September 2023 Newsletter

Highlights from First Nations, Gratitude for You

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the September 2023 issue of Indian Giver. We hope you will enjoy hearing about the important work of two community partners: Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians and Native American Land Conservancy, as well as how First Nations is helping elevate Native communities through the power of digital storytelling.

This issue, we shine a spotlight on the Southwest Sojourn Tour, a special trip taken by nine enthusiastic First Nations supporters to meet our community partners in the Pueblos of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. We also introduce you to another Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow, Francis “Palani” Sinenci, a Native Hawaiian working passionately to keep a cultural tradition alive.

Thank you for your interest and for taking the time to enjoy these stories. We appreciate you!

Growing the Cahuilla Language One Fluent Speaker at a Time

In the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians, less than 10 of 222 enrolled tribal members speak the Cahuilla language fluently. “It is an extremely endangered language,” says Mercedes Estrada, coordinator of the Cahuilla Language Program. Currently, Estrada is teaching the language to 55 students ― from tiny tots to adults, with an emphasis on children ― and she predicts that if enthusiasm for language-learning continues at its current pace, a new fluent speaker of the Cahuilla language could emerge in about three years. Read more about the plan to grow the Cahuilla language.

Preparing for Land Back with the Native American Land Conservancy

Elizabeth Paige (Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians) grew up surrounded by the beauty of the California desert and learned about its Indigenous plants and foods from her grandmother. Today, Paige is a desert naturalist and steward of this land, and she serves as the education and stewardship program manager for the Native American Land Conservancy (NALC). She takes us on her journey with the land-back movement and NALC’s efforts to protect sacred Native sites and lands in California. Read the full story.

Amplifying Native Communities through the Power of Digital Storytelling

Native peoples have always used words and images to weave relevant and meaningful stories. Historically, our stories have endured through spoken word, and our very cultures and lifeways have lived on through the remembering and sharing of those stories. To help drive awareness and investment in Native communities, digital storytelling can be an effective and powerful tool. First Nations’ new Digital Storytelling Toolkit provides an overview of the components of stories, examples of how stories can be captured and presented on websites, and how to gain more exposure through digital press releases, email, and social media. It also includes tribal considerations when talking about Native communities, as well as exercises to ensure stories contain asset-based, strengths-based messaging. Read more about the toolkit here.


Meet Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow Francis ‘Palani’ Sinenci

Francis Sinenci prefers that everyone calls him “Uncle.” The beloved octogenarian is well-known in Hawai`i for preserving the dying art of building traditional hales (hall-lees), or thatched structures. Since retiring from the military in 1990, Sinenci has built approximately 486 hales for schools and other organizations. “Nobody has built more hales in this millennium,” he says proudly. He is also in demand as an Indigenous mason who restores sacred temples and repairs fishpond walls. Sinenci is co-founder of a traditional school that trains students in masonry and hale-building; and he piloted a program at Maui Community College that graduated certified hale builders. Read more about “Uncle” Francis.


First Nations Supporters Take a Sojourn to the Southwest

First Nations recently led nine supporters on a tour of five Pueblos in beautiful Santa Fe and Albuquerque to meet our grassroots community partners. Participants got an up-close-and-personal look at the important work they support to strengthen Native communities. Tour highlights included collecting corn pollen, making Pueblo bread, attending the Jemez Pueblo Feast Day, and a pottery demonstration by 2020 Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow Clarence Cruz, an award-winning potter. First Nations’ Board Chair and New Mexico State Sen. Benny Shendo, a member of the Jemez Pueblo Tribe, served as the tour guide. Read more about the Southwest Sojourn Tour here.




INDIAN GIVER is published quarterly by First Nations to share the impact of the Native-led projects and initiatives we invest in and to celebrate the strength and future of Native communities. The phrase INDIAN GIVER entered the English language under historical circumstances that distorted its meaning within Native American culture, where it never carried the negative cargo we know it by today. The true meaning signifies a willingness to care, an expectation of sharing; and a cultural commitment to reciprocity that was not to be questioned. Indian giving was and is the future wealth of society.

Latest News

All-Staff Brings Teams Together

A highlight of this quarter was an all-staff gathering for professional development and team-building. The training culminated with a learning session with facilitator Leroy “Buster” Silver, who guided staff through activities on self-reflection and community and organization empowerment.

Learning and Sharing at  L.E.A.D. Conference

This month brought a return of First Nations’ Leadership and Entrepreneurial Apprenticeship Development (L.E.A.D) Conference. The 2023 event featured three days of education sessions and workshops, including keynote presentations, a dance performance by Zuya Sica Waci, and a farewell session by author, Matika Wilbur. More highlights of the conference will be in our next Indian Giver.

One More Day to Meet the TLC Fund Match

First Nations thanks everyone who has contributed to our Tribal Lands Conservation (TLC) Fund Campaign! Through your support, we’ve made great progress toward our $750,000 match and feel confident that we will hit our campaign goal. If you would still like to contribute and make a gift in support of Native-led climate justice and conservation efforts, please join us and donate now. When you give $5 or more by Saturday, September 30th, we will send you a beautiful sticker featuring our TLC Fund campaign artwork. Donate here.

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Every week in "This Week at First Nations," we share news about First Nations' programs and outreach, as well as highlights from happenings throughout Indian Country. Invite friends and family to our mailing list, and stay tuned every week for ongoing news and information. Send this link!