First Nations Celebrates 40 Years of Advancing Native Communities

In 1980, First Nations Financial Project was founded in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Funded by a $25,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, the project – renamed First Nations Development Institute in 1991 – became the first nonprofit social enterprise exclusively committed to Native control of tribal assets.

In 2020, we celebrate the 4oth anniversary of First Nations and the progress made through this initial project that has grown into a leading Native-led nonprofit in service of strengthening Native economies and communities. With the theme of our anniversary, Honoring Indigenous Knowledge, we look back at the successes of our community partners, and we look ahead with optimism for all they are achieving for Native culture, youth, land, and assets. Together, we can reclaim, restore, and rebuild all that has been lost and bring back and celebrate traditional knowledge and messages of strength and sustainability.

To help First Nations commemorate this important date, Native artist Gordon Coons contributed his original artwork features “Makwa/Bear” in the Ojibwa Woodland Art Style.

About Makwa/Bear

Artist Coons writes, “I chose Makwa/bear because it is one of the most widespread Clans or Totems (dodem) in the Native American Culture. Makwa/Bear clan members are associated with leadership, wisdom, strength, healing and medicine. It is this responsibility of leadership, wisdom, strength, healing and medicine that guides members of Mawka/Bear clan to follow the path of honoring Indigenous knowledge.

First Nations provides to Native communities the same qualities as members of Makwa/Bear clan provide to their tribes. Some of these matching qualities are leadership/educational and cultural activities, medicine /nutrition education, and wisdom /improve the quality of life.”

First Nations thanks Gordon for his talent and vision in this artistic representation of Indigenous Knowledge.

About Gordon Coons

Based in Minneapolis, Gordon Coons (Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa/Ottawa) is a painter, printmaker, and fumage artist. Largely self-taught, he paints in the Ojibwa Woodland style and creates fumage, smoke art, by burning cedar. He embellishes his fumage pieces with 24-karat gold leaf. He also prints with linoleum blocks and sculpts in stone and wood.

Coons draws inspiration from his Anishinaabe heritage, and his bright color palette comes from his natural surrounds in the Great Lakes region. “I also enjoy incorporating playfulness in my images, telling stories of relationships between Western and Native cultures, and the connection we have to our shared historical events,” he says in his artist statement. Gordon Coons exhibits nationally, and his work is in permanent collections across the country. He regularly shows and wins awards at annual Native American art markets such as SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, Native POP Festival in Rapid City, South Dakota; and the Eiteljorg Indian Art Market in Indianapolis, Indiana. His artwork can also be seen at solo exhibits and group exhibits. More of his artwork can be seen online at

Featured Gordon Coons Events and Articles


Gordon discusses his art at this livestreamed event at Jacobson House in Norman, Oklahoma. Recording available soon.


Here Gordon talks about his work at an event at the Minnesota State Fair. Watch the presentation.



The Capital City Hues celebrates the art of Gordon Coons in this “Center Spread” feature. Read it here.