and technology to improve the physical and social health of their people. The success of this traditional food database system reiterates that tribes have the knowledge and power to strengthen their own communities.

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 http://sustainablemolokai.org/. To see a short video, visit https://www.dropbox.com/s/tm13v5tteccqmtp/Sustainable%20Molokai%20FINAL.mp4?dl=0)

By Jackie Francke, First Nations Director of Programs and Administration

Field to Fork: Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley

The Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley is located on the Big Pine Indian Reservation in California, at the foot of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. The tribe’s early ancestors utilized the land and water to create irrigated areas that produced the tribe’s main food source. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, the city of Los Angeles purchased most of the land and water rights in the Owens Valley and transferred them to the Los Angeles basin, thus severing the tribe’s connection with the land and water and interfering with its ability to feed its own people.

Today, the Big Pine Reservation is considered a “food desert” because of the lack of access to healthy and affordable food. In 2010, the tribe established the Sustainable Food System Development Project to transform its food desert into a more robust, sustainable food system by establishing a permaculture garden.

In 2013, First Nations awarded the Big Pine Paiute Tribe $37,500 through the Native Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Initiative (NAFSI) to expand the permaculture garden to include a demonstration site, a fruit orchard, a seed bank, and a weekly farmers’ market. This grant, underwritten by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, has allowed the tribe to develop an innovative field-to-fork model that will sustain the community for generations to come.

This grant allowed the tribe to expand their small permaculture garden into a larger educational community garden that teaches tribal members how to plant, grow and harvest healthy, organic heirloom fruits and vegetables as well as Native plants and medicine. The tribe used the expanded permaculture garden as a demonstration site to conduct several classes and workshops, including a three-day intensive permaculture course, food policy/sovereignty classes, youth mentoring sessions, and numerous gardening workshops.

The gardening workshops, in particular, have been very popular among tribal members. At these workshops, tribal members learn about composting, caring for plants and respecting ecosystems. Many workshop participants used these lessons to create their own personal home gardens. These workshops encouraged tribal members to start their own gardens while simultaneously attending to the community garden. As a result of these hands-on workshops, tribal members helped plant, grow and harvest more than 100 pounds of squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans and bell peppers that were eventually donated to the tribal grocery store.

Many tribal members also volunteered at the expanded permaculture garden site outside of these workshops. For example, several volunteers helped plant 50 perennial fruit trees. The trees did not yield any fruit this season. However, once these trees mature, they have the potential to yield hundreds of pounds of fruit. These trees will produce healthy, fresh fruit for generations. The tribe speculates that eventually they will need to hire more workers to maintain the fruit orchard and the ever-expanding permaculture garden.

The tribe determined which fruits and vegetables to plant in the permaculture garden by conducting a community survey. This survey also helped the tribe determine which seeds to collect and store for the seed bank. The purpose of the seed bank is to gather the seeds of plants originally grown in the region and preserve them for future generations. The seed bank is a continuing process that will grow as the tribe becomes more and more aware of its needs and learns proper seed-saving techniques.

A portion of this grant was also used to host weekly farmers’ markets that helped farmers and workshop participants sell their fruits and vegetables. These farmers markets are intended to help growers earn extra money and provide tribal members with a healthy alternative to processed foods.

The Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley developed the Sustainable Food System Development Project to improve the physical health and well-being of their people and to preserve their tribal community for generations to come. The success of this innovative field-to-fork model reiterates that tribes have the potential to strengthen and improve their own communities.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator

Improving Food Security at the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation

In the Hayward, Wisconsin, area, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College is pushing forward with its recently funded First Nations grant to increase food security for the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation. The grant was made available through First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, and is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The college’s Sustainable Agriculture Research Station (LSARS) works to increase food security through agricultural production within the reservation. Fish have traditionally been very important to the way of life for Ojibwe people. However, modern issues of mercury poisoning and other types of contamination have limited fish in their diet, so the station proposed providing tribally raised poultry, eggs and farmed fish as a way to incorporate more affordable and healthy protein into the diets of the Lac Courte Oreilles community. An alternative purpose is to inform tribal members so they better understand where their food comes from.

From the program, many tiers of “experiential learning” and “experimental infrastructure” have helped increase the capacity of students and faculty to advance aquaponics research as well as innovation in the community’s agricultural efficiency.

LSARS has run into some challenges with inclement weather since the project began, so its assessments will not be finalized until the end of the growing season. The biggest success so far has been in acquiring a tractor that has significantly boosted production by doubling the amount of tilled space. In addition, many new partnerships have been developed with the Northwest Wisconsin Regional Food Network, WestWinds Community Cooperative, University of Wisconsin Extension, Spooner Agricultural Research Station, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Plant Pathology.

Locally there have been new partnerships forged with county extension offices and the local casino. A unique aspect of these partnerships is that the casino will start composting and will purchase LSARS produce.

The program has been very successful in community outreach and engagement.  Some examples of the programs include a farmers market, monthly education activities at the farm, and an annual sustainable fair.  The project also plans to start tours and open houses.

By Katy Gorman, First Nations/Ogallala Commons Intern

First Nations Supports Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty

This issue of the Indian Giver e-newsletter spotlights one of First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) grantees that is doing tremendous work on the Muckleshoot reservation in Bellingham, Washington – Northwest Indian College and its Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project (MFSP).

With a population of 3,884 American Indians living on or near the reservation, college created the MFSP with the aim to “build local and systemic infrastructure in the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe to improve food systems, address food insecurity, and eliminate food deserts.” In its early stages, the project was able to create and implement many community activities, including cook’s camps, for-credit college courses on basic nutrition and traditional foods, seasonal food celebrations, community gardens, and educational trainings on traditional foods and medicines.

Now in the middle of its first year of being funded by First Nations, the MFSP is reaching for more goals in order to expand the program. With the success of the community gardens, the project is now trying to incorporate more of its locally grown foods into the seven tribal kitchens, attain better quality products from vendors, develop a “menu development toolkit,” and create more educational events for the community.

Right now the program is working on its latest initiatives through surveys, consultation and planning. It has been challenging for the seven community kitchens, largely because each of them faces “unique barriers to making meals on a daily basis.” Additionally, with their location, it is often difficult getting deliveries of fresh products.

Establishing and growing the program has been no easy feat, and the coordinators have often had to face the reality that, sometimes, plans are not always easily translated into reality. However, they have seen progress, such as the elders of the communities benefiting from improved diets because of the gardening projects, watching community participation in the effort increase significantly, and a general relearning of cultural knowledge.  Though they have run into some challenges, they are persistent and keep the project moving forward.

It has been well worth their efforts. According to Miguel Hernandez of Northwest Indian College, “After speaking with some elders and explaining to them about the project, they had mentioned to me, ‘this work is a response to the ancestors’ prayers.’ After hearing this from an elder, it makes me realize how important people from the community think this work is and how the project affects them. We try to keep these things in mind when things get difficult or energy is low.”

By Katy Gorman, First Nations/Ogallala Commons Intern

Website a Resource for Native Food & Agriculture Efforts

A new website was launched on April 15 that aims to become a valuable online resource for Native American tribes, organizations and individuals who are involved in food systems and agricultural efforts, and/or who are aiming for better health and nutrition for their families and communities.

The site is www.NativeFoodSystems.org.  It was created by First Nations, with funding provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. For more than 32 years, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native Homepage screenshotAmerican communities. Part of this effort centers on food, through First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food System Initiative, or NAFSI.

Under NAFSI, First Nations also provides grants to numerous food and agricultural efforts by tribes and nonprofit organizations, and recently announced the awarding of 10 such grants totaling $375,000. First Nations, in partnership with the Taos County Economic Development Corporation in Taos, New Mexico, is also working to create the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, which is intended to become a sustainable and organized movement that is Native American driven and controlled, nationally active and dedicated to addressing food security, hunger and nutrition in Native American communities at the national, tribal and local levels.

“We believe that our work in the food sector has many benefits, all of which are critically important,” noted Michael E. Roberts, president of First Nations.  “These include improved Native health and nutrition, of course, but also a reconnection with traditional foods and a reinforcement of our cultural practices and customs.  Further, regaining control of food systems can provide a huge and much-needed boost to the development of Native economies.”

The new www.NativeFoodSystems.org website features a diverse variety of resources and information, ranging from tribal gardens, farms and markets, to youth programs and farm-to-school efforts, to seed saving, to traditional plants and medicine, to food marketing and handling, to home gardening, canning and healthy family eating. The site was designed and built by First Nations Project Officer Ruben Hernandez, and research and content was provided by Andrea Cournoyer of Plain Depth Consulting.

By Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Senior Program Officer

Nambe Pueblo Honors Elders by Addressing Senior Hunger & Sustainability

The experience, knowledge and wisdom of tribal elders have the potential to improve the health and well-being of tribal communities.

In 2012, the Pueblo of Nambe launched an innovative project to demonstrate its respect and appreciation for tribal elders’ lifelong contributions to the tribe. It established a community farm that has helped revitalize traditional farming methods and produced more than 4,000 pounds of food to help eliminate senior hunger on the reservation.

First Nations supported this innovative project with two grants through its broad Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI). The first $25,000 grant was awarded in 2012 and was underwritten by AARP Foundation as part of the Native American Food Security project.  It was intended to find a sustainable solution to hunger for seniors. The tremendous success of this first project encouraged the tribe to apply for a second grant in 2013 to build capacity and increase healthy food access for Native American children and families as well as seniors. The second grant for $37,500 was underwritten by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  It will be used to expand this small community project into a much larger business venture that addresses senior hunger as well as food insecurity and economic instability.

Funding by AARP Foundation motivated the pueblo to conduct a food assessment to examine the needs of their tribal community. This assessment revealed a gap in healthy food access for seniors. The pueblo addressed this gap by launching a community farm and food-distribution program that ensured that tribal elders had easy access to traditional and healthy local foods both at home and at the senior center. Additionally, in the fall, the tribe hosted a harvest party to honor their elders with a traditional feast that included fresh bison and fruits and vegetables from the community garden. Much of the produce was grown and harvested by tribal youth under the guidance and supervision of their elders, who used that opportunity to pass their cultural knowledge and wisdom along to the next generation.

The success of this community-wide initiative inspired the Pueblo of Nambe to apply for a second grant in 2013 to lease additional land and hire more hands to cultivate the community garden. The hope is that the pueblo can use the second grant to tackle food insecurity on the reservation, sell surplus fruits and vegetables to stores and restaurants off the reservation, and stimulate tribal economic growth and development by hiring tribal youth to assist in these efforts.

The Pueblo of Nambe Community Farm demonstrates how a small and seemingly fragile community project can have far and long-lasting generational effects in Indian Country, especially when these projects are nurtured through stable and consistent funding and support. This innovative project would not have been possible without the generous support of both AARP Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, whose commitment and dedication to Native people is helping build strong, sustainable tribal communities – culturally, nutritionally and economically – for generations to come.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator