By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

“There’s a huge need for Native artists to be bankable. They need supplies, but they have no credit history, no collateral, no local bank that works with them. The fact that First Peoples Fund opened the door for us to be able to reach out and start getting the artists bankable is exciting.”  

— Felecia Freeman (Citizen Potawatomi, Sac and Fox, Kickapoo), commercial loan officer at the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation

Now in its fifth year, the Indigenous Arts Ecology (IAE) program reaches into tribal communities with grants and technical assistance to community-based organizations, supporting them to assist Native artists to grow as entrepreneurs and leaders in their local Indigenous arts ecosystems. Through the Indigenous Arts Ecology program, First Peoples Fund partners primarily with Native Community Development Financial Institutions (Native CDFIs). The two-year cohort-based program builds understanding of the critical role of artists and culture bearers in tribal communities, and helps build capacity to better support artists with services, training, and mentoring.

It is our privilege to announce the 2018 Indigenous Arts Ecology Grantees. FPF invited the grantees into the program, knowing they understand and embrace the value of artists who hold one of our most significant assets — cultural knowledge.


Four Bands Community Fund

Located in north-central South Dakota, this Native CDFI conducted the Cheyenne River Artist Market Survey in 2015. This survey revealed a great need for artists to improve their business financial skills. It also acknowledged a thriving informal arts economy amid high unemployment rates and poverty on the reservation.


Four Bands uses a model called Icahya Woecun (The Place to Grow) to deliver its programs. Icahya Woecun brings together Lakota values and tradition with the wisdom of best practices to support Native entrepreneurs.

In part through their IAE grant, Four Bands envisions a thriving creative economy inclusive of  artists of all ages, and will support artists to gain access to niche markets outside the reservation.


Kawerak, Inc.

A non-profit tribal corporation, Kawerak, Inc. provides services within the Bering Strait Region in Alaska. Through the IAE grant, Kawerak is continuing a relationship with First Peoples Fund to advance the region’s art community. 

At the heart of the work lies Kawerak’s goal to partner with tribal members and communities to achieve the highest quality of life while living and celebrating their Native cultures.


In partnership with First Peoples Fund, Kawerak envisions offering relevant support for artists and crafters in the Bering Strait Region so they can continue their art, pass on their knowledge, and support themselves, their families, and community.


Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement

Founded in 2001, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) is a statewide and national network of well over 100 Native Hawaiian organizations.  

CNHA’s network of artists in the community consists of local artists from abstract to contemporary artists, colorists, digital artists, sculptors, photographers, jewelers, weavers, wood carvers, other artists and cultural practitioners.


CNHA wants to direct a funding trend toward supporting the economic and professional development of its artists for the sake of impacting the community’s economy, interconnectivity, but most importantly, inspiring stories from every family (‘ohana) and elevating Hawai’i’s cultural preservation.



Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation

It is the mission of the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation to finance, promote, educate and inspire the entrepreneurial growth, economic opportunity and financial well-being of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribal Community and other underserved Native populations.


Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation collaborates with tribes and other Native CDFIs across the United States. It shares policies, procedures, impacts, and programs to enhance economic development in Indian Country.

With the IAE grant, it is poised to provide professional development training, credit building, asset building, and matched savings for Oklahoma’s Native artists.


Individual Development Accounts (IDA) and the IAE Grants

IDAs are a theme for this group of Native CDFI partners.  Matched savings programs not only dispense funding into the Native artist’s business but also teach financial management.

In addition to IDAs and unique goals within each organization, these Native CDFIs will continue to conduct the First Peoples Fund’s Native Artist Professional Development training for their artists.

Experiencing the Heart of an Indigenous Arts Ecology

During site visits and convenings hosted by First Peoples Fund throughout the year, the IAE partners will have the opportunity to see Indigenous communities undergoing change through well supported creative economies.

“At the convening, we invite one staff member and one community artist champion,” First Peoples Fund Program Manager Jeremy Staab (Santee Sioux) said. “It’s an opportunity to collectively share knowledge and experiences that they’ve had with supporting artists in their community.

“We can always put the partners in front of a lecture, a webinar series, or go through helpful models. But every community is a little different. When we think in terms of adaptive models — learning from the experiences, successes, and failures of other communities — it helps us grow faster.”



Our previous Indigenous Arts Ecology cohort began their program in 2017 and will finish after their second year in 2018: Four Directions Development, Inc., Lakota Funds, Northwest Native Development Fund, and Native American Community Development Corporation.

The IAE grant is supported through the Bush Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation, and the Surdna Foundation.