Strengthening Tribal & Community Institutions

Strengthening Tribal & Community Institutions

Through grant support, technical assistance and training, First Nations provides tribes and Native communities with the tools and resources necessary to create new community-based nonprofit organizations and to strengthen the capacity of existing nonprofits and tribal agencies or departments. For more than 35 years, First Nations has supported hundreds of model projects that help revitalize Native communities, while integrating social empowerment and economic strategies. First Nations believes that by bolstering tribal and community institutions, we are helping to build economically stronger and healthier Native communities for the long term.

First Nations' L.E.A.D. Institute Conference

An essential component of First Nations' nonprofit capacity-building strategy is our Leadership, Entrepreneurial, and Apprenticeship Development (L.E.A.D.) Institute Conference that trains emerging and existing Native nonprofit leaders, including staff members from many of our grantee organizations. For 21 years First Nations has held an annual L.E.A.D. Institute Conference for Native American nonprofit professionals, tribal leaders and anyone interested in Native nonprofits, business and philanthropy. We widely publicize each year's conference, which is usually held in September or October. However, due to numerous factors, the L.E.A.D. Conference won't be held in 2017.

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 – to support the long-term perpetuation and proliferation of Native artistic and cultural heritage by supporting Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs that are focused on 1) fostering the retention and growth of traditional artistic skillsets of Native American artists as culture bearers, and 2) bridging relationships and the transference of traditional artistic and cultural knowledge between artists and other community members. The NAI, supported by Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies along with contributions from tribal, corporate and individual supporters of First Nations, strives to strengthen the organizational and programmatic infrastructure of Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs, thereby enhancing their long-term sustainability and stability as they work to meet the needs of their constituent artists and preserve and revitalize traditional artistic practices in their communities.

      NAI News and Grantee Stories      

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

Between 2014 and 2016, First Nations awarded a total of 19 grants to Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs serving Native American artists in the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota, for a total of $540,000. 

Beginning in December 2016, First Nations will be expanding the NAI to include several other regions – the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California) and the Pacific Northwest (Plateau Indian communities in Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington) – in addition to the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. 
In addition to providing grants to strengthen the organizational and programmatic infrastructure of Native-led organizations and tribal programs under the NAI, First Nations has awarded more than $50,000 in mini-grants and travel stipends to Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs in the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota to support professional development of leadership and staff. Grant recipients utilized the mini-grants to attend professional development meetings, conferences and other trainings. First Nations will continue to support professional development opportunities for the staff of Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs that serve Native American artists in 2017 in the expanded service area of the NAI. 

NAI-funded projects cover a variety of areas, including developing Native artists’ business skills, art gallery revitalization efforts, creating sustainable business and marketing plans for grantee organizations, establishing Artists Divisions within grantee organizations to bolster the organizational focus on art entrepreneurs, developing and implementing reservation-wide arts marketing programs, piloting an arts supply store, developing or expanding an artist cooperative, receiving grantwriting and other fundraising training to better position organizations to expand their revenue base and attending national arts conferences and trainings to expand grantee organizations’ networks and opportunities, 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 Assessment Tool. Typically this technical assistance is delivered via in-person trainings conducted by First Nations and its partners. In 2017, First Nations will offer NAI grantees several webinar trainings addressing best practices and strategies for strengthening organizational and programmatic evaluation activities.

December 2017 NAI Supporting Native Arts  Grantees -- coming soon

April 2017 NAI Supporting Native Arts Grantees


2017 NAI Professional Development Grantees





Urban Native Project

First Nations Development Institute and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) partnered in 2013 to conduct the three-year “Urban Native Project” aimed at “off reservation” Native American population centers. Significant funding from The Kresge Foundation and supplemental support from the Comcast Foundation makes this effort possible.

The project’s goal is to support new and expanded activities in urban American Indian environments with the goal of improving opportunities that can be attained in all Native American urban communities.  During the project, First Nations and NUIFC will work directly with as many as nine urban American Indian and/or Alaska Native nonprofits to help them improve their capacity and leadership skills through customized technical assistance and training.

The project targets the 78% of American Indians/Alaska Natives who live off reservation, according to Census Bureau data.  Historically, First Nations has worked with rural and reservation-based Native communities, so it partnered with NUIFC in order to bring the significant strengths of both organizations to the effort. Urban Indian organizations, some of which were launched in the 1940s and 50s, are an important support to Native families and individuals, providing cultural linkages as well as being a hub for accessing essential services.

The grantees for the 2015-2016 period are the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, California; American Indian OIC in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Hawaiian Community Assets, Inc. in Honolulu Hawaii; and Little Earth of United Tribes in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The grantees for the 2014-2015 period were the Chief Seattle Club in Seattle, Washington; Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties, Inc. in Buffalo, New York; and the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) in Portland, Oregon.

The grantees for the 2013-2014 period were the Denver Indian Center and the Denver Indian Family Resource Center in Colorado; the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland, Oregon; and the Little Earth of United Tribes in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Nurturing Native Givers and Giving

In 2014 First Nations launched a project called Nurturing Native Givers and Giving, which is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Catalyzing Community Giving Initiative. It is designed to further democratize philanthropy and direct more philanthropic resources to Native communities. This is being achieved, in part, by raising awareness of programs funded by First Nations though the development of the first-of-its-kind crowdfunding site called A pilot project, promotes a group of our current and past grantees who are focused on promoting the health and well-being of our most valuable resource – our youth.

Dedicated to strengthening and improving the lives of Native children and families, also raises awareness of the critical needs in the communities we serve. In addition to, the project also provides grantees web-based training while offering other resources to grantees such as one-on-one coaching.

Nurturing Native Givers and Giving also includes strengthening workplace-giving programs, conducting several convenings of groups like Native grantmakers, and the publication of reports highlighting philanthropy in Native communities as well as identifying strategies to direct more funding to Native communities.

Northern Great Plains Mapping Ecological Stewardship Opportunities Project

First Nations launched the Northern Great Plains tribal ecological stewardship project in late 2014. In 2015, the project collaborated with several tribes in South Dakota and Montana – including the Standing Rock Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, Lower Brule Sioux, Crow Creek Sioux, Oglala Lakota Nation, Rosebud Sioux, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux, and Fort Belknap Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes – to explore and inform tribal ecological stewardship practices in the Great Plains of South Dakota and Montana as well as provide a forum to consider the relationship between responsible ecological stewardship practices and economic development strategies for tribally controlled areas of the northern Great Plains region.

In late 2016, First Nations announced it was extending the project into 2018. It will focus on facilitating the dialogue around and active implementation of strategies that catalyze tribally-controlled ecological stewardship initiatives that are compatible with community tribal values and contribute to tribal economic and community development opportunities. The long-term vision is for tribes to capitalize on and regain control of their natural resource assets in a sustainable manner and to thrive in their communities, keeping their cultures and worldviews intact and reducing their reliance on federal programs and soft money by strengthening economic development opportunities that are guided by Native communities.  

First Nations has worked collaboratively with the Lower Brule Sioux, Oglala Lakota Nation, Rosebud Sioux, and Fort Belknap Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes. Work will continue with those tribes and will expand to involve eight additional tribes, for a total of 12, into 2018.

Further, First Nations will provide capacity-building and networking activities that will build the tribal capacity and ecological sustainability in the region, as well as addressing dynamic situations and issues for long-term planning and stewardship of tribally-controlled natural resources.

This project is supported in part with a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

HUD OneCPD and ONAP Technical Assistance Capacity Building

The purpose of this grant is to increase the ability of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Tribal or Tribally-Designated Housing Entity grantees to successfully administer HUD programs in their local communities through the development, implementation and evaluation of housing services.

Our capacity building activities are based on impact-focused training to tribal program managers, directors, board members and housing staff in strengthening their skills, competencies, abilities, resources and technical expertise to carry out housing programs. It may require managing economic or demographic changes, learning new laws and rules in self-monitoring, reviewing and implementing state and federal housing regulations, or updating or amending Indian Housing Plan/Annual Performance Reports.

Delivering Capacity Building Services to Tribal Domestic Violence Coalitions

First Nations Development Institute supports a national tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalition network by providing training and technical assistance services to maximize the leadership, and operating and programmatic activities of emerging and established nonprofit organizations. First Nations serves close to 20 national tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions across the United States by sharing knowledge and resources in order to strengthen these innovative nonprofit organizations. As U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women grant recipients, these inspiring nonprofit coalitions have access to a national network of technical assistance providers while also providing crucial support services, education and awareness to tribal communities to end violence against Native women.

Seven Dancers Coalition

The Seven Dancers Coalition is a partnership of Native American professionals from across New York State that work with youth, elders, and community members to reinforce traditional knowledge and teachings to build healthy relationships.  The SDC’s experienced staff develop and implement holistic programming that centers on ending domestic violence, sex trafficking, stalking, teen dating violence and sexual assault throughout Haudenosaunee Country.  The SDC encourages health and wellness while simultaneously acknowledging and addressing why violence occurs and its long-term effects on individuals, families, and communities.  Engaging community members and youth through peer education, online campaigns, resource distribution, and training is creating relatable, relevant and life-changing experiences toward prevention, restoration and healing.