Art of Reciprocity Training and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

By Melissa Powless Chacon, M.S. (Oneida), Network Weaver for Southern California

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead, Anthropologist

Native Americans in Philanthropy’s Art of Reciprocity (AoR) training and curriculum examines the history of philanthropy and compares the traditional nature of Native American giving in the context of philanthropy today. The training engages participants in carefully examine how to leverage existing resources, partnerships and funding opportunities within the philanthropic sector and provides useful planning tools to increase marketing and fundraising strategies for the community and organization. Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) provided this training opportunity at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation during the recent Standing Rock Funders Tour during the week of October 17-22, 2016.

img_0852As a Network Weaver for Native Americans in Philanthropy, I was requested to co-facilitate the AoR Training at Standing Rock with NAP Consultant Chrissie Castro, (Navajo) with 15 tribal staff participants in learning concepts of philanthropy and development. While facilitating a 2-day AoR training, held at the Tribal Administration building, we tailored topics to participants’ needs and desires to create systems and strategies for future marketing fundraising and managing funds-raised. We examined ways in which specific fundraising would fit the staff and departments capacities while providing solutions and support to meet the needs of the community through addressing issues faced daily by tribal members on the Standing Rock reservation.

The process of facilitating the AOR training enabled me to speak in a language that could be understood by tribal member participants, which increased the amount of dialogue in both days. One of the highlights of the 2-day training was the time spent practicing responses to challenging situations by role playing with the group. Participants engaged in preparing and engaging in building relationships with funders through our role-play activity. The participants gained experience through discovering what responses to these situations look like and how developing their own style influences funding relationships. During this process, the Facilitators helped trouble shoot with participants in a flexible nature through acknowledging the uncomfortable position of “asking” and inviting participants to consider correcting their own situations to become more comfortable with the experience. The group’s dynamics positively contributed to the success of the training and practice of tools.

Participants brought a diverse background of experience, expertise and staff positions from within their tribe. Some examples of their “community work” included language revitalization and maintenance, work force development, elder’s services, suicide prevention, radio communications and youth programs. The group brought qualities of open-mindedness and positive attitudes that enabled the group to stay interested in the group discussions, share genuine and direct challenges and solutions to funding programs and operations for tribal community needs. Contributions were treated as credible and educational to validate the group and avoid competition for resources and ideas. The group was somewhat informal at times, being empathetic but also maintaining a sense of humor. The dynamics of the group was key to the open and honest reflection of the tribal environment and feeling safe and comfortable to share opinions and thoughts.

The opportunity to work with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe during the current pipeline events, which are garnering national and world-wide attention, was an honor and privilege I will hold dear to my life’s work with Tribal Nations and Native nonprofits. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is a great example of Native American community needs and commitment to bettering the lives of Native people and systems. Their situations heighten the need and call for more focused philanthropic funding to Native American issues with Tribal Nations and Native American nonprofits.

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Melissa Powless Chacon is an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. She resides in California with her husband and children with his family who live on the Cahuilla reservation. Melissa has served Native nonprofits and Tribal Nations in California for 21 years in various program, administration and community organizing capacities. Her passionate interests are Native American youth development, language revitalization and maintenance and Indian education. She provides services to these organizations and communities in program design and grant proposal writing, development and training staff, Boards and youth in organizational development, fundraising and philanthropy.  Melissa is currently studying under doctorate research with the University of California San Diego in Education and Organizational Change and Leadership.

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