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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.

My Native American Heritage

This year for Native American Heritage Month, I have been reflecting on my own Native American heritage. I am Oglala Lakota through my father and German American through my mother – and I’m blessed with this lineage. However, since it is Native American Heritage Month, let me focus on that side.

Sherry Salway Black is an infant in her father's arms in this family photo taken in Pine Ridge Village.

Sherry Salway Black is an infant in her father’s arms in this family photo taken in Pine Ridge Village.

I was the only one of four siblings born on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota – and I’m the only one that has spent their career working with Native peoples and Native issues. I didn’t grow up on Pine Ridge – my family was part of the federal American Indian “relocation movement” from the mid-1940s – early 1960s – a policy of assimilation. After getting my undergraduate degree in Pennsylvania in the mid-1970s, I felt drawn to “return” to the reservation, to meet family I had only talked to on the phone and to see the place I was born, as many “urban Indian” young adults from relocated families did at the time. I haven’t “left” Indian Country since – working with and for Native peoples for more than 40 years.  To bind the tie even tighter I married into the Seneca Nation.

Being Native means different things to different people.  To me, it means I have a rich, vibrant network of relatives, friends and colleagues, both Native and non-Native, across the country and the world, who work for the betterment of Native peoples. To me, being Native means lifelong learning about the diverse, magnificent and resilient Native communities to better understand and assist in development.  To me, being Native means I have been blessed with financial support for my undergraduate education and my graduate degree which led to a career where I have been passionate about my work.  I’ve worked directly in communities with Native peoples and tribal nations, locally with Native organizations, and nationally with national Native and non-Native organizations and the federal government.  Being Native led me down a unique and rewarding lifelong path.

This postcard shot of Pine Ridge village was taken during the 1950s.

This postcard shot of Pine Ridge Village was taken during the 1950s.

I have received so many opportunities because of my Native heritage. Many generations of leaders, both Native and non-Native, made this possible through their work, commitment and advocacy along with sacrifices by our ancestors. What do I owe in return? Being Native means you might be eligible to receive certain benefits but these benefits come with certain responsibilities, certain obligations. The importance of giving back – or reciprocity – is so vital to Native societies.

In this month to celebrate and recognize Native Americans and their innumerable, vast and continuing contributions to this country, and in the season of giving and appreciation, let each of us, with our unique and diverse heritages, give thanks for all that we have. And do not forget to reciprocate, or give back, for your good fortune.

How AIBL Challenges and Inspires Native Business Students

American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL) was organized in January 1994 and was recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization in 1995 on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, Montana. Michelle Henderson (Assiniboine) was a graduate student in the MBA program and wrote her thesis on AIBL. She approached School of Business Administration Dean Dr. Larry Gianchetta to be the chair of her thesis committee. The original idea evolved from concerns expressed by many tribal leaders that recognized the need for business educated and business experienced tribal members to assist with tribal economic development. Michelle became the first executive director of the AIBL organization, and Larry became the faculty advisor to the University of Montana AIBL Chapter.

American Indian Business Leaders black and gold logoThe mission of AIBL is to increase the representation of American Indians and Alaska Natives in business and entrepreneurial ventures through education and leadership development opportunities.

AIBL’s vision is to become the preeminent national nonprofit organization serving American Indians and Alaska Natives by providing business and entrepreneurship education, leadership development training, and the necessary support to help young men and women who aspire to purse studies and careers in business, entrepreneurship, or related disciplines.

Today, AIBL has student chapters throughout the United States, and the chapters fall into three categories: High School, Tribal Colleges, and Universities.  Each of the chapters has a least one faculty advisor. Faculty advisors and student members can go to the AIBL website (www.aibl.org)  and click on chapters to find all the resources necessary to organize and run chapter meetings.  Each year the primary focus for the student chapters is the Annual Leadership Conference. This year our annual Leadership Conference will be April 26-28 at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Arizona (more details on the conference can be found on the AIBL website).

The Leadership Conference has students going to learning sessions in career development, personal development, networking, etc. Many of the corporate sponsors will be attending the conference and will be available to discuss both internships and career opportunities. We also have many sponsors interested in our AIBL students, representing well-known Indian owned businesses who have both internships and career opportunities for students. Students participate in competitions such as Business Plans and Chapter of the Year. Members of the National Board of Directors are located across the U.S. and come from industry and education. They are dedicated to the mission and vision of AIBL and will all be available at the annual Leadership Conference.

Students participate in the general session of the 2017 American Indian Business Leaders annual conference.Finally, go the AIBL website and click on conferences. You will see the students involved in all of the activities available to them engaged in life-changing experiences. You will also see the remarkable speakers that come to present at the AIBL conference. A large part of the AIBL experience throughout the academic year is the fundraising students do to pay their way to the conference, as well as preparing to do very well individually and as a chapter in the competitive events. Each year we ask a few of our AIBL alumni to come back to the Leadership Conference and share with the students what impact AIBL has had on their lives. This is always a very powerful experience for our current AIBL students!

If you have any questions, please contact AIBL Executive Director Prairie Bighorn at prairie.bighorn@aibl.org.

 

What is an ‘Indian Giver?’

Do you remember during your childhood when someone gave you something but then took it back? The person might have been called an “Indian giver.”

Horses in a field with sunsetThe term was always hurtful for me because I knew firsthand the generosity of American Indian people. At our ceremonies, it has always been a custom to have what we call “giveaways,” a tradition of honoring and respecting others by the giving of gifts ranging from blankets to horses.  Leaders were chosen in our society by how much they gave away to the people, not by how much they owned. It is a high honor to share with others.

The term “Indian giver” originated in the pre-Colonial land transactions involving the entrepreneurial Dutch and Indian landowners. The Dutch had learned to manufacture wampum — small shells used as currency and jewelry among Indian tribes — that was used for land trades. The land was then broken up and the titles were later sold in Europe to future settlers.

Native American wampum money artUpon arrival, the new settlers found Indians unwilling to honor the contracts because they believed that the transactions were only valid with the person involved in the original purchase. They were trying to do the honorable thing.

It was from these confusing first transactions that Europeans came to believe that Indians could not be trusted and therefore forced them from their lands. The Indians were merely trying to maintain the integrity of the original transaction. Hence the term “Indian giver.”

I have never known of an Indian person to give someone a gift and then take it back. All my life I have only seen generosity from people who had very little in the way of material possessions.

Indians gave the ultimate gift to Europeans: their land, which holds vast natural resources that include oil, coal, timber, minerals, water rights and rich farmland. Yet today, American Indians are some of the poorest people in America.

Native American Heritage month logoNational philanthropic support for American Indians falls far short of what is needed. American Indians languish in some of the most remote, untenable areas in the country, where poverty and despair are common. Less than 1 percent of all charitable giving goes to support Indian causes.

The term “Indian giver” is a misnomer. In our community, giving is a way of life … and always will be.

What are your plans to give this year? Natural disasters have decimated entire islands like Puerto Rico and the need to help has never been greater. Pick a good sound organization and give and then give some more.

Richard B. Williams (Oglala Lakota/Northern Cheyenne) is a passionate and committed advocate and fierce champion of Native education in the United States. From 1997-2012, he served as president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, a national non-profit scholarship fundraising organization for American Indian students attending tribal colleges and universities which provide culturally based education and are run by the tribes. He presently serves as Indigenous Peoples Programs Consultant for the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.