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Longmont organization invests millions into Native initiatives

$5.8 million dispensed during 2021, according to First Nations Development Institute report
First Nations Development Institute

A Longmont-based nonprofit distributed $5.8 million to Native tribes and organizations across the country last year.

The First Nations Development Institute, which is headquartered in Longmont, released their 2021 annual report this week. Over 450 grants throughout the year helped to support Native American organizations in 44 states, the District of Columbia and American Samoa through the second year of the pandemic.

“In 2021, COVID-19 continued to wreak havoc on our communities, further devastating services and economies and making the everyday inequities that exist throughout Indian Country even more apparent,” First Nations Chairman Benny Shendo Jr. said in the report.

In their 41st year of operation, the nonprofit highlighted the increasing action, philanthropy and momentum throughout 2021, despite the challenges of COVID.

“The onset of a global pandemic was not the first time our infrastructures were strained,” Shendo said. “It was not the first time we were promised federal support that was stalled or forgotten altogether. It was not the first time we lost our cherished elders in record numbers. And it was not the first time we had to put trust in a government that has been bent on destroying us for centuries.”

First Nations, through its own research, has found that less than 0.25% of philanthropic dollars go to Native-controlled organizations in any given year. That discrepancy has been a major focus for the nonprofit.

“Funding to Native-led nonprofits and organizations has historically been dismal, but 2021 brought an influx of support to First Nations from corporate funders and private philanthropists,” Shendo said.

The chair said this money was leveraged to expand projects and increase awareness of the need for further investment, calling it a step in the right direction even if it is little and late in the broader scope of philanthropy.

First Nations President Michael Roberts wants to continue to grow First Nations’ reach to further fund Native-led initiatives.

“In the past year, we have been lucky enough to fund almost one out of five of the requests that we have received, but our intention is to do better,” Roberts said in the report. “The fact that many of these projects in Native communities are left unfunded is not lost on us.”

Roberts emphasized that his organization focuses on highlighting the strength of Native assets rather than capitalizing on social and economic inequities. It also centers the solutions proposed by the members of their own communities.

“We recognize that the best solutions, the best ideas for Indian Country come from Native communities themselves, and our job is rather simple,” he said. “We invest capital and, when necessary, technical assistance, so that these Native communities can achieve the successes they define for themselves.”

In 2021, First Nations established the Tribal Lands Conservation Fund, which puts financial resources in the hands of Native people to conserve and steward Native lands in the ways they have historically.

“The TLC Fund is a vehicle for Native supporters and allies to not only protect the earth, but also find economic avenues for Native communities,” the report said. “In this way, the fund is a solution to both conservation and economic justice”

The report also highlighted the growing capacity of the nonprofit and the establishment of a field office in Claremont, California.

The Community of Practice program entered its third year, which helps participants learn and strengthen grant writing and fundraising skills. In 2021, participants filed 67 grants asking for $6.4 million in total.

Along with the $5.8 million in grants from the nonprofit, First Nations distributed $2.6 million to 304 organizations through the COVID Emergency Response fund.

Grants distributed in Colorado by First Nations went to the Denver Indian Center, Denver Indian Family Resource Center, Denver Indian Health and Family Services, Denver March Powwow, Oak Lake Writers Society, Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber of Commerce, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and White Bison Inc.

Since First Nations was established, the organization has distributed over 2,600 grants totalling more than $52 million.