First Nations Partners with NUIFC to Add Urban Indian Focus

In May 2013, First Nations announced it received a substantial grant from The Kresge Foundation that we’ll use to help improve numerous American Indian nonprofit organizations in urban or metropolitan locations. The project will accomplish this by helping build the capacity of those organizations, which means we’ll provide tailored training and technical assistance that will help them better organize, strategize, manage and grow their organizations. In turn, they will become stronger, more efficient and more effective in achieving their missions.

This is a bit of a departure for First Nations. Throughout its more than three decades of existence, First Nations has primarily focused on rural and reservation-based Native communities. We are now expanding into a new focus area that helps address the well-being of Native Americans who happen to live and work in bigger cities.

And in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that we use in everything we do with Native communities, we have partnered with a great organization that provides us with enhanced “street smarts” in those urban communities – the National Urban Indian Family Coalition, or NUIFC, which is a network of urban Indian organizations that strengthen urban Native families. It is led by Executive Director Janeen Comenote, who founded the organization.

Janeen is passionate about her work. “We know that American Indian families and children are among the most vulnerable of America’s urban populations,” she notes.  “Today, more than 4 million, or 78% of American Indians, live off the reservation and lack a collective national voice.  In culturally and geographically diverse Indian Country, the populations of American Indians residing off reservation often remain the ‘silent majority.’  American Indians and Alaska Natives populate some of the most disproportionately low social and economic standards in every large city in which they reside, with a child poverty rate at  25%, which is nearly triple the national average and unemployment at double the national average.”
Janeen Comenote

Janeen knows first-hand the situation of urban Indians. She was born and raised in Seattle, Washington – she is Hesquiaht and Kwakiutl First Nation from her mother’s side, and Oglala Lakota and enrolled Quinault from her father’s side – and she has worked in this area, in one form or another, for nearly 20 years.  “I am driven to do this. I have worked with Native street youth, Indian child welfare, as well as poverty research and program development,” she says. “This breadth and depth of experience has given me a unique view into the day-to-day realities of Native people living in urban areas as well as provided the impetus to do what I can do to help address some of those disparities.”

The partnership will draw upon First Nations’ extensive capacity-building expertise and NUIFC’s networks, evaluation and data-collection experience, and insider knowledge of urban Indian organizations and their needs. Over the life of the Kresge Foundation grant, which runs to the end of 2016, First Nations and NUIFC with work directly with as many as nine urban Native American nonprofits to help them improve their management and leadership skills and boost their organizational effectiveness, provide customized assistance and training, host an annual capacity building conference for participants, and document the project’s best practices and potential for replication in other Native American urban communities. First Nations Senior Program Officer Montoya Whiteman (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes) is managing the grant and the partnership.

“For 32 years, First Nations has worked primarily in rural and reservation-based Native American communities, helping them develop much-needed stronger economies by doing our work on several fronts,” noted Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), First Nations president.  “We’re now excited to take our successful track record and apply it to urban communities of American Indians.  Native nonprofits that are more effective at what they do and how they are managed are a key resource to the health, prosperity and growth of Indian communities, whether rural or urban.”

Urban Indian organizations, some of which were launched in the 1940s and 50s, are an important support to Native families and individuals, providing cultural linkages as well as being a hub for accessing essential services. There are nearly 250 local or state-focused urban Indian organizations in NUIFC’s network representing over 600,000 Indians nationwide.

According to Janeen, one of the primary intentions of creating the NUIFC is to ensure access to traditionally excluded organizations and families, and to focus attention on the needs of urban Indians. “Our primary goal is to contribute to better living standards and develop a resource pool through which we can reach this goal,” Janeen said.  “I cannot overemphasize the importance and impact this innovative work will have in strengthening the urban Indian nonprofit sector and thereby improving the outcomes for our communities. Projects and partnerships like this provide important acknowledgment that the needs of our urban populations are important and being addressed.”

By Randy Blauvelt, First Nations Senior Communications Officer

A Sign of the Times?

First Nations Development Institute moved into its new building in Longmont, Colorado, at the end of April 2013.  We’re pretty much settled in, but still doing some fine-tuning and minor rearranging.

And finally — on July 10 — we got our new street sign installed, after obtaining city permits, getting bids from vendors, discussing the project with some of our building tenants, and working with our graphic designer.  The new signboard includes smaller signs for some of our tenants as well as our sister organization, which is First Nations Oweesta Corporation.

We think it’s a sign of the times … that we’ve settled into our permanent home, and that we continue to grow and expand our mission of strengthening Native American communities and economies.

Production Underway on New Television PSAs

On location at the Institute of American Indian Arts, IAIA’s Luke Reed is taped in the campus garden.

Through a generous grant from Comcast and the Comcast Foundation, First Nations will be launching two PSAs (public service announcements) later this year.  The television “commercials” will run on Comcast cable TV systems in several markets around the U.S.

In early May 2013, folks from First Nations and its production company, Red 76 Creative in Denver, Colorado, traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to do the on-location videotaping for the PSAs.  We are especially grateful to Santo Domingo Pueblo and the Institute of American Indian Arts for helping us secure various locations, along with numerous volunteer tribe members, students, staffers and officials to be our “actors.”

Some of the video footage will be used for two 30-second PSAs, and other footage will be

A scene from one of the Comcast PSAs: Shana Coriz holds seeds at Santo Domingo Pueblo.

used for a short video that First Nations will use on its website, on its social media pages, and on its YouTube channel. We don’t want to give away the “plots” of the PSAs quite yet, but one is tentatively titled “Seed” and one is called “Dream.”

We first announced the grant back in January 2013.  The Comcast Foundation provided $20,000 to fund production of the PSAs, plus $1 million worth of airtime from Comcast to broadcast them. The grant was in recognition of Comcast’s commitment to the communities where its customers and employees live and work.

Michael Roberts, president First Nations Development Institute.

At the time, Michael E. Roberts, president of First Nations, said:  “There is such an urgent need in American Indian communities for the economic development work that we do, but we can only grow our reach, capacity and successes by building more public awareness and understanding of the issues involved with Native American communities.  This grant will be a huge step toward creating that heightened awareness and understanding, plus hopefully attracting more charitable dollars for our efforts.”

Bill Black, vice president and executive director of the Comcast Foundation, said, “First Nations is universally recognized as the longtime leader in economic development in Indian Country, and Comcast is proud to be their partner in this important initiative. Comcast and the Comcast Foundation are committed to helping improve communities nationwide so that everyone, regardless of economic circumstances, has an opportunity to pursue a better life.”

By Randy Blauvelt, First Nations Senior Communications Officer