Shakopee Mdewakanton, American Heart Association launch $1.6 million campaign to support Native nutrition, health advocacy

New Policy Innovation Fund will provide grants and technical assistance for Native-led policy work in support of improved dietary health

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) and American Heart Association (AHA) announced today a $1.6 million funding initiative to support Native American nutrition and health advocacy. The Policy Innovation Fund is a continuation of the SMSC and AHA’s partnership to promote Native-led dietary health advocacy, which first began in 2015. First Nations Development Institute and the American Indian Cancer Foundation will partner with the SMSC and AHA to administer grants and provide technical assistance.

“Native Americans are experiencing extreme health disparities, making them twice as likely as the rest of the U.S. population to have nutrition-related health problems,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “We are proud to deepen our partnership with the SMSC to address this health crisis.”

The Policy Innovation Fund has been developed to directly support grantmaking for Native nutrition and health policy work. Other elements of the campaign include leadership development, technical assistance and movement-building activities to support the growing nutrition and health movement in Indian Country.

“Until now there have been scarce funds available for Native-focused advocacy efforts addressing nutrition and health policy and community change, yet such efforts are crucial for improving the health of Native communities,” said SMSC Chairman Charles R. Vig. “Together, the American Heart Association and our tribe are giving Native American activists the important additional resources they need to work on improved policies relating to food access, dietary health and wellbeing.”

First Nations Development Institute, a nonprofit organization that strengthens Native American economies to support healthy Native communities, will administer the Policy Innovation Fund’s grantmaking. It will conduct two national solicitations for grant proposals, the first to be issued in March 2019. Grants ranging from $75,000 to $100,000 will be awarded through a competitive process to tribes and Native-led organizations to support innovative projects designed to improve nutrition and health policy systems at the tribal, local, state and national levels.

“We are excited to partner with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the American Heart Association to bring critical resources to Native advocacy and policy efforts,” said Michael E. Roberts, First Nations president & CEO. “Policy and advocacy efforts by Native communities remain critical to advancing food sovereignty in those communities.”

To support the success of Native grantees and advocates, the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF), a Native-governed nonprofit organization, will provide technical assistance. This will include regular consultations with grantees, trainings, onsite visits and support for grantee convening and planning activities.

“Community-driven policy decisions are critical as Native communities seek to improve the health of their people,” said Kris Rhodes, chief executive officer of AICAF. “Building the capacity of these communities to plan and implement innovative policies will help the Fertile Ground Campaign make incredible strides in Indian Country.”

The SMSC is providing funding from its Seeds of Native Health campaign, a $10 million philanthropic effort to improve Native American nutrition and food access.

“Over the past four years, our tribe and the AHA have worked hand-in-hand to bring new attention and resources to solve the dietary health crisis in Native communities,” said Jesse Chase, SMSC Community Member and chair of Seeds of Native Health. “We’re excited to continue collaborating and give grassroots change agents in Indian Country new tools and encouragement to improve the health of their communities.”

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.

About Voices for Healthy Kids
Voices for Healthy Kids is a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association, making each day healthier for all children. The collaboration is working with communities across the nation to ensure that children have access to healthy food and physical activity where they live, learn and play. For more information, visit

About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is a federally recognized, sovereign Native American tribe located southwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Following a Dakota tradition of generosity, the SMSC is one of the top philanthropists in Minnesota and is the largest contributor to Native American tribes and causes across the country. It is a strong community partner and a leader in protecting and restoring natural resources. The SMSC’s government, Gaming Enterprise and various other enterprises are collectively the largest employer in Scott County. For more information, visit

About Seeds of Native Health
Seeds of Native Health is the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s philanthropic campaign to improve Native American nutrition and food access. Launched in 2015, the $10 million campaign has provided grants to local communities and funded research, education and capacity-building efforts. Partners include the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, Better Way Foundation, First Nations Development Institute, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, the Notah Begay III Foundation, the University of Arkansas School of Law’s Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, and the University of Minnesota. More information is available at

About First Nations Development Institute
For 38 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit

About the American Indian Cancer Foundation
The American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF) is a national, Native-governed, 501(c)3 nonprofit health organization dedicated to improving access to prevention, early detection, treatment and survivor support to eliminate the cancer burdens experienced by American Indian and Alaska Native people. AICAF partners with tribal and urban organizations to co-create effective and sustainable cancer solutions that are culturally appropriate. AICAF believes Native communities possess the wisdom to find innovative solutions that are community-centered to address cancer inequities. AICAF provides capacity building through training, technical assistance and resources to tribal and urban partners to achieve these shared objectives. For more information, visit