Financial Ed Workshop Held at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

Some of the attendees at SIPI go over their materials

The Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families curriculum is a culturally appropriate financial education curriculum designed for use in Native communities. It is used by tribal colleges, tribal housing authorities and other programs to educate approximately 2,300 students a year – and the numbers are growing.

On October 1-3, 2014, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) partnered with First Nations Oweesta Corporation to provide a “train-the-trainer” workshop to help practitioners learn to use the Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families curriculum in their home community.

In coordination with the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute’s (SIPI’s) Board of Regents Office, First Nations helped conduct a three-day workshop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that provided an orientation to the curriculum, an overview of teaching tools, and training on a range of teaching techniques. More than 15 participants in the workshop learned how to use the Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families curriculum in a variety of settings to promote financial empowerment.

“We were happy to be able to partner with First Nations Development Institute to offer this workshop,” said Vonne Strobe, a project coordinator for SIPI’s Board of Regents Office. “We definitely learned a lot that will be useful in serving the clients in our financial education program.” Other participants in the workshop included staff from tribal housing authorities, education departments, and staff from New Mexico’s tribal libraries program.

“It is an honor to work with such a great group of passionate and dedicated financial educators,” noted Shawn Spruce, a workshop facilitator and a First Nations financial education consultant. “We look forward to hearing how people are able to use these tools to serve their community members.”

To learn more about the Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families curriculum, visit the First Nations website at http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/financial-education/bnc.

By Sarah Dewees, First Nations Senior Director of Research, Policy and Asset-Building Programs

New Grants Boost First Nations’ Reach and Mission

Over the past few months, we have been extremely fortunate to receive two significant grants that will go far toward addressing critical issues in Indian Country.

“Forward Promise”

We were one of four organizations to receive grants of $415,000 each from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), in partnership with Public Interest Projects.  RWJF’s overall effort aims to promote opportunity and health for young men of color in rural communities in the South and Southwest, and it represent the nation’s largest private investment in rural young men of color to date. The program is known as the “Forward Promise” Catalyst Grants.

In First Nations’ case, we’ll use the funding for our “Advancing Positive Paths for Native American Boys and Young Men” project. It focuses on Native boys and young men in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. We’ll work with local partners on projects that address one or both of these areas of interest in a culturally relevant manner:

  • Early intervention strategies that focus on dropout prevention and increasing middle school retention and high school graduation rates.
  • Policy and programmatic efforts that elevate the importance of a caring adult to re-engage youth who may be disconnected from work or school.

 

We have already conducted an application period for grants under the program, and we are now evaluating the responses.  We expect to award four to eight grants ranging from $38,000 to $50,000 each.

“Simply put, Native boys and young men face big challenges in their rural and reservation settings, but these challenges – including poverty, lack of male leadership and involvement, rising drug and gang violence, and other risks that make success difficult – are not insurmountable,” noted Michael E. Roberts, First Nations president. “We are excited by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s investment in Native communities. It is exactly this type of investment that will allow these Native youth to move forward successfully with the support they need to become productive adults. By supporting organizations that address these issues with grants and our culturally-appropriate technical assistance and training, we’re positioning them for long-term success.”

“Catalyzing Community Giving”

We were awarded a $306,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, under the foundation’s “Catalyzing Community Giving” effort. First Nations will use the grant to collaborate with smaller local or regional Native American nonprofit organizations to build their internal capacity while engaging new donors – both Native and non-Native – around those organizations’ efforts in building sustainable food systems and strengthening Native culture among youth.

First Nations will work with 10 organizations in its two-year pilot project, called “Nurturing Native Giving,” that is intended to strengthen their fundraising effectiveness, with a primary focus on individual giving. First Nations will create a web portal that profiles the 10 participants, highlights their work, and which allows convenient donations to each organization. Further, First Nations will assist them in publicizing and marketing the portal and all funds raised will be directed back to these communities.

We will also provide significant training and technical assistance to the participating organizations through coaching, webinars and an online learning community to share resources and build the group’s collective knowledge and best practices from their own organizations. We’ll also facilitate a dialogue between project participants and Native grantmaking tribes and other funding entities in hopes that mutually beneficial partnerships can be established. Three convenings and a white paper will summarize the learnings and policy recommendations that can lead to increased giving in Native communities and, ultimately, grow the body of knowledge about Native philanthropy.

“First Nations has long known that developing a strong and healthy nonprofit sector in Native communities is one key to economic diversification and service delivery,” Roberts said. “This program will expand the reach of local Native nonprofits and improve charitable giving to Native causes and communities.”

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

Anti-Hunger Initiatives Help Older Native Americans

L to R are Harley Coriz of Santo Domingo, Maggie Biscarr of AARP Foundation, and George Toya of Nambe

In Indian Country, finding a restaurant is easy – if you want to eat at a fast-food chain that serves cheap, fattening meals. Native American cuisine now typically means fry bread, a disk of dough deep-fried in oil or lard. Few stores sell fresh produce on reservations. And, perhaps surprisingly, farmers’ markets are practically impossible to find.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture deems most reservations “food deserts” — low-income areas where many people lack access to nutritional foods. According to the Center for Rural Health, about 6 in 10 Native Americans age 55 and older survive on between $5,000 and $10,000 a year. The brutal one-two punch of rampant poverty and low-quality food hits tribal elders particularly hard. A 2013 study by First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) found that American Indian seniors “now suffer from higher rates of congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke than the general population age 55 and older.”

To help end chronic hunger among older Native Americans, AARP Foundation has awarded $438,000 to First Nations Development Institute since 2012. The nonprofit based in Longmont, Colorado, in turn provided grants, training and technical assistance to several innovative programs that aim to improve nutrition for American Indian seniors while fostering community. “First Nations does a really good job finding tribes that have the capacity and the need, and that’s a fine line,” says Maggie Biscarr, program manager for AARP Foundation’s Hunger Impact area. “You have to work with groups that really need it — and have some level of capacity to deliver.”

First Nations recently awarded $25,000 sub-grants to four tribes in Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wisconsin for anti-hunger initiatives. The second round of funding follows a $100,000 grant distributed in 2012 for four innovative projects, including the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma’s Healthy Pork initiative; the Traditional Food Systems Revitalization Project of the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico; and the Pueblo of Nambe’s Community Farm, also in New Mexico.

“We are pleased to again support an organization that has a proven record in hunger relief, and look forward to watching the new programs grow in impact for Native American elders,” says AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson.

Amos Hinton at Ponca

Amos Hinton from the Ponca Tribe

Amos Hinton, director of agriculture for the Ponca Tribe, reports that his program has bred, processed and distributed more than 6,000 pounds of free-range pork since 2012. “Commercial agriculture has gone so far away from the way animals were intended to be raised and grain was meant to be grown,” says Amos, who frets that many of his neighbors subsisted on “low-end processed lunch meats from cans” if they could afford meat at all. When Amos delivered locally raised, hormone-free pork to an elderly woman shortly after launching his project, he remembers being told, I’m so glad to see you, because I didn’t know how we were going to eat for the rest of the week. “That bothered me — really, really bothered me,” admits Amos, who is in the process of breeding four more pigs.

The AARP Foundation grant enabled the Pueblo of Nambe to buy a second-hand tractor, tools, and seeds, and to pay for some labor to build a 20-by-40-foot hoop house. The structure, made of flexible plastic over a wood frame, harnesses solar radiation to extend the growing season. Before the hoop house was built, George Toya, the Pueblo’s farm manager, estimated that his growing season started in May and ended in late September. After completion, the season doubled and now lasts from late February until November. The farm produces lettuce, spinach, beets and carrots, as well as the venerated chili pepper. “Chilies are everything here,” notes George, who donates much of the harvest to the community’s senior center.

When George was growing up, he remembers cutting wheat by hand with a sickle along with his father, grandfather and many neighbors: “When one field ripened and was ready to cut, [local] farmers came over and helped.” His family gladly returned the favor. “The work went really quick,” says George, who believes Nambe’s community farm has revived a communal spirit. “It’s starting to come back again.”

Harley inside the Santo Domingo greenhouse

The Pueblo of Santo Domino’s Traditional Food Systems Revitalization Project grows not only traditional crops but also relationships, says Harley Coriz, who oversees the local senior center. The grant they received enabled the tribe to build a greenhouse, where vegetables for seniors grow during winter. The venture connects tribal elders and youth who plant and harvest corn, melons and tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. “The seniors teach youths the names of plants in the native tongue,” says Harley, who points out that the program yields an unexpected benefit: empowering women volunteers. “Mainly males did the farming, so a lot of the older ladies have never planted before and they were really enthused,” he notes.

“Everything is centered around agriculture in our society,” Harley continues. “We plant as a community, we harvest as a community and — they tell us growing up — life begins with putting seeds into the ground.”

This article, by David Wallis, was written and published by AARP Foundation, Bob Somerville, editor. It is reprinted here with permission from AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger nationwide campaign.

Denver-Area Indian Groups Learn to “Adapt”

A group shot of the seminar participants

In its mission to strengthen Native American nonprofit organizations, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) hosted a two-day Adaptive Leadership seminar in the Denver area in late June 2014.  About 25 participants from nearby American Indian organizations were invited to attend for free.

Adaptive Leadership is a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments. It is being able, both individually and collectively, to take on the gradual but meaningful process of adaptation. It is about diagnosing the essential from the expendable and bringing about a real challenge to the status quo. (Definition from Cambridge Leadership Associates.)

Dr. Begaye asks "What's the problem?"

Attendees included staff members of First Nations, the American Indian College Fund, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the Notah Begay III Foundation, Spirit of the Sun, the Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber of Commerce, and First Nations Oweesta Corporation.

Dr. Timothy Begaye led the seminar.  He is a technical advisor to First Nations and serves as the director of education programs and special assistant to the provost at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint, New Mexico. Prior to his work at Navajo Technical University, Tim was faculty chair at the Center for Diné Teacher Education and an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Arizona State University. He also served as a teaching fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he taught courses on adaptive leadership and Native Nation Building. He holds a doctorate in education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and assists colleges and universities in integrating Indigenous pedagogy both in the U.S. and abroad. His current research focuses on contemporary cultural challenges in Indigenous communities, social and cultural adaptation, and adaptive leadership.

The seminar was informative and thought-provoking. Participants found the training applicable to their own work and relevant to the constituents they serve. Over the course of two days, attendees learned how to use adaptive leadership strategies to diagnose and address problems or issues in their organizations, programs or communities.

 

“Crazy Cash City” for a Crazy Cash World

 

A scene from a similar "Crazy Cash City" event in Gallup, New Mexico.

What’s the best way to learn about personal finance? How about a workshop where you get to make financial choices – and sometimes mistakes – but all with play money?

First Nations Development Institute partnered with the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) in Portland, Oregon, to offer a “Crazy Cash City” workshop just yesterday, May 19, 2014. NAYA sponsors an alternative high school known as the Early College Academy that emphasizes student empowerment and academic excellence while integrating core American Indian and Alaska Native values in partnership with parents, families, elders and community members. First Nations is working with the Early College Academy to provide innovative financial education programming, including the “Crazy Cash City” workshop where more than 100 youth will learn the basics of budgeting, bill paying and financial responsibility.

“Students learn best in experiential settings,” noted Shawn Spruce, First Nations’ financial education trainer coordinating the event. “Kids like to hear, see, think and do. They are not just learning the concepts, they are carrying out the actual activities of budgeting and bill paying. Research shows that this is a much more effective learning model for youth than classroom lectures.”

The “Crazy Cash City” workshop is a 90-minute reality fair in which students have to navigate a series of simulated financial tasks designed to teach basic budgeting and banking skills. It is designed to be fun — since they are spending play money and not really buying things — but it is also informative and highly interactive. All participants are given a folder containing a fictitious family profile that listed what their income was, the income of a spouse, the age of any children, and any outstanding debt or benefits they received.  The high school kids then visit about 10 booths that provided various choices for housing, transportation, child care and more, and are asked to make smart financial decisions based on their family profile.  At the conclusion of the seminar, the students were expected to have a fully balanced budget that they logged in their check register and budgeting sheet. This workshop has been held multiple times with high schools in Gallup, New Mexico, and is based on the Credit Union National Association’s “Mad City Money” program.

Students calculate expenses at a similar event last year in Gallup, New Mexico

The purpose of the event is to give the youth opportunities to practice good spending and budgeting habits prior to entering the “real world” after graduation.  The idea is to promote smart and informed decisions that will last a lifetime.  This event was made possible with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. First Nations is honored to be partnering with NAYA on this project, and proudly supports their work in an additional grant supported by The Kresge Foundation.   “This event really brings together community partners and it is always great to work with the students and teachers,” said Michael E. Roberts, president of First Nations Development Institute.  “We are happy that we found an exciting way to teach youth practical budgeting and banking skills that they can soon apply in the real world.”

By Sarah Dewees, First Nations Senior Director of Research, Policy & Asset-Building Programs

Recent Grants Give Big Boost to First Nations’ Mission

Over the past couple of months, First Nations has received several grants that will go a long way toward fulfilling our mission of strengthening American Indian economies to support healthy Native communities.

In March, we received a $1.2 million grant for a project that aims to build the sustainability and vibrancy of Native American organizations that are specifically targeting Native artists and Native cultural institutions. Under the project, we expect to award between 18 and 55 grants ranging from $500 to $30,000 each over the next three years.  The grants will help develop the effectiveness and capacity of reservation-based and select non-reservation-based Native museums, cultural centers, community development financial institutions (CDFIs), nonprofit organizations, tribal programs and Native chambers of commerce that have program initiatives in place to support Native art and Native artists. There also will be additional grants, scholarships and travel stipends awarded for professional development opportunities, conferences and related convenings.

The grant was awarded by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

In February, we announced that AARP Foundation granted us $250,000 to expand a project that addresses hunger, nutrition and food security of Native American tribal elders. The new grant expands work that began in 2012 when AARP Foundation provided First Nations with a $187,660 grant to begin the Native American Food Security project.

Under the first grant, First Nations awarded funding to four projects that have been successfully completed and evaluated.  They were to the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, the Pueblo of Nambe and Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico, and Sipaulovi Development Corporation (Hopi) in Arizona. Under the new grant, First Nations will award funding to additional Native American projects.

Earlier in February, we announced that the Comcast Foundation provided a $50,000 grant to supplement a 2013 grant of $1.1 million from The Kresge Foundation. Together, they are being used to enhance the capacity and effectiveness of American Indian nonprofit organizations located in urban settings, as well as providing training and technical assistance services.

This is just the latest from the Comcast Foundation.  Last year the foundation gave First Nations funds to produce television announcements along with more than $1.5 million in donated airtime on the Comcast Xfinity cable TV system.  This allowed First Nations to run its public service advertising spots more than 113,000 times on various channels.  In turn, these announcements helped build awareness of First Nations and the work we do to address pressing issues in Indian Country.

Students Practice Money Management in “Crazy Cash City”

Students received prizes for taking turns in the Money Machine at the event

“Thank you for the experience. I finally got an idea of how things are in the real world.”Comment from a student after participating in Crazy Cash City.

On December 10, 2013, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) partnered with First Financial Credit Union to provide the “Crazy Cash City” money-spending simulation for students at Gallup Central High School in Gallup, New Mexico.  The program was offered to the entire school, and 85 students participated.

The Crazy Cash City event  was held in the school’s gym and consisted of two 90-minute reality fairs in which the students had to navigate a series of simulated financial tasks designed to teach basic budgeting and banking skills. It was all in fun — since they were spending play money and not really buying things — but it was also informative and highly interactive.

Bernadine Lee from the Navajo Partnership for Housing explains recreational expenses

All participants were given a folder containing a fictitious family profile that listed what their income was, the income of a spouse, the age of any children, and any outstanding debt or benefits they received.  The high school kids then visited about 10 booths that provided various choices for housing, transportation, child care and more, and were asked to make smart financial decisions based on their family profile.  At the conclusion of the seminar, the students were expected to have a fully balanced budget that they logged in their check register and budgeting sheet.

Jason Valentine of Coldwell Realty (right) pitches a "hard sell"

The event was made possible by a partnership between First Nations, faculty and leadership at Gallup Central High School, and First Financial Credit Union. Other community partners chipped in including volunteers from the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, Navajo Partnership for Housing and local retailers. Gallup Central High School Teacher Arnold Blum, First Financial Business Relations Manager Dale Detrick, and First Nations Financial Consultant Shawn Spruce coordinated the event. The event was partially funded by a grant from the National Credit Union Foundation and resources from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Mike Chavez of Lowe’s Supermarkets (right) discusses grocery spending

Students who filled out an evaluation form for the event expressed their support for the workshop and stated that the Crazy Cash City money simulation was a valuable experience.  Most importantly, all agreed that the simulation helped them learn to manage their money and that they could now successfully make and use a monthly budget.   Some students had such an enjoyable time during the first simulation that they participated again in the second event.  Many of the students who repeated adjusted their approach from the lessons they learned during the first go-around and even served as mentors to first-timers when they needed help.

The purpose of the event was to give the youth the opportunity to practice good spending and budgeting habits prior to entering the “real world” after graduation.  The idea was to promote smart and informed decisions that will last a lifetime.  When asked what was the most challenging part about managing monthly expenses for her fictitious family, one student responded, “Keeping up with my bills, and putting food on the table and caring for my one-month old baby. Also, keeping (the baby) in good hands when I leave.”

Liz Sanchez from My Closet (right) sells to a student

“This event really brings together community partners and it is always great to work with the leadership at Gallup Central High School and First Financial Credit Union,” Shawn said. “We are happy that we found an exciting way to teach youth practical budgeting and banking skills that they can soon apply in the real world.”

By Benjamin Marks, First Nations Research and Program Officer

Native Youth Participate in InvestNative Online Financial Education Challenge

In December 2013, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations)  finished another round of its popular InvestNative Online Financial Education Challenge.  The online financial education curriculum, funded by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, provides concise, interactive and youth-focus financial literacy lessons.   The curriculum is aligned with the Jump$tart National Standards in K-12 Personal Finance Education and has been further adapted to meet the specific needs of Native youth in their communities.

Working in partnership with several high schools across the nation, First Nations recruited more than 70 students to participate in the online challenge in December.  This is the fourth time the online challenge has been offered, and to date over 418 students have participated and about half (204 students or 49%) have successfully completed all modules.

Guided by the principles of behavioral economics, First Nations provided an incentive for students participating in the challenge, and students who completed all eight lessons and passed a series of assessments (one for each module) with an average score of 80% or more were entered into a lottery to win a pair of the popular Beats brand headphones.  High schools that participated last year included Gallup Central High School and Thoreau High School in New Mexico, and Meskwaki High School in Iowa.  Beats headphones winners from Gallup Central High School (above) and Thoreau High School (below) are pictured here.  

An evaluation of the curriculum in 2013 revealed that 91% of all students who completed an evaluation agreed that the curriculum was relevant to their lives and 95% agreed that the information presented would assist them with their financial needs.  First Nations will continue to work with community partners in 2014 to make this curriculum available for high school students and youth groups.

To learn more about the curriculum, visit www.investnativeonline.org.

By Sarah Dewees, First Nations Senior Director of Research, Policy & Asset-Building Programs

Open House Celebrates Permanent Home of First Nations

Some of First Nations' staff members at the Open House. L to R are Montoya Whiteman, Marsha Whiting and Lisa Yellow Eagle

On Sept. 6, nearly 100 people came together to celebrate First Nations Development Institute’s new permanent home and office building in Longmont, Colorado.  The occasion was an open house featuring good food, friends, supporters and, of course, lots of fun.

First Nations actually moved into the existing building in the north part of Longmont back on April 26, but it wasn’t until early September that we were ready and able to pause and celebrate.  We had to get everything situated and make a few updates and repairs (and we’ll continue to make improvements in the future), plus we had to do our regular work in the meantime.

John Emhoolah Jr. (Kiowa and Arapaho) offers his song

Some of the attendees included Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs and other local elected officials, state officials, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, area business people, the professional and business tenants in our building, some of the funders, foundations and individual donors who help sustain us, and numerous representatives from other American Indian organizations in Colorado and New Mexico such as the Native American Rights Fund, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the Notah Begay III Foundation, the American Indian College Fund, the Denver Indian Center, and Native American Bank.  We even had a few of our Facebook friends and Twitter followers drop by for the event.

Besides ample and delicious food and the chance to reconnect with many friends and professional Native connections, the highlights of the observance were remarks and a ceremonial ribbon-cutting by First Nations President Michael Roberts (Tlingit), and a Kiowa song and blessing by noted Colorado Indian leader John Emhoolah Jr. (Kiowa and Arapaho).  Then we celebrated with cake!

John EchoHawk, left, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, chats with First Nations President Mike Roberts

We’re planning to call our building the “First Nations Professional Building.” It’s located at 2432 Main Street in Longmont, Colorado.

As the chairman of our board of directors, B. Thomas Vigil (Jicarilla Apache/Jemez Pueblo), noted in our recent annual report, “First Nations purchased its own headquarters building after years of leasing space and dealing with seemingly endless rent increases. It became obvious that First Nations needed to seize control of its own physical space. The building is now a key asset of the organization, providing operational space as well as rental income from other tenants. I believe it’s a sign of the continuing growth and maturity of the organization, and is testament to its growing presence, impact and credibility in Native communities.”