I have been involved with First Nations Development Institute since before its formal beginning in 1980. Over those 32-plus years – as an advisor, supporter, board member and then chairman for many years – I have had the privilege of sitting in a front-row seat as a new type of creation story was born.
The creation involved a new beginning for all Indian tribes and nations through the formal restoration of sovereignty, and relief from dominance, bondage and servitude. First Nations’ birth was directly related to the renaissance of Indian sovereignty, as its institution required an advocate and, importantly, an organization that championed the idea that the best exercise of sovereign power, or “self-determination,” is through the control of all assets. It is these founding principles that continue to make First Nations Development Institute relevant and vibrant.
The story of First Nations is about how a spark, a thought, became an idea. The idea became a seed. The seed gingerly sprouted and began to grow, but it was very fragile at first. It had to struggle to survive – often – and overcome many obstacles. But it persisted and weathered the storms. It was self-determined to grow strong and blossom, then cast off new seeds in order to perpetuate its good work.
It was fortunate. Along the journey it was nurtured and protected by able caregivers on its management staff, on its board of directors, and among its visionary financial supporters.
First Nations Development Institute is now, and has been for some time, a solid, maturing and effective organization. It’s also prolific. Each and every year, First Nations casts off many more seeds by way of financial grants and other assistance to worthy Native American projects that, in turn, are generating their own sparks and ideas and spawning new seeds. Not all of those seeds take root or survive, of course, but many do. And they are helping to revitalize Native American economies and are supporting healthier Native communities all across the United States.
The theme of this 2012 Annual Report is “Asset-Building: Supporting Self-Sufficiency, Sustainability and Self-Determination.” That theme generally describes First Nations’ own creation story, but more appropriately it illustrates the very work that First Nations attempts to do for American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Our goal is to help these communities take control of their assets, reclaim them where necessary, grow them, and use them to become sustainable and self-sufficient while determining their own futures in culturally appropriate ways.
The projects we support can be small, but we evaluate them on the potential they have to create economic opportunity and other benefits over the long term. After all, seeds start very small, but can grow into mighty things. These projects might be a food system or an agricultural effort here, or bolstering a nonprofit’s management capacity there, or helping incubate new businesses, or helping traditions and languages make the transfer to new generations, or teaching the right ways to budget, save, invest and otherwise handle money and other assets.
These projects are the seeds of Native American self-sufficiency, sustainability and self-determination for the future.
We especially give thanks to the thousands of individuals, foundations and corporations who continue to generously support First Nations. Without your help, these seeds would go dormant, and much progress would be lost. Thank you for believing in our mission, supporting it, and watching with us as our “crops” grow healthy and strong in Native communities all across the land.
Finally, it is my pleasure to remark on two specific achievements that First Nations has reached.
First, in early 2013, as we were beginning to prepare this 2012 Annual Report, First Nations was awarded the top four-star rating from Charity Navigator, which is well-regarded as America’s premier charity evaluator. This coveted rating illustrates First Nations’ sound fiscal management, good governance, and its commitment to accountability, transparency and quantifiable results. This high honor is a sign that donors can continue to support First Nations with full confidence.
Second, with board approval, First Nations purchased its own headquarters building in Longmont, Colorado, in early 2013. After years of leasing space – and dealing with seemingly endless rent increases – it became obvious that First Nations needed to seize control of its own physical space. The building is now a key asset of the organization, providing operational space as well as rental income from other tenants.
I believe both of these milestones are signs of the continuing growth and maturity of the organization, and are testament to its growing presence, impact and credibility in Native communities.
B. Thomas Vigil (Jicarilla Apache/Jemez Pueblo) Chairman, Board of Directors First Nations Development Institute