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Native Learning Center hosts second annual Winter Symposium

By Chris Jenkins

FORT LAUDERDALE — The Native Learning Center held its second annual Winter Symposium from Jan. 24-26 at the Sheraton Suites Cypress Creek. About 70 attendees came together from all over Indian Country – from as far as Alaska – to discuss, measure and address community needs.

Participants included Native American and Indigenous Tribal members and community leaders, as well as employees working with Native businesses and communities.

The three-day event offered a wide range of speakers and lecturers on more than 20 topics central to Native communities, including grant writing, cultural preservation, fundraising and drug abuse.

“The desire to improve our reservations and lives is a priority. In years past, when the economy was good, you could slide by and not examine the issues,” said guest speaker and President Tony Sanchez Jr. “This (event) gives people an opportunity to tell about their experiences and learn about others.”

Big Cypress Board of Directors Rep. Joe Frank also chimed in on the importance of the event.

“This event provides information on a wide range of subjects, and I wanted to see what they have to offer,” Frank said. “The setting gives you a chance to sit down with the presenters and share information.”

This was Frank’s first Winter Symposium, although he also participated in last year’s Fall Symposium in Tampa.

Both Native Learning Center (NLC) Interim Executive Director Georgette Palmer Smith and Deputy Executive Director Kyle Doney said higher attendance and a continued diversity of lecturers and topics contributed to another successful event this year.

“We are being looked to for training and assistance at an exciting time,” Smith said.

The NLC was created in 2008 and is the first educational facility and resource for Native Americans that is owned and operated by a Native Tribe with programs developed specifically for Natives.

“We reached out to several instructors and were hoping to be more helpful throughout Indian Country, so they could take away whatever they can to their communities,” Doney said.

Mary Helen Deer of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma led the workshop on Grant Writing for Tribal and Urban Organizations. A seasoned veteran in grant writing, social competency and health, Deer said grants are vital to many poor and developing Tribal communities.

“All Tribes depend on different types of grants to help fund their reservations. They need to know how to write and add to those needs,” Deer said.

First-time symposium guest Venus Brightstar of the Ma-Chis Lower Creek Tribe of Alabama took particular interest in the networking and educational opportunities throughout the week. As an entrepreneur for the wearable art company Red Clay People, she said expanding her business and gathering support for a larger project involving a hydroponics greenhouse on her 100-acre farm (originating in 2000) will help reverse the negative diet trends plaguing her Tribe and other Natives.

“Hopefully, I can collaborate, get a grant and move forward,” Brightstar said. “I want to educate people through this. My father’s legacy and blood runs through me, and after his death, it sparked a fire within me to do this.”

The Native Learning Center’s fourth annual Summer Conference will take place from June 5-7 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

For more information on the Native Learning Center, call 954-985-2315 or visit

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