Strengthening the Circle Gathering in Lame Deer, MT
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 needed to successfully develop and strengthen nonprofit organizations working with youth in Indian Country. This fall, Hopa Mountain and Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana, hosted the second Strengthening the Circle gathering. With participants arriving from Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico and California, we all learned how to expand and rethink nonprofit leadership and funding possibilities for our changing future.
One of the many highlights of the week was being hosted by the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, where we had the opportunity to work with the local Tribal College and tour the facilities of some of the participating organizations. Tuesday evening our group was welcomed by the wonderful Prayer Lodge staff and Board members for Indian Tacos. After tours of solar power systems, thoughtful conversations and emotional introductions we headed out for a quick rest.
We began bright and early the next morning at Chief Dull Knife College. Dr. Richard Littlebear, president of the College, welcomed everyone. Chris Peters, President of the Seventh Generation Fund, then kicked off the morning with a discussion on successful and sustainable nonprofits. His comments were well received and many participants felt he was writing the job description for all those working in Indian nonprofit organizations. His thought-provoking session was followed by Rick Robinson, ED of the Healing Tree, and Johnel Barcus, ED of the Browning Community Development Corporation who together discussed a new initiative, the Indian Nonprofit Association (INA) which was born as an initiative directly from the Governor. Rick and Johnel encouraged the group to share their dreams and hopes for their organizations and explained how INA could help them achieve their goals. The room was filled with big ideas and dreams that encouraged all to envision the future in new ways.
After lunch, Gail Small, ED of Native Action shared her success story. Many participants felt encouraged from her words and felt her use of traditional stories helped to illustrate her ideas in great detail. The afternoon concluded with the Center Pole staff describing their operations and earned income ideas. After an intense day of work, our group got to see The Center Pole in action when we all arrived in Garryowen, Montana for dinner and music. The Center Pole staff and Board members warmly welcomed us with a Crow feast featuring everything from homemade Dry Meat Soup to Buffalo steaks. The evening concluded with the Center Pole kids singing and dancing for all!
Thursday morning, we were joined by Montana State Senator, Linda Moss who took a special stop from her campaign to speak to us about working with our legislators. She provided insider tips on how to speak with your local government representatives about nonprofit causes. Her words sparked lively conversation and new ideas. Our sessions concluded with more discussion and conversations around financial management and earned income strategies. Tina Begay, from the 2008 class shared her detailed and impressive solutions to financial organization, while Felice Pace from Seventh Generation Fund shared his research and experience with earned income ideas.
The evening ended with the re-opening of the Boys & Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and community dinner. Hundreds of community members came together to support the successful work of the Club while we celebrated yet another successful Strengthening the Circle training.
The final Friday morning featured a Funder’s panel which was designed to be an interactive conversation between Funder’s and organizations. The conversation was emotional, with topics like the current economy, reservation life, funding disappointments and opportunities brought to the table and openly discussed. Some of the nonprofit leaders in the room felt that this conversation allowed them to express their concerns as well as provide a learning opportunity for everyone involved.
Our Strengthening the Circle program coordinator, Heather felt that this week was fantastic. “The Hopa family continues to grow through events such as these. We are always grateful to have amazing and powerful leaders and speakers share with us at these gatherings. It is exciting to see how their words and experiences can change the way we all work and spark such new and creative ideas for the future. I look forward to our next April gathering and feel our circle will only strengthen as we move forward into these new and interesting times.”