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The Importance of STEM Initiatives to Indigenous American Communities

Every child should have the freedom to dream big. At the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), it’s been our mission to encourage Indigenous children to not only dream big in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), but to make those dreams a reality.

The current, and increasing, underrepresentation of Indigenous people in STEM is cause for national concern because it deprives our nation of the potential for innovation and transformative solutions arising from a diverse STEM workforce (Corbett & Hill, 2015; National Academies, 2011). Further, research suggests diverse voices, such as those of Indigenous learners and professionals, contribute to creative and critical STEM enterprise of problem solving (Page, 2007; Spencer & Dawes, 2009). Equally, it is morally imperative to support all individuals, including Indigenous men and women, and Indigenous two-spirit and LGBTQIA+ individuals, who wish to pursue STEM education and careers.

Too many bright and talented Indigenous students at all levels encounter challenges academically for a multitude of reasons. Working with its partners, AISES creates brighter futures for them by ensuring equal access to STEM educational programming, closing gender and learning gaps, placing a premium on diversity, and improving access to essential support services and resources. And while encouraging Indigenous students to pursue STEM studies because today’s fastest growing, most in-demand jobs are in STEM fields, the skills and principles acquired through STEM education are equally important for those looking to create and manage businesses of their own someday.

For over 40 years, AISES has been committed to substantially increasing the number of Indigenous people in STEM studies and careers. AISES’ three key focus areas are student success, career support, and workforce development. In the advancement of our mission, AISES works with exceptional Indigenous students who all too often face educational and economic inequalities. As such, AISES offers programming and resources to encourage, guide, and fund Indigenous students on their pathway into a STEM field. Upon completion of their STEM degree or certification, AISES continues to provide supportive programming and resources as well as access to the nation’s largest network of individuals and institutions dedicated to supporting the ongoing career development and advancement of Indigenous people in STEM fields.

In 2017, AISES launched a STEM and Business initiative to expand opportunities and provide resources for AISES members who want to combine their interest in STEM with starting or expanding a business within their own tribal communities. Since then, AISES has engaged hundreds of students and professionals by delivering sessions at its annual conference, creating a cohort of individuals for entrepreneurship training and mentorship, and providing start-up capital to program participants. To support this work, AISES partners with allies who are also committed to providing resources to help grow and expand the numbers of Indigenous STEM students and professionals. One such collaboration is with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

With support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, AISES STEM and Business program is delivering an entrepreneurship training initiative to (1) expand access to the AISES STEM and Business curriculum via AISES microsite along with outreach and promotion of these resources to the entire AISES network; (2) create a 10-person STEM and Business cohort and recruitment of 5 professional mentors; (3) conduct a three-part series of STEM and Business trainings, two in-person trainings hosted in conjunction with AISES events and one virtual training; and (4) award mini-grants to support Indigenous STEM Business development.

Thanks to partners like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, AISES has enabled many Indigenous people to develop businesses. It’s helped grow tribal enterprises, and supported tribal communities as they strive toward economic independence and the assertion of tribal sovereignty. Now more than ever, it is essential for AISES to further expand our partnerships to create more opportunities for Indigenous youth and young professionals seeking careers in STEM fields. It is time to make Indigenous STEM representation a priority as a critical component of the larger global effort to develop the most innovative solutions to today’s most pressing problems and issues. Together, AISES and its partners are creating those opportunities – and I hope you too will join us.


Sarah Echohawk is a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, and is CEO of AISES.

Tribal Nations & The United States: An Introduction

Johnson Scholarship Foundation founder Ted Johnson Sr. believed strongly in supporting Indigenous people. Since 1992 Johnson Scholarship Foundation has been supporting scholarships and programs at tribal colleges and other Native-serving institutions. The goal is to catalyze economic development for Indigenous peoples by investing in entrepreneurship and business education and investing in capacity building for business and entrepreneurship in Indigenous communities.

Native American Heritage Month is a fitting occasion to share some information about tribal nations in America. The National Congress of American Indians published an update in February, 2020, to its publication, “Tribal Nations & the United States: An Introduction.  It provides an overview of historical and current information on Native Americans, including a section on economic development.

Here is some data from the report:

  • The need for sustained economic growth is critically acute in most Native communities across the country. On reservations, 39 percent of Native people live in poverty – the highest poverty rate in America.  On-reservation employment is highest in education, health care, and social services, followed closely by public administration.
  • Agriculture is a major economic, employment and nutrition sector in Indian Country, including 60,083 farming operations accounting for $3.33 billion in total sales.
  • Native-owned small businesses have grown over the last 30 years and are significant contributors to the growing tribal economy. Much of the growth is due to the Small Business Administration’s Business Development Program.
  • There were 272,919 American Indian and Alaska Native-owned businesses in 2012, a 15 percent increase from 2007.

Read the entire report at the National Congress of American Indians’ website here.


Angie Francalancia is a communications specialist with Johnson Scholarship Foundation

The Changing Face of Philanthropy

This past June I was watching a virtual conference session and heard someone say there is only one Native person on a private foundation board. Interesting I thought!  I knew it to be untrue because 1) I serve on a private foundation board with 11 other Native people – and 2) I know a number of other Native people who currently serve on private foundation boards.  This led me to do a very quick research project over the next week to find as many Native people on private foundation boards as I could.  I was moderating a panel at the RES 2021 Summit in July – the Changing Face of Philanthropy:  Native people and Native foundations, and it would be useful information.

In that study, which was not exhaustive in any sense, I found 28 Native people serving on 13 private foundation boards.  I also identified nine Native people serving on the boards of seven community foundations.  And five Native people currently serve as the CEO or Executive Director of either a private foundation or community foundation.  WOW!  Definitely more than one Native person!  I focused this effort on private and community foundations and on the boards to show that there are a growing number of Native people in these philanthropic leadership positions.  Are there enough?  Absolutely not.  Should there be more?  Absolutely. Is change happening fast enough?  Change never happens fast enough.

Johnson Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors and staff

I have 40 plus years of working in Indian Country and 35 years of working with philanthropy to look back on to see that change has occurred. When I went to my first Council on Foundations conference in the late 1980s – as a presenter – there was nary a person of color representing a foundation board and only a handful of staff.  That was the birth of Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) which sought to increase the number of Native people in the field and to bring attention to the amount of philanthropic funding going to Native causes and organizations.  I was asked to join my first private foundation board in 1993, the Hitachi Foundation, one of three I’ve served on over the past 28 years, including currently, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation since 2006, and the Native American Agriculture Fund, since it was launched in 2018 as the largest Native private foundation.

Where real change is occurring is in Native non-profits raising funds from foundations, corporations and other donors to re-grant to Native causes and organizations.  In my little research project I identified 11 Native funds, starting as far back as 1977 up to the present day.  I’m sure there are more of these as well.  This doesn’t include the “community foundations” or “funds” set up by tribes from enterprise funds or other sources of revenue, or the Alaska Native Corporation Scholarship Foundations funded by corporate revenues, or the Native scholarship organizations, or those set up specifically about philanthropy like NAP and Native Ways Federation.  Just think of the growing cadre of Native people serving on these boards and as staff who are adding significantly to expertise in Native philanthropy.

I’ve been in conversations recently with others about this being a “moment in time” for change.  From the social unrest of 2020 and growing attention to equity, diversity and inclusion in both the public and private sector, change is happening faster, opportunities and doors are opening in more places, and more resources are available for social justice.   Will this continue?  It should and it must.  It will continue to change the face of philanthropy.


Sherry Salway Black is Vice Chair of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors.

San Carlos Apache Small Business Plan Competition Produces Sweet Success

Earlier this summer, I accepted an invitation to serve as one of five judges for the 2nd Annual San Carlos Apache Tribe Small Business Plan Competition. JSF supported this exercise as part of a two-year grant to the Center for American Indian Economic Development (CAIED) at Northern Arizona University in January of 2020.

Due to the pandemic, the competition was conducted over Zoom. During the week of October 12th, the judges received written business plans for the competing proposals. Contestants would pitch their proposals to judges on October 15th. Presentations were rated on marketing, product or service, competence, management capability, financial understanding and investment potential. Judges were further asked to provide written comments to the applicants. The format of the contest was modeled after the TV series “Shark Tank.”

The business ventures were varied in their industries, stages and development. They included a document scan and shred business, a coin laundromat, a children’s book proposal, a Native sewing business, a bead supply company and a sweet bread baker. Contestants were given 15 minutes to present their proposals and answer questions from the judges. All of the participants were well prepared, and the exercise was conducted well. The competition effectively promoted the intended purpose of encouraging entrepreneurial activity and education.

I was particularly struck by the resourcefulness and creativity of the applicants. The current pandemic has required them to pivot their work, and all of them had some measure of a successful testimony of adaptation. I was also struck by the resonating theme of community in all of their proposals. Many of them spoke of the benefit to others more than they addressed the viability or financial opportunity of their business. The winner was the Beaded Edge Supply with a business expansion proposal. You can see their business at www.beadededgesupply.com.

I was asked to forward a grateful thank you from the San Carlos Apache Tribe to JSF and all who participated. All participants received some remuneration. First place received $6,000 and sixth place received $100. Beaded Edge Supply will use the winning proceeds to offset the cost of a new facility to accommodate their growing business. For me, I left inspired, encouraged and appreciative for the opportunity to represent the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

But what happened next to one of the presenters makes it doubly rewarding. Frankie Holmes, the participant who made strawberry sweet bread, landed a major contract with Freeport McMoRan to provide his desserts to their employees. One of the judges works for Freeport, and was instrumental in making it happen.

Here’s Frankie’s story:

“I had heard of the business plan competition from the year before. Baking wasn’t even my thing. But writing a business plan is nothing new for me. I’ve done it numerous times.

“I hear back from the competition. They say, ‘You’re going to be presenting.’ But I didn’t get picked. I got a phone call saying I got, like fourth place. But prior to that, one of the judges reached out to me and said, ‘Your presentation was flawless. We’d like to place an order.’ I’m thinking she’s going to order like four or five loaves. No! She put in a giant order for her whole department! Now I have a contract with them for six months for their team building activities,” he said.

“Then, she put it on Facebook, and things just took off! Prior to the competition, I was doing like a few hundred (in sales) a week. Then, for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I had sales galore! Thanksgiving alone was over $3,000!

“Word of mouth is very viable down here,” said Holmes, who works in Globe-Miami, an area of sister cities east of Phoenix and west of the San Carlos Reservation with a population of less than 10,000.

Holmes is a personal banker with Wells Fargo who got into baking when COVID-19 hit the town, he said.

“It hit our little town big-time,” he said. “Our whole town shut down. The banks shut down. I was out of work. I figured I could sit here, sulk and cry, or be the guy I’ve always been and find a muse. I never heard of anybody making a strawberry sweet bread, so in one weekend, I did it.”

Congratulations, Frankie Holmes!


Robert Krause is CEO of Johnson Scholarship Foundation

Construction Internships Lead to Stronger Workforce and More Homes

The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition (SDNHC) established the Construction Internship Program  with a two-fold goal of expanding the capacity of Native-owned contractors and strengthening the employment-ready workforce.

The creative partnership was formed in 2017 and designed to provide training in the construction field for students. Fulfilling this goal works in tandem with helping the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition fulfill the ultimate goal of increasing the housing stock on South Dakota’s Native American Indian reservations.

Since many Native construction companies are small operations without significant margins, the SDNHC Construction Internship Program removed some of the risk for the companies to take on new hires. It enabled the contractors to hire new employment-ready interns who would have the chance to prove themselves over the course of the summer internship.

Despite logistical setbacks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the partnership has met or exceeded most of its goals.

We set out to enroll 50 college students in the SDNHC Construction Internship Program to participate during the summer of 2019. During the last two summers, we had 88 interns enroll in the program. They were disbursed across four sites – Cheyenne River, Sisseton, Rosebud and Pine Ridge.

Brent Tallman, one of the interns participating in the program, was offered a full-time position mid-way through his internship. Above, participants at Sisseton test the integrity of a harness during a safety training.

Over the course of the two-year program, we worked with 25 contractors for placement of the interns. But in addition, the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition Contractor Workshop has become a must-attend event for local Native contractors from all across the state. Held annually in Rapid City in February, the workshop provides contractors with information useful to their industry, including topics such as workman’s compensation insurance, performance bonding, and the HUD 184 validation process. We use the event to recognize and celebrate the contractors, interns and supporters of this intensive work.

In 2019, 82 percent of the interns completed the program, well-exceeding the 75 percent goal. In 2020, we’re thrilled to have a 62 percent retention rate – given the challenges presented by COVID-19. Although none of our interns participating this year tested positive for COVID to our knowledge, many were placed on quarantine due to exposure, which interrupted their participation.

Another success was the Financial Literacy component, in which 100 percent of the interns participated. Classes were held bi-weekly to correspond with paydays, and all the interns learned the value of automated banking when the Lakota Funds staff was under quarantine. We were able to pay the interns safely, and without risk of exposure utilizing ACH payments.

The program has resulted in permanent employment for many of the interns, completing the fulfillment of increased capacity among the Native-owned contractors.

Many partners came together to make this project possible. In addition to participating colleges and the Lakota Funds, other participants were the Cheyenne River Housing Authority, the Enterprise Community Partners, Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Native Connections, Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing, Sicangu Nation Education and Training Program, Sisseton Wahpeton 477 Program, Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority and Sicangu Wicoti Awanyakapi Corporation.


The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition is a collaborative group of key agencies dedicated to increasing homeownership opportunities for Native Americans in the state of South Dakota.

 

 

More Than a Statistic: How Nebraska Indian Community College Students Redefine Success

By Megan M. Miller

The following article first appeared in Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education. It is shared here with permission.

Empower your tribal community to grow their own food sustainably. Find your career calling as you celebrate three years of sobriety. Earn a tuition waiver to continue your education. Complete a semester while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Teach your grandson his Native language. Feel connected to your culture for the first time. These accomplishments are no small feat. Yet, they are just a few examples of the success and strength of so many students at Nebraska Indian Community College (NICC). Through resiliency and grit, tribal college student achievement encompasses something much larger than standard institutional measurements of grade point average, enrollment headcount, and graduation rate. For tribal college students, success is as much about achievements made outside the classroom as within.

NICC, like many other tribal colleges, is redefining success through its students. How students view success differs immensely. Each individual has a different path, strengths, challenges, and goals for their future as well as that of their tribal community. NICC’s campuses are located in Macy on the Omaha reservation, Santee on the Santee Sioux reservation, and in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Serving the Umonhon (Omaha), Isanti (Santee Dakota), and other learners, NICC shares stories highlighting students’ accomplishments that extend well beyond the classroom. Through cultural identity, community connection, and goals for future generations, NICC students holistically define what success is for themselves, their families, and their tribal communities.

Nakomis Merrick

Nakomis Merrick (Umonhon) is a freshman at NICC’s South Sioux City campus. “In the past, I thought of success as being able to complete the task quickly,” Merrick says, but adds, “No matter how long it might take, the completion of something is still an accomplishment.” Indeed, many successes are not strictly linear, but rather part of a life-long process. Merrick, who is interested in teaching Umonhon or becoming a social worker, explains this new perspective since attending NICC: “As a graduated high school teen, I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. . . . I lacked motivation. The classes at NICC eventually gave me purpose and helped me have a better understanding of who I am and where I come from. This made me want to continue [my] education at the college, because I’m finally getting the answers I’ve been searching for.”

Read the remainder of the article at Tribal College Journal.

 

 

 


Megan M. Miller

Megan M. Miller is a resource specialist and community educator at Nebraska Indian Community College’s Santee campus.

American Indian Business Leaders Blaze a Trail to the Future with New Advisory Board

There’s an adage about having a direction that says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

A couple years ago, the American Indian Business Leaders, with the assistance of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, spent some time examining where we wanted to go – and how to get there.

The American Indian Business Leaders was founded in 1994 with the mission of empowering Indigenous business students in the United States to foster economic improvement in Native American communities. We’ve grown from one chapter at the University of Montana at Missoula to 120 chapters at universities, tribal colleges, and high schools with more than 250 tribal nations represented. With 2019 marking our 25th anniversary, it was an appropriate time to evaluate where the next 25 years would take us.

Young man wearing Indigenous Entrepreneur shirt

Through about a year of analysis and planning with input from respected leaders throughout Indian Country, AIBL learned what programs were most successful, and also, which ones needed improvement. Specifically, we realized that we could only guess at how to prepare our students to participate in corporate America because we didn’t know what attributes corporate America needed.

We’re excited that in the future, AIBL will get those answers straight from the executives themselves. AIBL is building a new advisory board with representatives from many of America’s best known corporations. We expect to hold the first meeting in the first quarter of 2020.

We anticipate having 8-10 members on the advisory board, and I’m happy to share that it will include Sam McCracken, general manager for Nike N7, Nike’s product line that supports the N7 Fund to provide sport and physical activity programming to kids in Native American and Aboriginal communities. Longtime AIBL supporter Trina Finley Ponce, the diversity and inclusion program manager at HP, also has agreed to join the board along with Micah Highwalking, senior operations manager at Dr. Pepper.

Two men on stage in front of American Indigenous Business Leaders logo

In addition to advising us on corporate culture, the advisory board will help us cultivate relationships with corporate America that can benefit our students in numerous ways. We’ll be using them as a sounding board to learn what kinds of skills we should be helping our students develop. That feedback is important as we prepare our students to work in corporate America. We also know it’s important to hear from people in a diverse range of businesses as each business and industry has its own corporate culture.

We also anticipate that the advisory board will act as a bridge to greater diversity for corporations wanting to be inclusive of Native Americans and our culture.

We at AIBL are proud of our first 25 years supporting Indigenous business students. We look forward to a future with even greater opportunities.

Prairie Bighorn Blount is the executive director of American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL). She grew up on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in eastern Montana and is an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Sioux Tribe. Before joining the AIBL organization, she worked in Washington, D.C., providing contract management services to help support economic development within American Indian communities.

Creating Visibility and Supportive Campus Environments for Native American Students

The American Indian College Fund explored how to support higher education’s role in creating safe and welcoming environments and greater visibility for American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) students at a convening it hosted of students, tribal college leaders and leaders from mainstream institutions of higher education (IHE), policy organizations and funders.

What we heard affirmed what we already knew — for Native students to be successful in college the institution must be committed to their inclusion.

Native students shared they want to go to college in an environment where their unique tribal identities are recognized, where their history and current lives are included in the curriculum and in campus life, and where they are visible.

Supporting education equity for Native students takes many forms. Native students at tribal colleges and mainstream institutions have benefited from Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s support of access to higher education through scholarships. The American Indian College Fund works to expand student support to specific ways that higher education institutions can be proactive with inclusion.

Four specific approaches were identified that can have an immediate impact on the experiences of Native students with higher education:

  1. Land acknowledgment: All higher education institutions exist on land that once served as the homeland of one or more tribal nations. Westward expansion, war and removal all impacted the abilities of tribes to situate themselves or have claims on homelands. When land acknowledgment occurs, Native students’ existence and experience is validated. I’ve learned that it is also a good educational exercise because most people don’t know whose homelands they are living on.

2. Representation in curriculum, at events and functions and in public materials: The history and contemporary experiences of indigenous peoples are usually not represented in curriculum. In addition, many times Native peoples are not onstage or giving presentations and are rarely included in public-facing places like websites and brochures. IHE can examine and modify curriculum to insure inclusion. For example, any American government class that doesn’t include tribal governments as a form of governance in the U.S. should immediately remedy that. When events are organized and representatives of various populations are invited to participate, inclusion of Native speakers should be automatically considered and materials and media should be reviewed to determine if Native student photos and stories are included.

3. Data inclusion: Ensuring the institution’s leadership knows the status of Native students is critical to success, whether it is one student or 400. Often the numbers are used as an excuse for not knowing the status of Native students and for not reporting that status to the public and to enrolled students. This may require extra effort to define who will be included in that population and what reporting will look like, but it is essential to overcoming invisibility.

4. Facilitating pathways through expanded recruitment, scholarship support and student services: IHE should examine their recruitment footprint and ensure enough outreach to have a broad group of potential students. They should also ensure sufficient financial support and targeted student services are provided, including designated advisors and counselors. Students also shared that having their own space matters. Native student centers and residential housing creates visible support on campus.

It takes intentional effort and sufficient investment to create climates where Native students can succeed. Native students are themselves excellent informants about what works. Tribal colleges and universities are good resources for best practices and strategic partnerships to support success.


Cheryl Crazy Bull is a member of the Sicangu Lakota Tribe and is President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund. She has more than 30 years of experience in Native higher education.

November is Native American Heritage Month

The photo above was taken at the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s annual Entrepreneurship Scholarship meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, last month. As you can see, we had a good turnout of JSF board members, staff and consultants and representation from almost all our nonprofit, tribal college and university partners in this program.

The Entrepreneurship Scholarship program is in its 28th year and this annual convening has been an integral part. The Foundation’s persistence in this program – and in our Indigenous funding generally – is paying a dividend of improvement and these meetings seem to get better every year.

The meeting heard a presentation by Jamie Schwartz and Tiffany Gusbeth of the American Indian College Fund. The College Fund administers 200 scholarship programs for Indigenous students, two of which – the Business Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurship Pipeline – are matching scholarship endowments established by the Foundation.

The Business Entrepreneurship Scholarship supports students who have already obtained an associate’s degree, typically at a tribal college, and are in their junior or senior year of a bachelor’s degree. This scholarship program has a 93 percent persistence and graduation rate.

The Entrepreneurship Pipeline supports first and second year business students at tribal colleges that do not partner directly with the Foundation. Interestingly, the College Fund has also gone into the secret sauce business and has developed “student success services” such as coaching and mentoring, transition assistance and peer tutoring.

Native American Heritage Month LogoWe also heard from Loris Taylor, president and CEO of Native Public Media, a network of 57 radio and four television stations. Loris gave a wonderful presentation on the strengths and challenges of Native Public Media and its role and potential in education.

The best of this meeting took place at the very beginning when we had presentations from two Johnson Scholars from Northern Arizona University. Dylan Graham, from the Navajo Nation, has just obtained a degree in hotel management and was president of NAU’s student body. She presented very well and, not surprisingly, has several options. She may go overseas to work with an international hotelier or to Arizona State University for an MBA.

Elliott Cooley is also from the Navajo Nation and is in his senior year of business management. While in high school he suffered nerve damage in a car accident that partially paralyzed his left side. After two years of physiotherapy he joined the Marines and served for four years, including a tour of duty in Iraq. He began college on the GI Bill and, when it ran out, obtained a Johnson Scholarship. Elliott is an entrepreneur and won the NAU Center for American Indian Economic Development (CAIED) business competition. He hopes to do business on the Navajo Reservation and serve as a role model for other would-be entrepreneurs.

Elliott referenced his tour of duty in Iraq and stressed how grateful he is for the freedom to pursue education and a career of his choice. Gratitude was a good theme at our meeting and for the Foundation’s work generally. A year from now it will be Native American Heritage Month and we will be back in Scottsdale, talking to our grantee partners about how we can support another year of their excellent work. We should all be grateful for this opportunity.

Malcolm Macleod is the president and CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). Since joining the Foundation as president in 2001, he has spent the past 17 years working with the Board, staff and grantees to ensure that JSF is a Foundation that makes quality grants serving as catalysts for effective change. Prior to his work with the Foundation, he had a 26-year career in law and is currently a member of the Bar.

What Coyote Stories Teach Us About Success

Among many Native Tribes in North America stories have been an important part of the oral traditions passed down over many generations. While each tribal group has stories unique to them, many times there are common themes shared by several different tribes. In the Northern Plains and Northwest U.S. these are often referred to as “Coyote Stories.”

Fox looking at the camera

Fox

While not all stories involve Coyote, he is a very important, and complex, character. Coyote is charged by the Creator with helping the people and looking after them, which he does enthusiastically. Knowing his flaws, however, the Creator asks Brother Fox to look after Coyote. Many stories are told about monsters or an evil of some kind that is threatening or killing the people. Coyote hears of this and rushes to the rescue. Inevitably, he charges full-steam into the battle with great courage and good intentions, but no plan or foresight. And, inevitably, he is killed. Along comes Brother Fox and performs some action or rite to bring Coyote back to life. Coyote then comes up with a clever and creative plan to defeat the monster.

An important aspect of Coyote Stories is that each listener is free, in fact encouraged, to reflect upon each story and find the lesson in it. These are some of the lessons I have drawn from these stories:

1) Good intentions and bold action are not enough. We often confuse action with progress. In times of crisis we tend to want to “do something.” Our first or most obvious choice of action can be counter-productive and lead to more serious problems. Careful planning, creativity and marshalling resources turn good intentions into effective outcomes.

2) Persistence pays off. Initial failure need not lead to defeat. We have all seen examples of students, businesses or clients who, having failed, need to be picked up, given some resources and encouraged to try a new approach. This initial failure is natural and not to be treated as an endpoint, but simply another stop along the path. Likewise, we, as service providers, initiate new programs, reach out to new populations or otherwise act boldly with good intentions. Often with little success. Coyote stories remind us to learn from failure, get assistance and try to come up with a better plan.

3) Each one of us is sometimes Fox and sometimes Coyote. Within each of us, and our organizations, live both Fox and Coyote. We tend to see our organizations as always playing Fox, the helper. But we are sometimes Coyote; acting boldly, making mistakes and not getting expected results. We often need assistance to plan creative approaches to solve existing problems. This is just part of the process.

Certainly, in my career I have helped many Coyotes, students who failed a class, or entrepreneurs who can’t pay the bills. But I have often relied on the assistance of organizations like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, American Indian College Fund and American Indian Graduate Center to be Brother Fox.

An alumnus of the Gonzaga University MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship (MBA-AIE) program, Keith Rennie (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) taught business at Salish Kootenai College. He chaired the Business Department until 2017 when he launched his business, Brother Fox Consulting. He lives and works on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana.