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National philanthropic roundtable on Native American nutrition deemed a "historic, breakthrough moment"

Unprecedented gathering of funders plans next steps to develop national strategies to solve Indian food crisis


Minneapolis, Minn. - The American Heart Association (AHA) and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) convened representatives from 41 national philanthropic organizations on October 14-15 in Minneapolis. Participants focused on the grave problem of Native American nutritional health and agreed on key steps and planning to develop solutions.

"This discussion around Native American agriculture, healthy food access, nutrition, and dietary issues was unprecedented and desperately needed," said SMSC Chairman Charlie Vig. "At the roundtable, major players in philanthropy explored actionable strategies to support capacity building efforts, to invest in research and advocacy, and to empower Native American communities to ensure culturally appropriate solutions to this crisis. The concrete next steps that resulted from this convening will help move Indian Country forward."

The roundtable resulted in two major outcomes:

1. Through additional outreach to participating organizations, AHA and SMSC will identify strategies to help support the development of plans for investing in Indian Country and collaborating on projects.

2. Officials began planning a second convening in the first quarter of 2016. The next roundtable will explore advocacy opportunities and discuss ways to build technical assistance, training, and other supports needed to succeed.

Organizations which were unable to attend are still welcome to join the effort to improve Native nutrition and learn from the discussions held at the roundtable

"Last week's roundtable was an historic, breakthrough, moment for dozens of organizations seeking common ground to address nutrition and health across tribal nations" said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. "These families in Indian Country need our support, resources and expertise, and we've taken an important step in getting them on the path to improved health."

The SMSC was represented by its three elected Business Council representatives, Chairman Charlie Vig, Vice-Chairman Keith Anderson, and Secretary/Treasurer Lori Watso. The AHA was represented by Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention, and Jill Birnbaum, executive director of Voices for Healthy Kids. Wilson Pipestem, a member of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and a prominent American Indian lawyer, moderated the roundtable.

Speakers included:

* Alison Babb, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota's Center for Prevention

* Jill Birnbaum, American Heart Association

* Zach Ducheneaux, Intertribal Agriculture Council

* John Fetzer, Northwest Area Foundation

* Janie Hipp, University of Arkansas School of Law's Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative

* Justin Hueneman, Notah Begay III Foundation

* Judith Le Blanc, Native Organizers Alliance

* Jasmine Hall Ratliff, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

* Michael Roberts, First Nations Development Institute

* Lori Watso, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

Participating organizations included those that have robust Native American philanthropic portfolios, as well as those that are new to making targeted investments in Indian Country. Major national foundations included the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Bush Foundation, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and the Northwest Area Foundation. Attendees also included high-ranking federal health officials from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Indian Health Service.

The impetus for the first-of-its-kind gathering came from the SMSC's Seeds of Native Health campaign to improve Native American nutrition and from the recent release of Feeding Ourselves, a comprehensive report commissioned by the AHA and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that examines the barriers to food access and their link to health disparities in Indian Country. Echo Hawk Consulting, the firm that produced the Feeding Ourselves report, developed and guided the Fertile Ground event as part of the SMSC and AHA's ongoing work to improve the health of tribal nations.

A video about the Feeding Ourselves report is available here. Photos from the roundtable are available here. Additional photos are available by request.

About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is a federally recognized, sovereign Indian tribe located southwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul. With a focus on being a good neighbor, good steward of the earth, and good employer, the SMSC is committed to charitable donations, community partnerships, a healthy environment, and a strong economy. Having donated more than $325 million since opening its Gaming Enterprise in the 1990s, as well as providing more than $500 million in economic development loans to other tribes, the SMSC is the largest philanthropic benefactor for Indian Country nationally and one of the largest charitable givers in Minnesota. The Seeds of Native Health campaign to improve the nutrition of Native Americans was launched in March 2015 with a $5 million contribution from the SMSC.

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke - the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation's oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit or call any of our offices around the country.


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