Our Programs: Investing in Native Youth

Investing in Native Youth

First Nations believes that Native youth represent the future of Native communities, and that their health and well-being determines the future health and well-being of a community overall. By investing in youth and giving them a sense of place and tradition in the community, a community ensures that it will have bright and capable future leaders.  First Nations invests in Native youth and their families through many programs, but the cornerstone of our youth efforts is the Native Youth and Culture Fund, which annually provides grant support to numerous youth-related projects.  We also have a range of financial education programs that are geared toward Native youth, including the Crazy Cash City reality fair and the $pending Frenzy workshop. The goal is to provide programs that meet youth where they are, support them in accomplishing their goals and dreams, and prepare them for an empowered adulthood guided by their cultures, families and traditions. 

Current Projects

Native Youth and Culture Fund (NYCF)

First Nations launched the NYCF in 2002 with generous support from Kalliopeia Foundation and other foundations and tribal, corporate and individual supporters. The NYCF is designed to enhance culture and language awareness, and promote youth empowerment, leadership and community building. This year’s funding is provided by Kalliopeia Foundation and an anonymous donor. Including awards made in 2018, First Nations has awarded more than 370 grants to Native youth programs throughout the U.S., totaling $6.3 million.

In 2018, First Nations awarded 21 grants totaling $400,000. In 2017, First Nations awarded grants to 22 Native organizations across the U.S. totaling $410,000. In 2016, grants were awarded to 24 programs totaling $432,000, and, in 2015, 26 grants were made to American Indian and Native Hawaiian organizations.

Thousands of tribal youth have been and are being served through those innovative efforts, which ranged from culture camps and language nests, to business classes and financial education workshops, to agriculture and other food-based activities.


In 2018 First Nations awarded $400,000 to 21 organizations.


In 2017 First Nations awarded $410,000 to 22 organizations.
















In 2016 First Nations awarded $432,000 to 24 organizations.
















In 2015 First Nations awarded $460,000 to 26 organizations. 


Native Language Immersion Initiative

One of First Nations Development Institute's newest efforts, launched in late 2017, is the Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII). It aims to build the capacity of and directly support Native American language-immersion and culture-retention programs. Under NLII, First Nations is seeking to build a dialogue and a community of practice around Native language-immersion programs and consensus on and momentum for Native language programs. The effort is made possible through $2.1 million in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, with matching funding for year one of the three-year initiative from the Lannan Foundation, Kalliopeia Foundation and the NoVo Foundation. The initiative includes American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian language programs.

There are currently about 150 Native languages spoken in the U.S., many of them spoken only by a small number of elders. Without intervention, many of these languages are expected to become extinct within the next 50 to 100 years, which means a significant loss of cultural heritage. Language retention and revitalization programs have been recognized as providing key benefits to Native American communities by boosting educational achievement and student retention rates. They also support community identity, Native systems of kinship, and management of community, cultural and natural resources. Language learning gives rise to many positive social, cultural and economic impacts and, further, it can be life transforming, promote individual healing, and lead to cultural revitalization through the transmission of cultural values and knowledge that cannot be taught otherwise. Language learning can also create career opportunities in communities that are otherwise limited, and promote a spiritual connection with ancestry.

Through this new initiative, First Nations seeks to stem the loss of Indigenous languages and cultures by supporting new generations of Native American language speakers, and establishing infrastructure and models for Native language-immersion programs that may be replicated in other communities.

  • See the original August 3, 2017, announcement of this initiative here.
  • See the November 1, 2017, announcement of the matching funders here.
  • See the January 23, 2018, announcement of the first-year Request for Proposals here
  • See the July 6, 2018, announcement of the first grantees here.
  • See the October 26, 2018, announcement of the second-year Request for Proposals here.
  • Read a related January 18, 2018, blog about the value of Native languages, by Richard Williams, here.

In July 2018, First Nations announced the 12 inaugural grantees under the first year of the three-year iinitiative. Each grantee received $90,000 in funding to build the capacity of and directly support its Native language-immersion and/or culture-retention program. These grants are aimed at supporting activities such as curriculum development, technology access, and recruitment and training of teachers.

The grantees were:

  1. Chickaloon Native Village, Chickaloon, Alaska. The Ahtna Nekenaege' Ugheldze' Ghitnaa Pilot Project will serve Pre-K-8 students of the Ya Ne Dah Ah Tribal School. After the passing of the last fluent language speaker/teacher, the Chickaloon Village Tribal Council prioritized the preservation of cultural lifeways through the implementation of a curriculum and testing assessment standards developed over the past three years for Ahtna culture and language immersion instruction.
  2. Kama’aha Education Initiative, Hilo, Hawaiʻi. The project will be guided by the rediscovery of Hawaiian scientific terminology and concepts found in ancestral texts and their integration into Pre-K-12 school curriculum, online resources and training for Hawaiian language immersion teachers. The goal is to provide culturally-responsive teaching grounded in Hawaiian knowledge in order to better support student learning in the subject areas of language, math and science.
  3. Keres Children’s Learning Center, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico. The goal is to expand and increase the capacity of staff to develop children, ages 2.5 to 6, into healthy, responsible, Keres-speaking adults in the primary Keres immersion classroom. Training will be provided in best language immersion and Montessori practices and by refreshing the classroom materials and equipment to better nurture and revitalize the Keres language, culture and traditions.
  4. Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College, Baraga, Michigan. The project, Indooziitaamin, will primarily focus on the Migiziinsag preschool program. It will strengthen the current program through increased use of language and cultural activities, and will prepare teachers to encourage more frequent Ojibwe language use by providing recurring training, evaluation and a curriculum. Additionally, family-oriented events will be held to promote language use between community members and increase cultural awareness. 
  5. Nez Perce Tribe, Lapwai, Idaho. The project will create a formal immersion training program for future Nez Perce language teachers, who will serve students in preschool through college in the three main on-reservation communities of Lapwai, Orofino and Kamiah/Kooskia. The key points of this project are mentoring, job and life shadowing, curriculum methodology, curriculum development, and professional development training.
  6. Ohkay Owingeh, Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico. The project offers an additional opportunity for tribal members age 6-17 in the public and tribal schools’ current language immersion programs to continue Tewa immersion through after-school programs. Programs include connecting with tribal elders through mentoring activities, community service, and cultural-retention activities. Language immersion will be provided by community members who have obtained the tribe’s certification as Tewa teachers. 
  7. Oneida Nation, Oneida, Wisconsin. The tribal language department will expand the Oneida immersion program to include the 10-16 students in the Oneida Head Start. This class will be structured to utilize On^yote’aka Tsi Nitwaw^not^ and Head Start “as it happens” curriculum objectives, along with additional cultural components, and to serve children in a setting where Oneida is the first language they learn.
  8. Salish School of Spokane, Spokane, Washington. This project will increase intergenerational use and transmission of Salish language. This will be achieved by expanding the Salish immersion school programming from K-5 to include grades 6 and 7, deepening and expanding the Salish immersion teacher training program, sustaining the Salish language training program for parents and community members, and creating new Salish language math, science and literacy materials.
  9. STAR School (Painted Desert Demonstration Project), Flagstaff, Arizona. The project will intensify the Navajo language immersion efforts in early childhood (ages 3, 4 and 5). The Alchini Bighan (children's house) serves 36 Navajo children and follows the Montessori model of "learn by doing" with the language immersion approach that entails conversational learning rather than direct instruction. In addition, the project will provide a six-day Diné language immersion camp for students in grades 1-8 that will focus on plant knowledge and traditional food.
  10. Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, North Dakota. The project will create a comprehensive, coherent Pre-K immersion curriculum based on Dakota/Lakota immersion activities and materials developed since 2012, The curriculum will serve teachers and students at Lakho’iyapi Wahohpi orany D/Lakota preschool or daycare centers interested in creating an immersion environment, along with parents and community members who want to support language learning in the home.
  11. Waadookodaading, Inc., Hayward, Wisconsin. The Agindamaadidaa! (“Let’s Read!”) project will develop a sequence of Ojibwemowin leveled reading books that will align with new Ojibwe literacy assessments being developed. Leveled readers match a student’s reading ability level, or “lexile,” with texts written at that level. Although these are commonly available for reading series in English, this will be the first series in Ojibwe. The focus of the first readers will be sets for students in K-1, 2-3 and 4-5.
  12. Wopanaak Language and Cultural Weetyoo Inc., Mashpee, Massachusetts. Mukayuhsak Weekuw Wôpanâôt8ây Pâhshaneekamuq supports expansion of the Wôpanâak immersion language nest (preschool/kindergarten) to serve lower elementary students (grades 2-4) through teacher certification and fluency training, parent literacy development, and comprehensive planning to ensure a family and community-driven school design grounded in Wampanoag culture. Community planning will engage all four Wampanoag tribes and governing councils who contribute to the vitality of WLRP’s immersion and other instructional programs serving 4,000 citizens among the greater Wampanoag Nation in southeastern Massachusetts.


Advancing Positive Paths for Native American Boys and Young Men

First Nations established the “Advancing Positive Paths for Native American Boys and Young Men” program to support efforts taking place in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas aimed at improving education and employment outcomes for middle school and high school Native boys and young men.  The program uses strategies including early intervention to increase both middle school and high school retention rates and high school graduation rates, as well as elevating the importance of caring adults to re-engage youth who may be disconnected from work, school or their communities.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), in partnership with NEO Philanthropy, supports First Nations and this project to promote opportunity and health for young men of color in rural communities in the South and Southwest. Matching grant support from the Kalliopeia Foundation was also used to support this program. 

In 2014, First Nations awarded a total of $300,000 along with technical assistance and training support to three Native-controlled organizations and two tribes.  


Wellbeing in Student Health and Financial Self-Sufficiency

Youth Savings Accounts and Financial Literacy for High School Students

With generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, First Nations is teaming up with longtime partner, Gallup Central High School (Central High), to facilitate a multimodal financial education program for student parents that includes opening savings accounts in Gallup, New Mexico over the 2015-2016 school year.  Gallup Central houses the Graduation, Reality, and Dual-Role Skills (GRADS) class for student parents as part of a statewide initiative in New Mexico focused on providing support and education to pregnant and parenting teens.

Working with faculty at Central High, First Nations and the GRADS program are implementing an initiative titled the Wellbeing in Student Health and Financial Self-Sufficiency (WISHSS).  As part of the initiative, the GRADS program offers financial education in a variety of formats including guest lectures from financial experts, experiential learning events, as well as through a social media application that encourages good spending and savings decisions.  

Students are being provided with an initial seed deposit of $50 for a Youth Savings Account (YSA), as well as an additional seed deposit of $50 for their child’s Children’s Savings Account (CSA).  During the first month of the project, the GRADS teacher shuttled groups of 3-6 students to local bank partner, Pinnacle Bank, to open up accounts for students and their children.  In total, 19 students opened accounts for themselves with an additional 14 for their children (some students are expecting and will open up CSAs for their child once s/he is born).  The initial deposit for both accounts was provided by First Nations, however, students are expected to save and deposit at least $50 throughout the school year.  A match of $50 will be provided to students who can meet their savings goals.  

Student parents are allowed to enter the GRADS program on a rolling basis throughout the academic year.  First Nations and Central High will continue to work with Pinnacle Bank to open accounts as the school year progresses.


$pending Frenzy Kits Have Arrived!

javascript:void(0)First Nations is excited to announce the release of the highly anticipated $pending Frenzy kit!  The kit comes with everything you need to host a successful financial reality fair that will help prepare Native American youth for their Big Money (also known as a Minor’s Trust Payment).  Several satisfied customers have already ordered kits and begun implementing the popular financial simulation event in their home communities.

The $pending Frenzy financial reality fair was designed by First Nations to offer youth expecting a large Minor’s Trust payment an opportunity to practice handling a substantial lump sum of money and to spend it wisely.  In the simulation, teens are given $40,000 in fake money and are required to make informed spending decisions to purchase a car, a house, groceries, and other items.   Students can practice visiting a bank to cash their check and deposit a share of their money into savings, and are also given the opportunity to learn about investing a portion of their money.    

Surveys from $pending Frenzy events held in Native communities across the nation have revealed that over 90% of participants found the event useful and believed they could use the information from the event to assist them in managing their money.

In total, nearly 1,400 Native youth have participated in the $pending Frenzy across 12 different states in 18 unique communities since the first pilot of the $pending Frenzy with Seneca Nation youth in 2011.  Tribes, community organizations, schools, and others have been increasingly demanding the simulation.  To keep up with the popularity of the $pending Frenzy, First Nations answered the call by producing an all-in-one, do-it-yourself kit.

The box kit comes with everything you need to host a successful simulation, complete with all booth materials, a facilitator’s guide, stacks of play money, a professional bill counter, budgeting cards, $pending Frenzy merchandise and more!  The all-inclusive kit can be yours for $1,200.

To place an order or to ask a question about the kit, please contact Ben Marks by phone at 540-371-5615 or email at bmarks@firstnations.org.

To learn more about how the $pending Frenzy works, check out our Learning by Doing report on the Knowledge Center. 

Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative Scholarship Program

First Nations created the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) Scholarship Program to encourage more Native American college students to enter agriculture and agriculture-related fields.  The purpose of the scholarship program is to increase the number of Native American college students entering agriculture and agriculture-related fields.  Many farmers, ranchers, herders and others are retiring without qualified replacements trained to take their place. According to the USDA, the number of farmers and ranchers nearing retirement age has grown by 22 percent in the past five years, while the number of young farmers and ranchers adequately trained to replace them has decreased by 14 percent.  The lack of qualified replacements in these industries could have potentially dangerous effects on efforts to reclaim control of local Native food systems.  These scholarships are one way to begin turning the tide of decreasing interest among Native youth in careers related to agriculture and food.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, First Nations is awarding five scholarships of $1,000 each to Native American students who are assisting their communities in regaining control of local and traditional food systems. 

W.K. Kellogg Foundation School-Based Financial Education

Our goal with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation school-based financial education project is to support systemic change that will positively impact the economic security of Native families. We will use the public school setting to offer customized, experiential financial education and Individual Development Accounts to Native youth in several high schools in McKinley County in New Mexico. This project offers bundled services to American Indian families and will help Native people work towards a better economic future.

Visit the Knowledge Center to read the Crazy Cash City Evaluation Report.

“Crazy Cash City” Event Reaches 200 Students
“It was really fun! It helped me prepare for life in the real world.”

That’s just one comment from a student among the nearly 200 who participated in First Nations Development Institute’s “Crazy Cash City” event in New Mexico.  First Nations in partnership with First Financial Credit Union, provided the “Crazy Cash City” money-spending simulation in Gallup, New Mexico, for local high school students, the majority of whom are Native American.  The exercise – which was a test of a new pilot program tailored to Native American youth modeled after the National Credit Union’s Mad City Money simulation– was intended as an experiential learning opportunity for kids currently taking a financial literacy class.

The event was held at the Rio West Mall and consisted of six two-hour reality fairs in which the students had to navigate a series of simulated financial tasks and challenges designed to teach basic budgeting and banking skills. It was all in fun – since they were spending play money and not really buying things – but it was also informative and highly interactive. 

All participants were given a folder containing a fictitious family profile that listed what their income was, the income of a spouse, the age of any children, and any outstanding debt or benefits they received.  The high school kids then visited about 10 booths that provided various choices for housing, transportation, child care and more, and they were asked to make smart financial decisions based on their family profile.  At the conclusion of the seminar, the students were expected to have a fully balanced budget that they logged in their check register and budgeting sheet.