Current Projects

Tribal Stewardship in the Northern Great Plains

First Nations launched the Tribal Stewardship in the Northern Great Plains initiative in 2015 with the aim of helping tribes achieve a balance between ecological stewardship and economic development. The initiative aims to help tribes explore and inform ecological stewardship practices in the Great Plains by facilitating the dialogue around and active implementation of strategies that catalyze tribal-controlled ecological stewardship initiatives that are compatible with community tribal values and contribute to tribal economic and community development opportunities.

With funding support from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies and the Chicago Community Foundation, First Nations is providing grants and technical assistance to organizations in Native communities that are growing and/or expanding programs that support sustainable economic opportunities and preserve native grasslands in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.

Scroll down to learn about grantees of the overall Tribal Stewardship in the Northern Great Plains project.

2021-2022/2023 Grantees

Brave Heart Society, Lake Andes, South Dakota

The Yankton Dakota Farming Sustainability & Management Development Program of Brave Heart Society will create a tribal member framework for future and current farmers on the Ihanktowan/Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota to gain first-hand experience in native grasslands restoration. The organization will identify potential grasslands available for lease and perform a land assessment of each of the parcels to assess the condition of the acreage for either farming or for grassland restoration or production. The organization will then work jointly with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Dakota Rural Action, and the Yankton Sioux Tribe to create a management plan. Additionally, the project will provide a quarterly learning lab for student field work experience on the leased land, using a curriculum that is based on Traditional Ecological Knowledge and regenerative farming methods taught by experienced farming mentors.

Can Wigmunke, Rapid City, South Dakota

Can Wigmunke (the Rainbow Tree) is a Native-founded and -led non-profit organization that works to cultivate healthy vibrant communities in and around the Pine Ridge Reservation. Its Phežúta Garden Project will create an accessible space for community members to gather and learn about traditional medicines to retain Traditional Lakota Ecological Knowledge and preserve native grasslands in the area. The organization will plant gardens throughout the Pine Ridge Reservation, and transplants and seeds will be saved to be planted in natural areas and working lands to increase the population of native plant species. The project will also engage youth in an educational workshop on traditional medicines, and new Native farmers will be supplied with native seeds and/or plant starts to establish prairie strips, natural windbreaks, and pollinator gardens on their lands.

Grasslands for Generations/Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance

In 2015, Grasslands for Generations (formerly known as Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance) was founded as a transboundary, multi-Tribal grasslands conservation initiative in the Northern Great Plains that envisions Native nations united so that the diversity of life in the region flourishes for current and future generations. Its mission is to ensure that the 15 Native Nations in the Northern Great Plains have access to resources so that their tribal members thrive by sustainably stewarding and connecting with natural resources, and so that grasslands and native wildlife on tribal lands are restored or enhanced and tribal fish and game departments have the capacity to deliver conservation at scale. The organization will increase outreach and engagement to expand its coalition of member Tribes and Tribal citizens to improve collaboration and co-design of grassland-focused conservation activities. In this planning project, G4G will engage Native nations’ leaders, federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations to identify their preferred communications pathways for supporting the G4G coalition long-term. The organization will also work with Native hunters, fishers, gatherers, ranchers, farmers, and Tribal natural resources/fish & game department staff to identify their needs and preferences relative to G4G’s grassland conservation and economic development goals. Collected input will be incorporated into the organization’s program design.

Lakota Youth Development, Herrick, South Dakota

Lakota Youth Development aims to reclaim Lakota language, culture and spirituality by promoting education and healthy lifestyles for youth through culturally based strategies. The organization’s Blooming Honey Lodge project will expand the organization’s existing Lakota youth-led beekeeping social enterprise, which teaches Lakota youth entrepreneurial skills while maintaining Lakota values and traditions. Since establishing this initiative in 2015, their 10-acre cultural campus on the Rosebud Indian Reservation has seen over 20 Indigenous plants regrow due to the increase in local pollinators. In this next project phase, the organization will hire a Youth Rise apprentice to help to manage and maintain Honey Lodge inventory and beehives, train youth in graphic design, digital media and customer services, and purchase additional bee hives to increase stewardship of grasslands in the surrounding area.

Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule, South Dakota

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Department of Wildlife, Fish and Recreation focuses on habitat restoration, conservation of key species, and research to conserve, protect, and enhance the wildlife and recreational resources on the reservation for cultural, social, political and the economic well-being of tribal members. The Department’s Grassland Restoration project will restore 172 acres of cropland to grasslands comprised of native grasses and forbs. The restored grasslands will be managed by the LBST Wildlife, Fish, and Recreation as wildlife habitat for at least three years. The site provides connectivity between the Fort Pierre National Grasslands and tribal grasslands. The Tribe will also be carrying out a Black-footed Ferret Habitat Protection project that will protect 2,351 acres of black-footed ferret habitat by providing a financial incentive to tribal producers to maintain habitat on tribal grasslands that they lease. This project will also help recovery of a federally- and tribally-listed endangered species as well as numerous associated wildlife species that depend on shortgrass habitats.

Nakoda Aaniiih Economic Development Corporation, Harlem, Montana

The Nakoda Aaniiih Economic Development Corporation was established in 2014 by the Fort Belknap Indian Tribe as a business corporation to build a stronger community through business, entrepreneurship, and community development in four key areas: tourism, language revitalization, Native food sovereignty, and Community Based Entrepreneurship. The organization’s Native Grasslands Restoration Project will reintroduce native grasses and medicinal plants to designated project areas at the Snake Butte bison field, Peoples Creek bison field, American Prairie Reserve (APR) Antelope Creek Campground, and recent wildfire burned areas at the foothills of the Little Rocky Mountains. This project will positively impact the compatible land use by allowing for low-impact recreational activities, such as hiking, photography, and educational tours. Some of the conservation benefits include improved water quality, soil stabilization, and habitat for birds, animals, and insects.

North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance, Rolette, North Dakota

North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance (NDNTA) is a non-profit coalition representing the tourism interests of the five nations of North Dakota: Spirit Lake Nation, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, with the mission to protect, promote, preserve, and educate the world about the culture, history and environment of these sovereign nations. NDNTA will form a new nonprofit tour operator, Native American Cultural Tours (NACT), to bolster sustainable economic opportunities in North Dakota’s Indigenous communities that protect both cultures and landscapes. The organization aims to have new tours available for the upcoming tourism season.

People's Food Sovereignty Program, Ronan, Montana

The People’s Food Sovereignty Program is an Indigenous-led grassroots organization with the mission to implement crucial food sovereignty projects and programs for the tribal community living on the Flathead Indian Reservation, by exercising tribal self-determination to decrease cases of food insecurity, preserve cultural resources, and develop Indigenous agriculture curriculum for K-12 and post-secondary education. The organization’s new Deer and Elk Conservation Program will identify potential Chronic Wasting Disease among big game populations and control the overpopulation of deer and elk on the Flathead Reservation. By utilizing large-scale communal hunts based on established traditional principals, the organization hopes to promote the health of the herd. Data will be collected from the harvested animals and the meat will be distributed through a community meals program targeting elders, early childhood development programs, and tribal schools.

Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), Mission, South Dakota

The Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO) was chartered in 1999 as the economic development arm of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and has initiatives focused on food sovereignty, and agriculture, including restoring bison to the reservation through its Wolakota Buffalo Range. Wolakota is a 28,000-acre bison restoration project that will be home to 1,500 head of buffalo, the largest Native-owned and managed herd. First Nations funding will support the necessary water access and fencing for the bison herd, as well as provide youth learning opportunities to promote cultural knowledge, land stewardship, Indigenous sovereignty, and responsible economic growth. Bison meat will be distributed to Sicangu Lakota Oyate tribal members through community harvests.

Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Agency Village, South Dakota

The Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation is a treaty tribe located in the Great Plains Region in South Dakota. During the pandemic, it became clear that there were not enough traditional medicinal plants available to meet the needs of tribal members. To tackle this issue, the Tribe will cultivate and maintain medicine gardens. This will provide much needed access to these medicinal plants. In addition, harvested seeds will be used to start a seed bank, and seedlings will be transplanted into key areas within tribal conservation lands. Through monthly virtual conversations, the Tribe will engage community members on the importance of grassland conservation and natural plant gathering.

Tanka Fund, Kyle, South Dakota

The Tanka Fund is a national Native-led nonprofit organization with the mission to restore the buffalo to their native homelands through training and technical assistance for Native buffalo producers. The organization’s Creating Sustainable Future project will create a set of successful regenerative buffalo grazing models that scientifically document the beneficial impact of bison on soil health and native grasslands. This will be carried out through a needs assessment for integration of regenerative grazing practices among their producers, GIS mapping for buffalo producers to create land conservation plans, and technical assistance to these producers to develop or document culturally and scientifically informed regenerative ranch plans.

2019-2021 Grantees

Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy, Montana

Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy will use funding for a Geographic Information System (GIS) database to map tribal resources for timber sales, forest development, fuels, and fire management projects. Medicinal plants, riparian areas, waterways, and wildlife areas will also be mapped to protect these sensitive areas and resources.

Fort Belknap Community Economic Development Corporation, Montana

Fort Belknap Community Economic Development Corporation will use funding for the creation of a new tipi and cabin campground on the southern end of the Fort Belknap reservation, which includes a cultural and education village. The campgrounds and cultural village will be used to promote and grow ecotourism on the reservation.

Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, South Dakota

Lower Brule Sioux Tribe will use funding to increase the pronghorn population on tribal lands through the sterilization of coyotes, as well as restore black-footed ferrets to the area. Research into the effectiveness of these models will be used to inform future tribal conservation efforts.

2015-2018 Grantees

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, South Dakota

To obtain tribal land that will support a self-sustaining population of black-footed ferrets, an endangered species native to North America. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has been an active participant in the national black-footed ferret recovery effort since 2002 by releasing 69 ferrets into several prairie dog colonies. Through this funding, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe will secure legislation for the protection of prairie dogs and ferrets, and release a new colony of black-footed ferrets on tribal-controlled land.

Crow Tribe, Montana

The project’s goals of the Crow Tribe are developing bison monitoring and testing in a cost-effective and ecologically sound manner, retaining the native species in the wildlife area, and increasing the true valuation of the land and vegetative forage for livestock, wildlife, and waterfowl on tribal lands.

Chippewa Cree Tribe’s Chippewa Cree Tribe Carbon Credits Project (CCTCCP), Montana

For the creation of tribal self-sufficiency and economic stability; to open up economic, social and environmental opportunities for community growth and asset development; and to significantly increase forest management and development efficiency. The funding is supporting the development of a Carbon Credit Plan as well as the revision of the current Forest Management and Development Plan and Fire Management Plan for the Chippewa Cree Tribe’s Chippewa Cree Tribe.

Fort Belknap Community Economic Development Corporation, Montana

Construction of Hole in the Wall trail on the Fort Belknap Reservation

Fort Belknap Community Economic Development Corporation will use this funding for the creation of the new Aaniiih Nakoda tipi and cabin campground, which also hosts community cultural, educational, health, and wellness activities for visitor and community members, plus the renovation of an RV Park for visitors and recreational trail construction and maintenance.

Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, South Dakota

Lower Brule Sioux Tribe will use funding for determining the value of carbon stored by habitat restoration and preservation projects on tribal lands and the feasibility of entering into the carbon market, determining the feasibility of selling harvested eastern red cedar, and conducting surveys to assess black-footed ferret population size and distribution.

Oglala Sioux Tribe, South Dakota

Oglala Sioux Tribe will use funding for riparian area assessment and reforestation/forestry thinning, including an inventory of plants associated with the dominant tree species combined with coring cottonwoods to determine their age and create a baseline of data for future management and other impacts.

Rosebud Sioux Tribe, South Dakota

For the creation of maps documenting the land ownership patterns across the tribal lands with hunting regulations and other critical information about land use and multiple wildlife population surveys, which will ensure the vision for conservation and wildlife protection in alignment with the needs of the people and culture of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.