Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Increases Native American Nutrition Campaign to $10 Million  

Additional $5 million commitment and new strategic partnerships expand Minnesota tribe’s Seeds of Native Health philanthropic campaign

Published April 5, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS – The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) announced today that it is committing an additional $5 million in new funding over the next two years to its Seeds of Native Health campaign. This raises the campaign’s funding total to $10 million and represents the single-largest coordinated philanthropic effort in American history focused on improving Native American nutrition.

“Most of Indian Country is in a dietary health crisis, caused by food access problems and contributing to the worst health disparities of any group of Americans,” said SMSC Chairman Charles R. Vig. “For the past two years, our tribe has collaborated with many partners and helped launch promising new solutions, but a great deal of work remains to be done, and we are committed to continuing to address this crisis.”

Launched by the SMSC in March 2015 with an initial commitment of $5 million, Seeds of Native Health has focused on grant-making, capacity-building projects, sponsored research, and new educational initiatives to support the grassroots food and nutrition movement emerging in Native communities across the country. It has partnered with Native and non-Native organizations and has used its own charitable giving to leverage grants from other funders for investment in Indian Country.

As a result of the new $5 million commitment, the SMSC is developing further strategic partnerships and initiatives to restore Native Americans’ dietary health, foodways, food sovereignty, early childhood development, and economic self-reliance. Among these, the tribe announced today three new projects involving collaborations with the American Diabetes Association, Better Way Foundation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and the University of Minnesota.


American Diabetes Association

The SMSC is providing a $225,000 challenge grant to the American Diabetes Association (Association) to adapt its What Can I Eat program in culturally appropriate ways for use in Native communities, with pilots in six sites across Indian Country over the next three years. It will involve promoting healthy eating behaviors within the cultural, social, historical and environmental context of daily life in those communities.

The What Can I Eat program has demonstrated early successes in both rural and urban African-American communities. The Association will partner with a research university to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the program in Native settings, where food access problems are particularly acute. If the program is successful, it could be expanded across Indian Country.

“We appreciate the SMSC as a visionary tribal nation and a long-time, generous supporter of the American Diabetes Association,” said the Association’s Senior Vice President of Research and Consumer Programs Tamara Darsow, PhD. “With Shakopee’s leadership through Seeds of Native Health, we may get one step closer to solving the diabetes epidemic, which disproportionately affects Native Americans.”

Diabetes is the fourth leading cause of death among Native Americans, with almost 16% of the Native population diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Better Way Foundation and Center for Indian Country Development

The SMSC, Better Way Foundation, and the Center for Indian Country Development (CICD) at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis are collaborating on the Healthy Children, Healthy Nations initiative to develop a strategic plan to improve early childhood development (ECD) and childhood nutrition in Minnesota’s Native communities. Better Way Foundation and the Seeds of Native Health campaign are each committing up to $85,000 to fund this initiative, while the CICD/Minneapolis Fed will serve as a research and convening partner.

The three-way partnership will work to identify best practices and promising models in Native ECD and nutrition; determine critical needs around these issues in Native communities; and build consensus around strategies and funding recommendations to improve the well-being of Minnesota’s Native children and future generations. This project will result in the production of an action plan in late 2017 to strengthen Native ECD and childhood nutrition efforts in Minnesota. This plan may eventually serve as a model for others in Indian Country.

“We’re excited to be working with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, an important benefactor of Indian Country, and the Better Way Foundation, an extraordinary player in the areas of childhood philanthropy and Native education,” said Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “The Minneapolis Fed’s track record of important research on ECD issues and the work by our Center for Indian Country Development are a perfect match for this project.”

“Native American children face larger disparities in education, health, income, and access to basic services and opportunities than any other child population in the United States,” said Ian Widmer, chair of the Better Way Foundation board of directors. “Investing in Native ECD and nutrition programs can improve cognitive development and help reverse these disturbing trends.”

International Journal of Indigenous Peoples’ Food, Nutrition and Wellbeing

The SMSC and the University of Minnesota’s Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute are jointly launching the International Journal of Indigenous Peoples’ Food, Nutrition and Wellbeing, the first-ever academic journal devoted to the scientific study of Native nutrition and dietary health. The peer-reviewed, open-access journal will serve as a new platform to encourage and disseminate academic and Native knowledge. The creation and first year of publication are being funded with a $145,000 founding gift from the SMSC.

“We welcome this new growth in our partnership with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Together we are merging Indigenous wisdom with academic knowledge to improve Native American nutrition,” said Brian Buhr, Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) at the University of Minnesota. “At CFANS, we know that the food entering our bodies is medicine essential to healthy, fulfilling lives. We also know that the health of the food we eat depends on the health of our natural environment – our soils, water, and other plants and animals on the landscape. This partnership brings us one step closer to assuring healthy decisions and the interconnectedness from the Earth to health of all people.”

“The creation of this journal further elevates the important role which research can play in improving the lives of Native peoples, here close to home as well as across the world,” said Lori Watso, chair of the SMSC’s Seeds of Native Health campaign. “Our tribe is glad to partner with the University in building another vital piece of the knowledge infrastructure necessary for sustaining the Native food and nutrition movement.”

Other projects and initiatives to be funded by the SMSC’s new $5 million commitment are in development.

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