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 www.SeedsOfNativeHealth.org.

 

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.

 

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.”