Advancing Household & Community Asset-Building Strategies

Advancing Household & Community Asset-Building Strategies

First Nations Development Institute works with our national and local partners to identify, develop and implement household and community asset-building strategies that empower Native people. Working with our community partners in tribal colleges and community development financial institutions (CDFIs), we share ideas through peer learning and we finance program development through our grantmaking program. Working with our national and regional partners, we have helped share information about household asset-building programs such as Individual Development Accounts, Children’s Savings Accounts, and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites. We also conduct research on issues related to predatory lending in Native communities and work to raise awareness of this problem. First Nations’ programs help move families and communities toward financial security.

To create systemic economic change, First Nations also works with Native American communities to develop new businesses and services, and reclaim direct control of assets. We seek to help communities understand, create and control the way in which Native assets are valued, as well as the decision-making process in deciding whether to monetize those assets.

First Nations and its wholly-owned subsidiary, First Nations Oweesta Corporation, work with reservation and rural Indian communities to create and support CDFIs, Native businesses and tribal programs with early-stage investments and capitalization to stimulate business growth through new financial models, products and services. Through entrepreneurship and business-development projects targeted at both the tribal (macro) and individual (micro) levels, First Nations creates and supports sustainable economic development in Native communities.


Current Projects

Native Arts Initiative (NAI)

About the Native Arts Initiative

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) works to build healthy economies in Indian Country based on strategies that emphasize Native communities controlling their assets, including cultural assets, institutional assets, natural resource assets and political assets among others. As a cultural asset for Native communities, art has been an integral part of sustaining Native nations, culture, language and traditional beliefs, shaping community and family ties and cultural pride. Yet, the process of colonization has stripped many Native communities of artistic forms and individuals with the capacity to carry on traditional art forms that are integral to their cultures. Factors such as western and religious education systems as well as urbanization and incorporation into the modern economy, among others, have all directly impacted Native American artists and the field of Native American arts, placing continued pathways of cultural traditions in jeopardy.
To this end, First Nations established the Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative (NACBI) in 2014 – changing its name to the Native Arts Initiative (NAI) in 2016 – with the goal of stimulating long-term perpetuation, proliferation and revitalization of traditional artistic and cultural assets in Native communities. The NAI is working to achieve this by creating and strengthening the enabling environments in which Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs are operating to support emerging and established Native artists and sustain traditional Native arts. Under the NAI, these entities receive organizational and programmatic resources, including direct grants and technical assistance and training, to support their efforts to increase control of assets across five asset groups – institutional assets, arts and cultural assets, human capital, social assets and economic assets – ultimately facilitating the steady intergenerational transference of traditional artistic knowledge in their communities. 


      NAI News and Grantee Stories      

Lakota Artists Boost Economy, Community & Cultural Traditions on Pine Ridge 

Titwáatit Gallery Boosting Colville Native Artists

Social Value, Greater Healing: Art for the Upper Sioux

Sacred Pipe Artists Unite to Connect, Empower & Return Value to Art

Art for Culture & Economy: Tananáwit at Warm Springs

Passing Down Art and History at the Tulalip Tribes

Tiny Beads, Lifetime Lessons on Bois Forte Heritage Museum in Tower, Minnesota

Grants Help Keep Traditional Native Arts & Cultures Alive

Native Arts Project Explores Traditional Pueblo Connections

'Power of We' Part 2: Passion Resonates at Conference

AICHO Opening New "Indigenous First" Gift Shop in Duluth, Minnesota

First Nations Will Expand Its Native Arts Initiative in 2017

American Indian Community Housing Organization in Duluth, Minnesota

Thunder Valley Community Development Corp. in Porcupine, South Dakota

Gizhiigin Art Place in Mahnomen, Minnesota


NAI Funding Opportunities

From 2014 through early 2018, First Nations awarded 51 Supporting Native Arts grants totaling more than $1.4 million and ranging from $15,000 to $32,000 each to Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs serving Native American artists in three regions – the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota), the Southwest (New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California), and the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington). Currently, the geographic restrictions on NAI funding opportunities stem from our donors’ allowable service areas.
NAI Supporting Native Arts grantees utilize their grant funds to strengthen both organizational and programmatic capacity including, for example, supporting Master-Apprentice Artist instruction, development of Native artists’ business skills, providing arts workshops and classes led by master artists, and convening local artists to inform policy work and arts curriculum creation, among others. 

First Nations has also awarded more than 40 professional development mini-grants and travel stipends totaling more than $140,000 to Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs in the NAI service area from 2014 through mid-2018. Grant recipients have utilized the mini-grants to attend conferences and trainings focused on a wide variety of professional development topics including strategic planning, fundraising, museum best practices, curating and archiving, digital marketing, financial management, board governance and financial oversight among others.

NAI Grantee Training and Technical Assistance Opportunities

Besides direct project funding, First Nations provides NAI grantees with one-on-one technical assistance based on their needs identified in First Nations’ Capacity Survey Tool. Typically this technical assistance is delivered via in-person trainings conducted by First Nations and its partners.

December 2017 NAI Supporting Native Arts Grantees



April 2017 NAI Supporting Native Arts Grantees

December 2017 NAI Professional Development Grantees

April 2017 NAI Professional Development Grantees





Native Family Empowerment Program

Our Native Family Empowerment Program is helping two tribal colleges, Chief Dull Knife College and Northwest Indian College, to provide services to support Native students who are also parents. The two tribal colleges will provide “bundled services” to their Native students who are parents, including social supports (e.g. child care, assistance accessing benefits, counseling) and financial empowerment supports (e.g. financial education, asset-building, workforce readiness, financial coaching). By supporting parents and their young children, this program will help families achieve financial empowerment. Chief Dull Knife College and Northwest Indian College have each received $90,000 grants for 2.5 years. First Nations is also offering technical assistance to the People’s Partners for Community Development and Lummi Community Development Financial Institution, two CDFIs that work in partnership with the colleges.

Building Economic Security Over a Lifetime

Under the Building Economic Security Over a Lifetime initiative, with funding from the Ford Foundation, First Nations works with key partners in Oklahoma to build and nurture two coalitions dedicated to inclusive asset-building. First Nations coordinated this work with the goal of elevating an asset-building agenda at the state, local and tribal levels that will provide inclusive income and program strategies to ensure family economic security. Working closely with partners on the ground, First Nations helped the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition (ONAC) reach out to tribes and Native nonprofits in the state and share ideas, information and innovative models with policymakers and practitioners.

In 2014, ONAC began piloting its Native Children’s Savings Account Campaign with two mini-grants to the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. First Nations also worked closely with Oklahoma Policy Institute to support the Oklahoma Assets Network (OAN) as it reached out to underserved communities in Oklahoma, identified key policy and program issues, and educated community members and policy leaders about innovative asset-building programs.

In 2014, OAN initiated a partnership with Restore Hope Ministries to offer an emergency savings program to Restore Hope clients. OAN also collaborated with Howard University Center on Race and Wealth to profile payday lending in Oklahoma. Dr. Haydar Kurban, a professor from Howard University, published Demographics of Payday Lending in Oklahoma. OAN and Dr. Kurban presented the findings from this research in April 2015 at Who Pays More: A Town Hall Forum on Predatory Lending in Oklahoma.

In 2015, the Ford Foundation granted $600,000 to First Nations for two years of continuing work on the Building Economic Security Over a Lifetime initiative in Oklahoma. Under this grant, support will be provided to ONAC and OAN into 2017.

Native Asset-Building Partnership Project

First Nations Development Institute launched the Native Asset-Building Partnership Project (NABPP) to help tribes develop tools and infrastructure for control of their assets. The NABPP is geared to strengthen tribal institutions in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota through peer learning and model development that will lead to improved control and management of assets for the benefit of Native communities and individuals. First Nations' goal is to foster partnerships between tribes and allow them to share best practices for asset stewardship and management.

In 2012, First Nations received grant support to help develop and facilitate two partnerships between (1) the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the Hopi Tribe, and (2) the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Spokane Tribe, in order to strengthen the tribal infrastructure through peer learning and model development.  The partnerships are based on a mentor-mentee relationship model where one tribe with an established program model assists another tribe in developing a similar program in their tribal community.  In the first partnership, the Hopi tribe will share best practices with the Oneida Nation for developing infrastructure to establish an endowment fund. In the second partnership, the Mille Lacs Band will work with the Spokane tribe to build on human capital so Mille Lacs can improve its natural resource division and engage the community with this division. The generous financial support for this project is being provided by the Otto Bremer Foundation.

The Department of Natural Resources for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and Sovereign Power Inc. have both brought different expertise and experience to this partnership, which has focused on alternative energy development, including wind and solar and various forest management practices. In 2010, representatives from this partnership held their third annual meeting on the Mille Lacs reservation in Onamia, Minnesota. The main topic of discussion was woody biofuel production, taking into consideration that biomass power is the largest source of renewable energy. Woody biomass consists of trees and woody plants, including limbs, tops, needles, leaves, and other woody parts, grown in a forest, woodland, or rangeland environment, and that are the by-products of forest management. Discussion at this meeting focused on the necessary steps for woody biomass production, including business approaches and cultural considerations to making biomass production work on Indian lands. 

Tribal College-CDFI Collaboration Project

In 2012, First Nations received a grant to form partnerships between tribal colleges and local Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in two communities.  This project will pilot in the two tribal communities of the Lummi Nation, located in Washington, and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.  The tribal colleges, Northwest Indian College and the College of the Menominee Nation, will provide business and entrepreneurship-focused training for tribal college students.  Students who have completed the training will be encouraged and eligible for business start-up or expansion loans from the CDFIs.  The intention is to promote the growth of private-sector business development in Indian Country.  The generous financial support for this project is being provided by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

First Nations Oweesta Corporation

In order to focus on the capitalization and development of emerging Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs), the board of directors of First Nations Development Institute incorporated First Nations Oweesta Corporation as a wholly owned subsidiary in 1999. The organization's sound stewardship directly contributed to the rapid development of certified Native CDFIs. For more than 10 years, Oweesta has been part of some 200 total awards to the Native institutions, totaling tens of millions of dollars in fruitful investment in Indian Country. Oweesta focuses on CDFI development by offering expert training and customized follow-up assistance, and by providing loans to qualifying organizations, enabling them to reinvest the capital back into their communities.

Please visit First Nations Oweesta's website here.