Strengthening the Circle, May 2008
Strengthening the Circle, an eight-month Native American Nonprofit Leadership training program, is designed to give executive directors and board members the tools, skills, and technical support to successfully develop and strengthen nonprofit organizations working with youth in Indian Country. This spring, Hopa Mountain hosted nearly 80 Native American nonprofit leaders as they met together in Bozeman in order to share their knowledge and experiences while learning better methods of providing supportive services to Native youth from instructors and other non-profit colleagues. A majority of these leaders arrived from Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming, while others in attendance traveled from everywhere between the Alaskan interior and New Mexico. All attendees focused on finding new ways to achieve their nonprofit goals and reach new audiences with their efforts.
Strengthening the Circle’s first day of collaborative instruction started with an opening prayer from Blackfeet tribal member and Native games trainer Richard Horn. In his prayer and opening remarks, he described the metaphor of the circle, a place where people are invited to join without hierarchy and contribute to the gathering. There’s a strong sense of solidarity and integrity that comes from the shape itself. In fact, Peggy White Wellknown Buffalo, Crow tribal member and executive Director of the Center Pole in Garryowen, Montana, explained that it was actually the name of the training that provoked her to apply. According to Crow beliefs, she expressed, the circle is a very important spiritual symbol. She said seeing the name and the design gave her a good feeling and she hopes to gain a clearer vision for what she is trying to do with her work through this training.
2008 is the second year of Strengthening the Circle. Hopa Mountain invited members of the 2007 class to return to the conference to rejoin the circle, and for additional training as well as an opportunity to share the ways in which this training has helped them become more efficient and effective in their nonprofit efforts with first-time participants. These meetings provided participants time to interact with their respective mentors for the duration of the discussions, letting newly introduced individuals see the effect that the seminars have had on other nonprofits and learn real-world ways that they too could benefit. All participants saw the value in networking with one another and the trainers even commented on the eagerness of all the organizations to interact together and widen their own circles. The relationships and networking that developed between groups immediately became the real highlight of the program. “What impressed me greatly was the desire from each organization to learn from one another, share their stories of success and failures, listen passionately to each other and yearning to see everyone succeed. I believe we have helped create a large, geographically extended, non-profit family ready to lift up and support one another through their work,” explained the STC program coordinator.
As a very special guest, Dr. Henrietta Mann, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and president of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal College in Weatherford, Oklahoma, commenced the conference with a special blessing for all that were participating in the training. The conference also welcomed an introductory speech from Dr. Jane Goodall. Dr. Goodall and the Jane Goodall Institute were in town speaking at Montana State University about her life’s course of research and discovery, while her talk at the native leadership conference was one of commendation for grassroots success and highlighting ecologically sound practices being conducted in Montana’s natural environment.
Work throughout the conference consisted of panel discussions, smaller breakout sessions, and one-on-one mentoring. A panel discussion on the changing styles of Native Leadership framed the week of training with Walter Fleming, Jim Burns, and Wayne Stein of the Native American Studies department at Montana State University. These three professors provided interesting observations surrounding the ideas of Native leadership. They expressed that native leadership models are different from contemporary western forms of leadership. Native leadership models look at ideas from a historical context, making sure that issues are addressed and lessons are learned from events that have already taken place. Our Native leaders then discussed these ideas further while carrying them through all sessions for the remaining few days. Other topics of small group sessions included board development, grant writing and budgeting, which helped conferences attendees learn how to best plan for their projects and make sure their organization is working in harmony with governing bodies. Other panel discussions included the emotional yet rewarding Native Women Leadership panel where leaders from within the Strengthening the Circle 2007 class and the health community shared their experiences with the group. An undying determination filled the room that evening. The final panel consisted of representatives from local organizations who answered questions about the funding process for nonprofit organizations as well as provided information about their respective organizations.
During breaks, native games were introduced as a means to relax from an otherwise busy schedule. In one particular puzzle game, two players were entangled at the wrists with strings and told to separate themselves without untying their binds. The solution could only be achieved through cooperation, a major theme of the conference as a whole. Symbolic of the struggle many of these organizations must face, our leaders managed to break through their binds relaying upon their partners help and cooperation. In just a few days, we were all bound together, ready to break through our respective challenges with our brand new supporting circle and take back new ideas and strategies in which to better our efforts towards societal improvement. In October, Hopa Mountain will hold the second portion of the Strengthening the Circle 2008 conference in Lame Deer, Montana bringing the program to full circle. This program is made possible with support from the Compassion Capital Fund, the Northern Environmental Support Trust, and Hopa Mountain members.
- Alex Keenan