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Grant writing sessions at NLC benefit tribes near and far

HOLLYWOOD — Attendees from tribes across the country showed up en masse at the Seminole Tribe’s Native Learning Center for two days in late August to learn about grant writing.

Led by Vince Franco, compliance and resource development director for the NLC, the group of about 50 learned not only about how to write a grant, but ways to successfully land one. Franco directs focus to the development of project logistics, the use of a storytelling style of writing to be more effective in communicating a grant goal, and all the pieces that go into submission of the grant proposal.

There are other ingredients that are mixed into the two-day training as well – from organization of a project team to the grant budget. Native-centric grants take center stage.

Nearly 50 attendees from several tribes completed the grant writing training hosted by the Native Learning Center on Aug. 29-30 in Hollywood. (Photo Damon Scott)

Search for funds

The Catawba Indian Nation in Rock Hill, South Carolina (just south of the larger metro of Charlotte, North Carolina) was represented well at the training. The Catawba, with about 3,200 members, sent seven workers from different departments to Hollywood. Jeff Harris, tribal governance attorney, was one of those workers. Harris said one of the main reasons he and others wanted to come learn grant writing is because the majority of the Catawba’s funds are obtained through grants.

“My main responsibility right now is setting up tribal courts. We don’t have one in place right now and are looking to do that,” Harris said.
His goal is to get the funds necessary to run a court that handles internal disputes, election issues and questions about whether the tribal council has the authority to do certain things, Harris explained.

Not only that, but a future step is to set up a “healing-to-wellness court,” specifically to assist those who have gotten into trouble with the criminal system because of drug or alcohol addiction.

“It’s essentially a drug court that is focused on Indian Country, that uses culture to help heal people. It’s a rehabilitative court, rather than a punitive court,” he said.

The Native and 2011 graduate from Duke University School of Law said it’s all important because his Tribe doesn’t yet have any sustainable economic development of its own.

“Pretty much all the services we provide to our citizens are through grants,” Harris said. “This training was at the top of my list.”

‘It’s opened my mind’

Closer to home, Houston Cypress, a Miccosukee with the Otter Clan, traveled a shorter distance to the training. Cypress is the president and cofounder of the nonprofit “Love the Everglades Movement.” While the group has been operating for about five years, Cypress said he’s always on the lookout for new and effective ways to raise funds.

“It’s really opened my mind,” Harris said of the grant training. “We’re slowly becoming more independent and taking on these responsibilities ourselves.”

Cypress connects the grant writing education to storytelling, which weaves into what he sees as a social and environmental justice issue related to the health of the Everglades.

“My community doesn’t feel that the solutions about what is going on in coastal communities consider us,” he said. “I’m also concerned because I have family on all sides, including extended family in the Seminole Tribe, and others are impacted. [The health of the Everglades] needs attention and Indigenous voices need to be amplified more.”

With additional funds from grants, Cypress hopes to get the word out in a greater way through securing venues and producing events.
“Storytelling plays a big role. There’s room for pride, passion and conjuring an image in somebody’s soul. There’s room for all that in grant writing and I didn’t expect that it would be possible to do that,” he said.

Not just buzz words

Both Cypress and Harris said the training was effective because it leveraged the group dynamic and looked at the topic holistically.

“It really takes you back a step before you even get to the part where you’re writing the grant,” Harris said. “You look at: what is the initiative or the issue you want to solve? Forming a group and creating that strategic plan. A lot of people use those buzz words – strategic planning – and it’s not really clear what that means.

Harris said Franco took the group through what strategic planning means for different people, and talked about creating a strategic plan for an entire initiative.

“It reduces the chance of applying for grants that take us off track or don’t serve our greatest needs,” Harris said. “We don’t want to just open a court for the sake of opening one up. We want to focus on courts that will respond to the needs of our Tribe.”

Up next

The NLC will host a “Grants Management Boot Camp” from Oct. 30-31. The sessions put an emphasis on how to manage and keep the grant after the award. Lucy Morgan, of myfedtrainer.com, will lead the two-day event.

The NLC is located at 6363 Taft Street in Hollywood. For more information, call 954- 985-2315 or go to nativelearningcenter.com.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a staff reporter for The Seminole Tribune. Prior to moving to Florida, he was a reporter and editor for print and digital publications in his home state of New Mexico. When Damon’s not working on a story, you’ll probably find him at a hot yoga class or splashing around on some South Florida beach. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.

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