First Nations’ Michael Roberts is “Asset Builder Champion”

Mike Roberts accepting the ABC Award

Mike Roberts accepting the ABC Award


Michael E. Roberts, President and CEO of First Nations Development Institute, was honored in Washington, D.C. on April 20 with an “Asset Builder Champion” (ABC) award from the Center for Global Policy Solutions. The award ceremony was part of the 2016 Color of Wealth Summit, which is an effort under the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative.

Besides Roberts, the other ABC award recipients were U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters and Charles Rangel, Pitzer College President-Elect Melvin Oliver, and Highlander Research and Education Center Board Member Meizhu Lui. They were honored for their significant contributions to addressing racial wealth disparities nationwide.

“While I am flattered to receive this award, it is far from an individual accomplishment,” Roberts noted. “In fact, the recognition for this work goes beyond First Nations itself. The real heroes in this effort are the communities we partner with and whose ideas and solutions we are lucky enough to get to invest in, as equal partners with these communities.”

ABC Award Flyer ImageRoberts, who is Tlingit, was appointed president of First Nations in 2005 after returning to the organization in 2003. He served previously as First Nations’ chief operating officer until 1997. In the interim, he worked in private equity, providing services for angel investors, a telecommunications fund, and a venture capital firm. He also worked at Alaska Native corporations and for local IRA councils. He taught a graduate course on venture capital at the University of Missouri (Kansas City) Bloch School of Business and an undergraduate entrepreneurship course at Haskell Indian Nations University. He serves on the board of First Nations and is chairman of the board of First Nations Oweesta Corporation. He is a steering committee member of the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders Network and on the investment committee for the Three Affiliated Tribes. Roberts has held other advisory positions including as a board member for Native Americans in Philanthropy.

The Center for Global Policy Solutions is a 501(c)(3) think tank and action organization that labors in pursuit of a vibrant, diverse and inclusive world in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive in safe and sustainable environments. Its mission is to make policy work for people and their environments by advancing economic security, health, education and civic success for vulnerable populations. Its target groups include people of color, women, children and youth, older adults and low-income populations.

Do You Know Elizabeth Peratrovich? You Should!

For the second year in a row, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) will be closed on February 16, 2016, in honor of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. First Nations, headquartered in Longmont, Colorado, is likely the first entity outside of Alaska to recognize this as an annual holiday.

Elizabeth Jean Peratrovich (Tlingit), who died in 1958, was an important civil rights activist who worked on behalf of equality for Alaska Natives. In the 1940s, she was credited with advocacy that gained passage of the Alaska territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the very first anti-discrimination law in the United States. To quote her at the time: “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of ‘savagery,’ would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.” She was responding to earlier comments by a territorial senator who asked, “Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites, with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?”

In 1988 the Alaska Legislature established February 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. First Nations President Michael Roberts (also Tlingit), who is from Alaska and related to Elizabeth, thinks Native organizations in the Lower 48 should also start recognizing this groundbreaking Native woman of national and even international significance.

According to the Anchorage School District, “Elizabeth Peratrovich Day provides an opportunity to remind the public of the invaluable contribution of this Native Alaskan leader who was an advocate for Native citizens and their rights. This courageous woman could not remain silent about injustice, prejudice and discrimination.” Further, in the school district’s board resolution of 2012, it was noted: “Her efforts came nearly 20 years before the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because of her eloquent and courageous fight for justice for all, today’s Alaskans do not tolerate the blatant discrimination that once existed in our state.”

Back in the 1940s in Alaska, it was not uncommon to see “No Natives Allowed” signs at stores and public accommodations, or even “No dogs or Natives allowed.” But those were simply the most visible manifestations of pervasive discrimination against the original Alaskans. Learn more about Elizabeth Peratrovich online, or particularly on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Peratrovich or on the National Women’s History Museum site at https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/elizabeth-wanamaker-peratrovich/.

“Giving Stories”: Native Grantmaking Boosts Communities

Across the U.S., there are 63 active, Native American-led grantmaking programs that are making major contributions to the social and economic well-being of their local communities, regions and the nation as a whole. These efforts are aimed at improving education, health, economic development and cultural preservation. A recently-published report tells some of the stories behind these Native-driven philanthropic endeavors that show the substantial and lasting impact of tribal philanthropy.

Titled “Telling Our Giving Stories: Native Philanthropy and Community Development” and published by First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), a highlight of the report is a case study of Oregon’s community-based Native foundations. The Oregon case shows that by working collectively and collaboratively, tribal giving programs can multiply their outcomes beyond their individual grantmaking contributions and leverage their investments into greater influence, resources and impact. For example, since 2001, these tribal foundations have given more than $100 million in grants, positively impacting the local community, state and beyond.

“As educators and advocates for Indian County, we at First Nations are painfully aware that few people know there are actually numerous Native-led grantmaking programs in North America,” noted First Nations President Michael Roberts (Tlingit). “As such, we felt it was important to share the giving stories of these grantmakers and catalyze a national conversation on the very positive contributions they are making inside and outside their communities.”

Authored by Sarah Dewees of First Nations and John Phillips of John Phillips Consulting, some of the report’s major findings include:

  • Tribal governments are very active in formal philanthropy. Of the 63 active Native grantmaking programs in the nation, a majority (41) are tribally-affiliated. The remaining 22 are non-tribally affiliated Native nonprofit grantmaking programs.
  • The majority of Native grantmaking programs have no endowment, which represents a significant area of need.
  • The report documents that a large and growing number of tribes and Native nonprofit organizations are using philanthropy to protect Native financial assets, capitalize economic development programs in their communities, and support their cultures.
  • Oregon’s six community-based Native foundations, in particular, represent a potential model of Native philanthropy at a state level that may help tribes leverage their giving programs into statewide philanthropic and political influence, among other things, including an opportunity to educate non-Indians on their histories, cultures, values, assets and aspirations. The six formal tribal foundations in Oregon gave more than $5.6 million in grants in 2014. 
  • Staff members at most Native-controlled grantmaking programs interviewed for the report expressed a need and a desire for increased technical assistance, networking opportunities and leadership development in order to boost their organizations’ capacities. 
  • Several Oregon tribal foundations are moving toward giving programs aimed at other tribes and to national Native American organizations, which represents an interesting development in tribal giving.


The full report is available as a free download from the First Nations online Knowledge Center at this link:
http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/strengthening-nonprofits. (Note: You may have to create a free account if you don’t already have one in order to download the report. Your account will also give you free access to numerous other reports and resources.)