Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community increases Native American nutrition campaign to $10 million

Additional $5 million commitment and new strategic partnerships expand Minnesota tribe’s Seeds of Native Health philanthropic campaign

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) announced today that it is committing an additional $5 million in new funding over the next two years to its Seeds of Native Health campaign. This raises the campaign’s funding total to $10 million and represents the single-largest coordinated philanthropic effort in American history focused on improving Native American nutrition.

“Most of Indian Country is in a dietary health crisis, caused by food access problems and contributing to the worst health disparities of any group of Americans,” said SMSC Chairman Charles R. Vig. “For the past two years, our tribe has collaborated with many partners and helped launch promising new solutions, but a great deal of work remains to be done, and we are committed to continuing to address this crisis.”

Launched by the SMSC in March 2015 with an initial commitment of $5 million, Seeds of Native Health has focused on grant-making, capacity-building projects, sponsored research, and new educational initiatives to support the grassroots food and nutrition movement emerging in Native communities across the country. It has partnered with Native and non-Native organizations and has used its own charitable giving to leverage grants from other funders for investment in Indian Country.

As a result of the new $5 million commitment, the SMSC is developing further strategic partnerships and initiatives to restore Native Americans’ dietary health, foodways, food sovereignty, early childhood development, and economic self-reliance. Among these, the tribe announced today three new projects involving collaborations with the American Diabetes Association, Better Way Foundation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and the University of Minnesota.


American Diabetes Association

The SMSC is providing a $225,000 challenge grant to the American Diabetes Association (Association) to adapt its What Can I Eat program in culturally appropriate ways for use in Native communities, with pilots in six sites across Indian Country over the next three years. It will involve promoting healthy eating behaviors within the cultural, social, historical and environmental context of daily life in those communities.

The What Can I Eat program has demonstrated early successes in both rural and urban African-American communities. The Association will partner with a research university to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the program in Native settings, where food access problems are particularly acute. If the program is successful, it could be expanded across Indian Country.

“We appreciate the SMSC as a visionary tribal nation and a long-time, generous supporter of the American Diabetes Association,” said the Association’s Senior Vice President of Research and Consumer Programs Tamara Darsow, PhD. “With Shakopee’s leadership through Seeds of Native Health, we may get one step closer to solving the diabetes epidemic, which disproportionately affects Native Americans.”

Diabetes is the fourth leading cause of death among Native Americans, with almost 16% of the Native population diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Better Way Foundation and Center for Indian Country Development

The SMSC, Better Way Foundation, and the Center for Indian Country Development (CICD) at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis are collaborating on the Healthy Children, Healthy Nations initiative to develop a strategic plan to improve early childhood development (ECD) and childhood nutrition in Minnesota’s Native communities. Better Way Foundation and the Seeds of Native Health campaign are each committing up to $85,000 to fund this initiative, while the CICD/Minneapolis Fed will serve as a research and convening partner.

The three-way partnership will work to identify best practices and promising models in Native ECD and nutrition; determine critical needs around these issues in Native communities; and build consensus around strategies and funding recommendations to improve the well-being of Minnesota’s Native children and future generations. This project will result in the production of an action plan in late 2017 to strengthen Native ECD and childhood nutrition efforts in Minnesota. This plan may eventually serve as a model for others in Indian Country.

“We’re excited to be working with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, an important benefactor of Indian Country, and the Better Way Foundation, an extraordinary player in the areas of childhood philanthropy and Native education,” said Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “The Minneapolis Fed’s track record of important research on ECD issues and the work by our Center for Indian Country Development are a perfect match for this project.”

“Native American children face larger disparities in education, health, income, and access to basic services and opportunities than any other child population in the United States,” said Ian Widmer, chair of the Better Way Foundation board of directors. “Investing in Native ECD and nutrition programs can improve cognitive development and help reverse these disturbing trends.”

International Journal of Indigenous Peoples’ Food, Nutrition and Wellbeing

The SMSC and the University of Minnesota’s Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute are jointly launching the International Journal of Indigenous Peoples’ Food, Nutrition and Wellbeing, the first-ever academic journal devoted to the scientific study of Native nutrition and dietary health. The peer-reviewed, open-access journal will serve as a new platform to encourage and disseminate academic and Native knowledge. The creation and first year of publication are being funded with a $145,000 founding gift from the SMSC.

“We welcome this new growth in our partnership with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Together we are merging Indigenous wisdom with academic knowledge to improve Native American nutrition,” said Brian Buhr, Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) at the University of Minnesota. “At CFANS, we know that the food entering our bodies is medicine essential to healthy, fulfilling lives. We also know that the health of the food we eat depends on the health of our natural environment – our soils, water, and other plants and animals on the landscape. This partnership brings us one step closer to assuring healthy decisions and the interconnectedness from the Earth to health of all people.”

“The creation of this journal further elevates the important role which research can play in improving the lives of Native peoples, here close to home as well as across the world,” said Lori Watso, chair of the SMSC’s Seeds of Native Health campaign. “Our tribe is glad to partner with the University in building another vital piece of the knowledge infrastructure necessary for sustaining the Native food and nutrition movement.”

Other projects and initiatives to be funded by the SMSC’s new $5 million commitment are in development.


Over the past two years, the Seeds of Native Health campaign has made an important impact toward solving the food crisis in Indian Country.

  • Provided funding and technical assistance totaling $2.5 million to 51 grantees across the country through re-granting partners First Nations Development Institute and the Notah Begay III Foundation, including four grantees in the SMSC’s home state of Minnesota:
    • Nawayee Center School (Minneapolis, MN)
    • Dream of Wild Health (Hugo, MN)
    • Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (Cass Lake, MN)
    • Red Lake Band of Chippewa (Red Lake, MN)
  • Created a first-of-its-kind, annual scientific conference series devoted to Native nutrition, co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota. The second conference in the series will be held on September 18-20, 2017.
  • Provided the lead funding for the first phase of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative’s three-year project to develop model tribal food and agriculture codes.
  • Collaborated with the American Heart Association to convene two historic conferences:
    • Fertile Ground I: Planting the Seeds for Native American Nutrition and Health (October 14-15, 2015), which brought together 41 philanthropic organizations to consider the needs and opportunities for investing in Native American nutrition and food access, the first such gathering of its kind.
    • Fertile Ground II: Growing the Seeds for Native American Health (May 2-4, 2016), which focused on new policy and advocacy work relating to nutrition and dietary health in Native communities.
  • Partnered with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative to create a cadre of “Native Food Sovereignty Fellows.” The 21 initial fellows will be AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers working in teams in 10 low-resource Native American communities.
  • Teamed up with the First Nations Development Institute and other funders to support the implementation of the Navajo Nation’s junk food tax, the first in the country.

 About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is a federally recognized, sovereign Indian tribe located southwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Making its top priority to be a good neighbor, the SMSC is one of the top philanthropists in Minnesota and donates more to charity than any other Indian tribe in America. It also focuses on being a strong community partner and a leader in protecting and restoring natural resources. More information is available at

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 the American Diabetes Association

The American Diabetes Association (Association) is the global authority on diabetes and since 1940 has been committed to its mission to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. To tackle this global public health crisis, the Association drives discovery in research to treat, manage and prevent all types of diabetes, as well as to search for cures; raise voices to the urgency of the diabetes epidemic; and provide support and advocacy for people living with diabetes, those at risk of developing diabetes, and the health care professionals who serve them. For more information, please call the Association at 1-800-DIABETES or visit

About Better Way Foundation

Better Way Foundation, a family foundation rooted in catholic social values, invests in systemic, holistic and evidence-based approaches that support the positive development of all children. Founded in 1988 by Gerald A. and Henrietta Rauenhorst, founders of the Opus companies, Better Way Foundation is focused on building a future where child well-being contributes to strong families and communities.

About the Center for Indian Country Development

The Center for Indian Country Development was established in 2015 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis to expand the Bank’s long tradition of community and economic development work in Indian Country. The CICD’s broad mission is to help self-governing communities of American Indians in the United States attain their economic development goals.

About the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that, with the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., make up the Federal Reserve System, the nation’s central bank. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is responsible for the Ninth Federal Reserve District, which includes Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, northwestern Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis participates in setting national monetary policy, supervises numerous banking organizations, and provides a variety of payments services to financial institutions and the U.S. government.

About the University of Minnesota’s Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute
The University of Minnesota’s Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute is part of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences. The Institute increases and sustains the university’s impact in the interdisciplinary arena of food, agriculture and health by building capacity in research, learning, and community engagement in food safety, prevention of obesity and chronic disease, food policy, and food security.