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Native Learning Center turns 15

From left to right are NLC staff members Kyle Doney, Louis Porter Jr., Ouista Atkins, Gaylene Jacobs, Brooke Warrington and Georgette Palmer Smith outside of the NLC building June 22, 2023. (Courtesy photo)

HOLLYWOOD – The Seminole Tribe’s Native Learning Center (NLC) in Hollywood marked 15 years in operation this year. It’s known as an established organization that’s unique in Indian Country.

The NLC develops curriculum and provides free seminars, trainings and technical assistance, both in-person and online, to Native Americans and those working with tribes. It features courses about financial wellness, grant education, how to establish a nonprofit, entrepreneurship, and an extensive amount of housing-related content.

The NLC functions under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA), with an Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Native American Programs (ONAP).

Prior to its launch in April 2008, the tribe was receiving funds from HUD to help build homes for tribal members on the reservations. But as the tribe’s wealth grew, its members became ineligible for the money because income levels exceeded HUD’s threshold.

Then-Chairman Mitchell Cypress and Holly Tiger, who was a liaison to then-President Richard Bowers and also the tribe’s housing director, conceived a way for the tribe to continue to receive HUD money – not for home building – but as a way to provide an ongoing service to its own tribal members and to those across Indian Country.

Cypress and Tiger worked with HUD to designate the NLC as a “model activity program” under NAHASDA with a recurring $1 million annual grant. The same year, the tribe purchased the NLC building at 6363 Taft Street, and HUD funds would later be awarded for its renovation. Today, the NLC occupies the first two floors of the building, while other tribal departments are located on the third floor.

Two years after the NLC was green lighted, in 2010, NLC executive director Georgette Palmer Smith (Kiowa/Choctaw) was hired, and in 2011, NLC deputy executive director and tribal member Kyle Doney joined her. The two are the longest running employees among the NLC’s staff of six.

15 years of growth

Smith said the NLC continues to evolve and expand its reach. She said her staff maintains a database of about 7,000 contacts across Indian Country and counting.

“The growth of what we offer has been incredible,” she said. “In 2010, we offered three webinars and now we do close to 80 a year.”

The NLC launched its e-learning webinar platform system “Kerretv,” the Creek word for learning, in 2013, where it has since hosted hundreds of webinars. Smith said in-person trainings have increased over time as well.

In 2018, the NLC hosted its first “Renewable Energy and Sustainability Conference,” attracting tribal officials, tribal housing departments, utility staff, tribal code officers, construction staff and others to Hollywood to share up-to-date information and best practices on sustainability, energy security and energy sovereignty issues.

In 2017, tribal energy independence efforts received extra attention by Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. soon after Hurricane Irma caused significant power outages on the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations. Chairman Osceola subsequently launched an energy committee to take a broad look at renewable energy and sustainability projects that the tribe could embark on, which included the annual conference.

The fifth such conference in February drew 110 in-person attendees and presenters, with another 60 participating virtually. The sixth is scheduled for February 2024.

In addition, the NLC launched its “Hoporenkv” podcast, the Creek word for wisdom, in 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was first setting in.

“Our podcast has become very popular,” Smith said. “If you Google ‘Native American podcasts,’ we come up in the top 10 or 15 [in the search results].”

The podcasts are generally about 10 to 20 minutes long and cover topics that are designed to be interesting and different, but that also relate to housing issues.

Model for others

Smith said tribal officials have reached out to the NLC over the years for advice on how to establish similar initiatives of their own. Indian Country’s second HUD-approved “model activity program,” albeit a smaller version, was recently established in California by the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

In 2019, Pala leaders and officials had visited the NLC to get technical, compliance and marketing assistance to jumpstart its group.

“They’re kind of our sister learning center,” Smith said. “They had the same situation as the Seminole Tribe’s – income levels began to surpass the HUD threshold.”

For more information and to access NLC webinars and podcasts, go to

Kyle Doney, left, and Georgette Palmer Smith are the NLC’s deputy executive director and executive director, respectively. (Damon Scott)
Hundreds of attendees from across Indian Country have taken NLC trainings since 2008. This group completed a grant writing training in 2018. (File photo)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at