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Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius and Shakopee Mdewakanton Chairman Stanley R. Crooks meet to discuss Native American Youth Conservation Initiative


Prior Lake, MN – Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Chairman Stanley Crooks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius met today to discuss the Native American Youth Conservation Initiative. The meeting was at the SMSC in Prior Lake, Minnesota. The NAYC is a recently established collaboration with the Service, the SMSC, the American Indian Institute for Innovation, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the University of Minnesota, and other Tribes and organizations in the Midwest. The overall goal of the initiative is to help develop the next generation of Native American fish and wildlife biologists, natural resource managers, and conservation leaders.

American Indians are the most under-represented minority group in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). To help meet the challenge of advancing achievement in STEM fields and to support this collaborative effort, the SMSC awarded a $50,000 grant to the American Indian Institute for Innovation in June 2011. The Service has also allocated $50,000 this year to hire tribal youth to work at Service offices around the Midwest at places such as National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries.

“Tribal communities need leaders and a workforce well versed in STEM disciplines and grounded in self, family, culture, and community,” said SMSC Chairman Stanley R. Crooks. “This program is another tremendous opportunity to help our Indian youth learn important skills and further their education in these disciplines so that they can later return to help their own communities.”

The American Indian Institute for Innovation engages American Indian students and their families from the beginning of high school through college in a year-round program, promoting educational success using a nurturing community. With a rigorous STEM based and culturally infused curriculum that prepares students to further their education, the goal is for students to later enter the workforce with a sense of service and responsibility to their tribal communities.

“The goal is to get more kids into natural resource and STEM careers with a sense of service and community. The grant from the SMSC will provide seed money to develop partnerships to empower American Indian students and families to prepare for and access opportunities for higher education,” said Stacy Phelps, Chief Executive Officer and founder of AIII. Stacy is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate.

The effort will prioritize getting youth outdoors; promoting success in school; and applying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in ways that foster greater interest in the environment and natural resource management. The Service will participate in a variety of ways, offering age-appropriate educational opportunities and experiences such as: staff to speak with students on particular topics or career opportunities; field trips to visit and conduct outdoor classes at places such as National Wildlife Refuges or National Fish Hatcheries; and internship and mentoring opportunities for high school and college students. It is anticipated that other partner organizations, such as Inter-Tribal natural resource management agencies, federal agencies, state agencies, universities, non-profit organizations, and local municipalities will participate as well and bring various strengths and resources to each partnership.

"We are very proud to have been invited to participate in this exciting collaboration," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. "This is a great opportunity for us to work together with Tribes across the Midwest to help foster and strengthen our younger generation's connection to the natural world."

This initiative will provide direct benefits to Tribal youth, schools, communities, and ultimately, to the larger conservation community. It also directly addresses the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative’s priority to engage young people in conservation and the great outdoors by: providing access to the outdoors; making the outdoors relevant and fun; providing opportunities for environmental education; and enabling youth to volunteer and work in the outdoors.

The SMSC utilizes its financial resources from gaming and non-gaming enterprises to pay for the internal infrastructure of the Tribe, including but not limited to roads, water and sewer systems, emergency services, and essential services to its Tribal members in education, health, and welfare. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has a charitable giving program which comes from a cultural and social tradition to assist those in need. Over the past 15 years, the SMSC has donated more than $215.7 million to charitable organizations and Indian Tribes and Native American organizations. The SMSC has also made more than $396 million in loans to other tribes for economic development projects.

For more information about American Indian Institute for Innovation, go to For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest Regional Office, go to


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