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Building up the next generation

Grants help connect Native youth to tradition

LONGMONT, Colo. - First Nations Development Institute has invested more than $2 million since 2002 to create leaders among Native youth by giving them a sense of place and tradition.

The nonprofit has done this by making more than 100 grants to tribes and Native nonprofits under its Native Youth and Culture Awards.

This year's awards, just announced, grant $400,000 to 24 different tribes and groups in Indian country.

The awards, ranging from $3,200 to $20,000, went to a wide array of efforts to connect Native youth to their traditions.

The Native American Community Board, Yankton, S.D., was awarded $20,000 to continue its Dakota language immersion project.

''We work with young children and we immerse them in the Dakota language,'' said Charon Asetoyer, the group's director.

NACD has been involved with language work for the past 23 years, and has offered the immersion program for eight years now. Up to 25 children each year take the eight-week summer course.

''They love it,'' Asetoyer said. ''They learn the language through interactive activities, song and dance, instruction, CDs and the Internet.''

The children are picked up in the morning and have breakfast, lunch and a snack at the resource center. Instructor Diane Merrick and her assistants speak to the children in Dakota the whole time, and occasionally guest speakers and elders come in and talk to the children as well.

The comprehensive program also makes use of field trips as well.

''It is a real confidence builder for our children,'' Asetoyer said. ''It helps them to have a good understanding and foundation of who they are. It helps them in developing Native pride.''

She said that many of the youths continue to speak Dakota on their own, and that they do well in school because of it. ''These children excel. It's awesome.''

The group also develops language educational materials, produces Native-language CDs, coloring books and tapes, and has interactive pages at its Web site, Merrick does an Internet broadcast that is streamed on the Web site twice a week and soon will be archived so it can be accessed at any time.

A totally different approach is seen at the Potlatch Fund of Seattle, which also received $20,000 in Native Youth and Culture funds this year. The fund, a nonprofit that works to expand philanthropy in Northwest Indian country, will use the funds to support families participating in the region's annual Canoe Journey.

Fund director Ken Gordon said 16 families will receive assistance to take part in the Canoe Journey, which this year starts in the last week of June and will culminate the week of July 28 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Key to the assistance is helping Native youth get in touch with a venerable tradition among Northwest tribes that has been revived in recent years. The key is ''to get kids revitalized to their own community,'' Gordon said.

Last year, aboard one of the canoes in the journey, adults taught children the Coastal Salish language associated with the journey. ''It was just amazing,'' he said.

The canoes, which converge on a separate place each year where a big celebration and trading post is held, can be on the water for a long time, giving a lot of time for children to absorb aspects of an event that dates back to pre-contact times.

Canoes from tribes as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Oregon come to the annual event. Gordon said that a canoe from the Umatilla tribe spent 30 days on the water last year, when the destination was at the Lummi reservation in Washington. Canoes also stop at tribes along the way for celebrations.

Last year, 100 canoes from nearly three dozen tribes took part in the Canoe Journey. It included the first potlatch the Lummi Tribe had held since the practice was banned many years ago.

The Potlatch Fund has received funds from both FNDI and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for this purpose. How did the group get involved? ''It was a bit of a no-brainer for us, as it was such an exciting project to be involved in,'' Gordon said.

Junior Achievement of New Mexico Inc. was awarded $20,000 to continue a financial literacy program for Native students that it began two years ago.

Director Kevin Hattery noted that the group, which serves all New Mexico youth, began an outreach to Americans Indians in 2006.

''The initial development of the Junior Achievement Native American Initiative was financially supported by such organizations as the First Nations Development Institute Native Youth and Culture Fund, Bank of America, Citigroup, Public Service Company of New Mexico and others.''

The money was instrumental in ''developing culturally relevant lesson enhancements targeted at different educational levels: lower elementary [grades K - 2], upper elementary [grades 3 - 5], middle school [grades 6 - 8], and high school [grades 9 - 12],'' according to Hattery.

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The group's FNDI Native Youth and Culture award of $15,000 in 2006 was used to implement its curricula in the pueblos of Acoma and Laguna.

Hattery said in the first year of the program, the Native initiative reached 85 classes involving approximately 1,750 Native youth statewide.

''In addition to select private and public schools, 11 of the 23 sovereign nations in New Mexico have established JA programs. In the fall of 2007, JA of New Mexico was also invited to partner with Oweesta to gain a greater understanding of financial literacy of Native youth by surveying high-population Native schools in New Mexico, South Dakota and Montana.''

This year's grant will be used

to ''develop a comprehensive program 'toolkit' for use by other JA offices to replicate the JA Native American Initiative in Indian country throughout the nation. A JA Native American Initiative Toolkit would be researched and developed to provide all the necessary information for any JA office to operate the program.''

Other recipients were:

*California Indian Basketweavers Association

*Chilkat Indian Village

*Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corp.

*Gedakina Inc.

*Honor Indians Institute Inc.

*Hualapai Tribe of Northwestern Arizona

*Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism

*Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin

*Montana Indian Business Alliance

*Mooretown Rancheria of Maidu Indians of California

*Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians

*Native American Fish and Wildlife Association

*Native Village of Afognak

*Navajo Waters

*Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association

*The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin

*Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma

*Sinte Gleska University

*Sunkawakan's Gift Inc.

*Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California

*Western Shoshone Defense Project