Chairman’s Letter

From the 2017 Annual Report

Traditional Knowledge/Future Solutions - What’s Old is New Again

Phrase it how you will:

  • What’s old is new again.
  • What goes around comes around. 
  • Perhaps even, Back to the future.

Some things become fashionable again after a long absence. Those of us of a certain age often smile when we see younger generations embracing some old thing or style that was “in” when we were much younger, and which we certainly thought had gone “out” for good.

It may be a fashion thing – tie-dye shirts, bell-bottom jeans or hipster fedoras.

It may be a technology thing – vinyl records, Polaroid photos or vintage video games.

It may be a business tool – I was amused recently when a wonderful millennial I know was raving about this thing he discovered called a “Rolodex” in which to keep paper business cards.

This cycle isn’t a bad thing. And in the case of Indian Ways of Knowing, it’s a very good thing. We believe that traditional Indigenous knowledge holds crucial solutions for the future, not only for Native tribes but for society at large. We feel that unique Native perspectives can help address some of this country’s most pressing issues.
That’s why our theme for this report is “Traditional Knowledge/Future Solutions.” And in the spirit of what’s old is new again, that line is a recycled, modified theme we used many years ago (1996/1997), which was “Ancient Wisdom/Future Solutions.”

The Native American sensibilities of keeping aligned with and true to our roots and traditions; maintaining our Native languages and customs; staying connected to and caring for our families and community members both rich and poor, strong or weak; and even something like returning to a healthy pre-Colonial diet – are all good things. These and other attributes like sustainability and self-reliance are important to us Native people.

For example, in my community of Jemez Pueblo, we have started an initiative to build adobe homes using locally-sourced materials like high-performance adobes and vigas from our timber operation, plus using the self-help model to reduce the cost of construction. This is what we used to do back in the day – relatives and friends helping one another – and home mortgages were almost nonexistent. 

Native knowledge is not trendy or “retro” cool. It’s old-school stuff, yes, but it’s potentially the right stuff to use in dealing with many of the modern-day pathologies of American society – the materialism, the greed, the divisiveness, and the “win at all cost” attitude. And it holds valuable learnings for those who exploit the earth’s resources beyond what is good, in so much as it fouls the air, the water and the land itself. It’s also fouling our very human nature.

And it’s a good recipe for Native communities themselves – communities that have had to overcome obstacles and challenges for their very survival stretching over hundreds of years.

Modern education will continue to play a crucial role in the development of our communities, but I believe that education rooted in the traditional knowledge, values and wisdom of our people has to be the catalyst that will give us the greatest gain.

At First Nations Development Institute, we have been striving for 37 years to help Native communities help themselves. We work to help make them more sustainable and self-reliant. We work to improve our communities and economies. We work to build assets for our people, whether they be land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources.
We do this work through grant funding, technical assistance and training, guidance and encouragement. Taken together, these provide needed resources, skills, abilities and hope for the future.  We believe that Native communities know how to solve their own challenges, and we just want to help them implement their homegrown solutions. It’s Indigenous Knowledge in action, and it’s brilliant.

And being old school doesn’t mean there isn’t modern innovation taking place in Native communities. There certainly is! We see it every single day in our partners and grantees. They are addressing local issues and challenges with many innovative and exciting approaches, but built on a solid foundation of traditional Native sensibilities.

This original knowledge and problem-solving ability is moving the needle in a positive direction in Indian communities. The country at large would do well to adopt some of the same sensibilities while also, finally, recognizing and supporting the original genius of Native America.


Benny Shendo, Jr. (Jemez Pueblo)
Chairman, Board of Directors
First Nations Development Institute


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