Chairman’s Letter

From the 2016 Annual Report

A Great Start for the New Chair! 

Greetings! The year 2016 was special for me because, in June, I was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors of First Nations Development Institute. And although I’ve been on the First Nations Board for many years and have been highly involved in lots of other ways, I still felt as though I had some very big shoes to fill. You see, I was taking the place of my good friend, relative and long-term mentor Tom Vigil (now Chairman Emeritus), who actively served as chairman for a very long time until stepping down to get on with his and his wife’s full retirement. Tom ably guided First Nations down a good path over his many years of service.

Tom taught me well and served as an excellent role model, so I am confident going forward that I can fill those shoes and help guide the organization into the future in a good way.

And talk about making the new Chairman look good right off the bat! Another great thing from 2016 was that, for the second consecutive year, First Nations Development Institute set a record for the number of grants it awarded and the total dollar amount awarded in any single year since the organization’s founding in 1980. In 2016, First Nations awarded 175 grants to Native organizations and communities totaling more than $2.8 million. That eclipsed the previous record year (2015) where the organization awarded 107 grants totaling just over $2 million.

Year after year, the positive impact of First Nations on Indian communities continues to grow, and I’m very proud to be part of that. Cumulatively, First Nations has given financial support, technical assistance and training, and other services to Native communities through the provision of 1,238 grants totaling more than $27 million through year-end 2016. That includes hundreds of tribes, organizations and communities in 39 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territory American Saoma. (It also includes several years of startup and burgeoning operation before First Nations actually launched its nationwide program of technical assistance and grantmaking in 1993-1994.)

None of this success would have been possible without the truly dedicated, hard work of First Nations’ small-but-powerful staff and, of course, the visionary financial support provided by foundations, tribes, corporations and concerned individuals. We genuinely and deeply thank them for their exceptional work and for generously underwriting our efforts. The need in Indian Country is great, but these staff members, grantors and donors have really stepped up to the challenge. 

We certainly welcome additional support, however. Although we’ve set records the past two years as to the annual number of grants and dollars awarded, First Nations is still only able to provide grants for a small fraction of the total requests it receives each year – about 23 percent – which leaves a tremendous gap, or what we call “unmet need.” That gap leaves hundreds of worthy projects unfunded or underfunded, when additional support could go so very far in helping Native communities rebuild and revitalize their communities and economies.

Finally, I’m kidding about taking too much credit for the amazing milestone that First Nations achieved in 2016. Although I was a board member and then chairman that year, the organization itself has an amazing amount of built-in kinetic energy and liveliness that has powered it through thick and thin over the past 36 years. And – most importantly – the very Native communities we serve possess an incredible amount of innovation, creativity, energy and insight. Their depth of passion toward improving things is bottomless. They are the true heroes here. They do the “heavy lifting” on the front lines when it comes to moving things forward. As Tom repeatedly shared, we at First Nations are lucky to be invited to be part of their incredible accomplishments.

Let’s see if we can continue to effectively harness that forward motion, that energy and passion, and ride it to many more records in the future. 

Thank you!


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


Office of Communications


July 25, 2014

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