College of Menominee Nation & CDFIs Spark Entrepreneurial Spirit

For 35 years, we here at First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) have made it our mission to strengthen American Indian economies. We believe that investing in American Indian entrepreneurs and innovators will help create jobs and accelerate tribal economic growth.

Many tribal colleges are centrally located within reservation communities. Therefore, these academic institutions are an ideal location for supporting and encouraging up-and-coming entrepreneurs and business leaders.

In 2012, First Nations partnered with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation to launch the Tribal College-CDFI Collaboration Project to link tribal college students and community members with financial organizations that invest in entrepreneurs on tribal lands. Specifically, this project helped link the College of Menominee Nation with First American Capital Corporation and NiiJii Capital Partners. (Note: CDFI means Community Development Financial Institution.)

Through this collaborative partnership, these three organizations designed and implemented 38 entrepreneurship workshops for prospective and existing business owners. More than 120 tribal college students, community members and business owners attended these workshops. Additionally, 231 people have downloaded these workshops online.

From these workshops, prospective business owners learned the basics of business ownership such as developing a business plan and securing adequate financing. Meanwhile, existing business owners learned how to improve their marketing methods and financial computer skills.

First American Capital Corporation and NiiJii Capital Partners have reported a substantial increase in loan applications, with two applications approved last year. As a result, both financial institutions have started to offer one-on-one technical assistance for workshop attendees. These one-on-one sessions include pre- and post-loan technical assistance and business development services.

This collaborative model helps link tribal college students and community members with the appropriate financial institutions and resources they need to succeed. It also reiterates the value and advantages of collaboration in Indian Country.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator

Tribal College Students Get Into Food Sovereignty

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) serves as the core network and national voice of the nation’s 37 tribal colleges and universities. It provides those tribally- and federally-chartered institutions with services in the areas of advocacy, public policy, research and program initiatives.

Now it’s helping First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) spread the word about Native food sovereignty to students and others at those tribal campuses and in the college communities.

At the AIHEC Annual Student Congress in March 2014 in Billings, Montana, the students will hold a food-assessment competition.  Formally assessing a community’s food assets, systems and processes is a key first step in developing a strong food sovereignty outcome in that community.

The building block of the student food-assessment competition is First Nations’ own Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool, or FSAT, which First Nations developed in 2004. The student congress representatives took First Nation’s assessment tool and made some modifications to fit their needs for the competition. The congress is now distributing the document to each tribal college or university so they, in turn, can interest their students in competing in the event.

Students must turn in their completed assessment by February 1. As many as two students can collaborate on each entry. The most thoroughly completed assessment – with the best attempt to inform and make the most difference in their community in regards to food sovereignty – wins the competition. The winner or winners, who will be decided ahead of the conference, will receive a stipend to attend the conference, where they will present the findings of their assessment.

According to AIHEC, the competition is intended to promote food sovereignty awareness and encourage tribal college and university students to begin conversations with their fellow peers and the college administration to become more food sovereign as a tribal college campus, a tribal community, and a tribal nation. Further, the Annual Student Conference says it “hopes to stimulate sustained involvement in sustainability and health and well-being through food sovereignty across Indian Country.”

You can find First Nations’ Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool at this link – — along with many other resources dealing with Native food and agriculture.

By Randy Blauvelt, First Nations Senior Communications Officer