Lucille Echohawk to Hold Holiday Family Fundraiser in Nation’s Capital

By Rob Caprioccioso, Indian Country Today Media Network

Lucille Echohawk, executive director of the Denver Indian Family Resource Center (DIFRC), found herself this holiday season needing to be in Washington, D.C. for a board meeting of the National Museum of the American Indian, so she decided to turn the trip into a chance to do good for vulnerable Native children and their families.

“My travel was already paid for, so I couldn’t resist using the visit to D.C. to help raise awareness of our cause and to raise some funds for our work,” Echohawk said. “I’m very excited to rub shoulders with some old friends and to meet many new ones.”

Echohawk, a Pawnee Nation citizen and longtime Indian and tribal advocate, has been director of the DFIRC for about a year now. The organization was founded in early 2000 as a child welfare agency focused on meeting the needs of Indian children and families in the Denver area.

RELATED: Lucille Echohawk’s ‘Big Vision’: To Strengthen Communication Between Denver and Tribes

Echohawk said the goal of DFIRC is to assist families to avoid involvement with the child welfare system and to support and advocate for families already involved by offering services that build up the strength of Indian families. She said, too, that it provides assistance for other organizations who would like to do the same.

“Our practice model is in place for anyone who needs to use it,” said Echohawk, who added that she is so grateful to be able to be helping others. She’s long been committed to doing so, but it took on a renewed meaning for her after a scary experience last year when she was doing a water aerobics class at the local YMCA and her heart stopped. Since her recovery, those who are close to her say she has been even more enthusiastic and happy in both her life and work.

Still, there are challenges. Being the director of the non-profit organization in times of dwindling private and federal support requires constant outreach and fundraising, said Echohawk, who formerly worked several years for Casey Family Programs as a senior Indian Child Welfare Act specialist and strategic advisor.

“It’s a lot of work, especially in this funding climate, but we are doing it for the children and families who need the most help,” she said.

But she is not deterred. Having worked in D.C. in the 1970s and having many family members who have been involved in the world of politics – including the retired Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk at the Department of the Interior – she started listing names of folks she knows in Washington. She soon had an impressive list of invitees—some of whom turned out to want to help out as hosts and donors. LaDonna Harris soon helped make some connections, and fellow women warriors, like Kimberly Craven, Shannon Finley, and Rebecca Adamson were quick to follow suit, with longtime Indian advocate Ed Gabriel signing on to be committee chair. Invites have since gone out to many Indian-focused officials across Washington.

“Everyone has been so nice in helping out,” Echohawk said, noting this is the first time the organization has held an event of this nature outside of the Denver metropolitan area. “It shows how committed they are to caring for Indian children and youth.”

The reception, which Echohawk hopes will attract at least 50 guests with a suggested donation of $200, will be held at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse in downtown D.C. on December 2. To those who may be interested in attending, she suggested they contact staffer Diane Waters at

Besides offering the opportunity to connect with Echohawk and friends, the event will feature a silent auction with the chance to purchase artwork by Navajo artist Pabilta Abeyta, Taos designer and Project Runway finalist Patricia Michaels, Pawnee/Ojibwe artist Raymond Nordwall, Crow artist Kevin Red Star, and Pawnee/Yakama Artist Bunky Echo-Hawk.

For those who can’t be in Washington for the event but who would like to help out, Echohawk pointed out that the organization is accepting donations through Colorado Gives. That effort is called the 7th Generation Campaign and is intended to increase understanding and support of Native families as they deal with today’s complex challenges and prepare for tomorrow.

“It would be nice to see a lot of goodwill at this time of year,” Echohawk said. “What a better holiday gift than to help Native children and families?”


IHS and the Notah Begay III Foundation form partnership to address obesity in Native youth

Source: Indian Health Service

The Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3F) are collaborating on activities aimed at preventing childhood obesity in American Indian and Alaska Native youth. The partnership will include sharing best practices in implementation of community-based activities directed at addressing childhood obesity in Indian Country.

The collaboration, initiated Nov. 12, 2013, was developed in support of the Let’s Move! In Indian Country (LMIC) program, which is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. The LMIC seeks to advance the work tribal leaders and community members are doing to improve the health of Native youth.

“Today’s partnership is an important step towards helping Native American youth lead healthier lives,” said Sam Kass, executive director of Let’s Move! and White House senior policy advisor on nutrition. “With the LMIC, we’ve seen tribal leaders engage their communities by creating food policy councils and reintroducing sports like lacrosse into schools, but we know there is more work to be done to ensure all our children have the healthy futures they deserve.”

Obesity is a significant problem in Native communities. It is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, which are among the leading causes of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“Tribal leaders have asked us to focus more on prevention efforts, especially with our youth,” said Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, acting director of the IHS. “Our new partnership with the NB3F gives us an opportunity to identify and share best practices from all of our prevention efforts, including the successful activities and outcomes of our Special Diabetes Program for Indians grantees, to help in the fight against childhood obesity in the communities we serve. We are excited to partner with them as they establish a new national center focused on these issues.”

With a mission centered on reducing the incidence of type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity among Native American children, NB3F has developed community-driven, scalable, and replicable prevention models that have seen statistically significant outcomes among child participants in the areas of reduced body mass index or BMI (a measure of weight proportionate to a person’s height), increased self-confidence and endurance, and enhanced understanding of nutrition knowledge. In August of this year, NB3F launched a national initiative, Native Strong: Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures that functions as a national center focused on strategic grant making, research and mapping, capacity building, and advocacy to combat type 2 diabetes and obesity among Native American children.

“This unprecedented partnership between the Obama administration, the IHS, and the NB3F demonstrates the critical importance of leveraging partnerships and resources to tackle the health crisis facing Native American children,” said NB3F founder Notah Begay III. “With 1 out of 2 Native American children expected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, it is vital that effective strategies and best practices are accessible for all Native communities, so together we can turn the tide on childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

About the Indian Health Service: The IHS provides a comprehensive health service delivery system for approximately 2.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who are members of federally recognized Tribes. The IHS is the principal federal health care provider and health advocate for American Indians and Alaska Natives, and its mission is to raise their health status to the highest level. For more information about the IHS, visit

About the Notah Begay III Foundation: In 2005, Notah Begay III established the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3F), a 502c3 non-profit organization to address the profound health and wellness issues impacting Native American children and to empower them to realize their potential as tomorrow’s leaders. The mission of NB3F is to reduce the incidences of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes and advance the lives of Native American children through physical activity and wellness programming. To this end, NB3F develops community-driven, sustainable, evidence-based, and innovative wellness programs designed by Native Americans for Native American children that promote physical fitness, wellness, and leadership development. For more information on Notah Begay III and NB3F, visit:

Sen. Heitkamp Discusses Her Plans to Help Native American Children

By Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today Media Network

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) says she owes a lot to Indian country, believing that the American Indian vote during her close race for a Senate seat last fall put her over the top for the win. She’s now returning the favor, telling Indian Country Today Media Network in an interview about her plans to pass legislation that would create a Commission on Native American Children.

Of all the many issues you face in the Senate, why did you decide to introduce a plan to find solutions to problems facing Native youth as your first bill?

I’m not new to this issue. When I look across the horizon and ask who needs a little more help, and where do we have some problems, it’s obviously in Indian country. They are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system; they are overrepresented in the foster care system. Thirty seven percent live in poverty, many live in substandard housing and have substandard educational opportunities. It’s not for lack of trying by the tribal governments and the schools, but right now, with sequestration, we have roofs that are not getting fixed in North Dakota. Who else is going to step up and provide that voice for these children who for so many years have struggled? The time has come. I can’t keep asking people to do something about it when I am in a position to take responsibility.

If your legislation passes and the commission is established, how will you measure its success?

I will measure its success by whether it is collaborated and not just the typical knee-jerk response. Many of my colleagues in the Senate don’t understand the additional challenges here, and I think this commission will give us the opportunity to do some broader education and get more people on board for long-term solutions. [I want to see] ideas that are culturally sensitive, but also that can produce results long term. I hope the commission will set us on a trajectory to provide a plan for improvement of the conditions for Native American kids.

Why a commission as opposed to some other form of addressing the issue?

I think a commission because, if you talk to Indian educators or Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement, everybody comes at it from their own perspectives. When I was attorney general, I did a big facilitation on juvenile justice, and basically, because of the people we invited, they were simply talking about detention centers. Well, that wasn’t the solution to kids getting in trouble on the reservation, in my opinion. So we need to bring in people from a multi-disciplinary approach who are committed to a process that will set us on a path for change. If I walk out of this office, whenever that is, and I have not done something that improves the conditions for Native American children in my state and in this country, I will not feel successful as a United State senator.

The commission ends after three years—why that timeframe?

Because we can’t waste another generation.

The cost of the commission is $2 million—is cost going to be a sticking point in the current congressional budgetary climate?

We are trying to find solutions, and I think there are going to be so many people excited about this, I think you will see so many people [in Congress] stepping up. It’s not new money, it will be a reallocation, and I hoping that will get a lot of buy in. Two million is a lot of money, but we just spent copy68 million a day shutting down government. Where are our priorities?

Where will the money be reallocated from?

The Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Interior. It’s basically asking them all to pony up a small amount to fund the commission.

Will tribes receive any money?

The $2 million is just for the costs of the commission. It’s not going to act as an appropriator. It is going to show the things we can do working collaboratively in a government-to-government relationship.

Who will sit on the commission? Any tribal citizens?

It will be appointees of the president, the Senate majority Leader, the minority leader in the Senate, and the majority and minority speakers in the House. Whoever they want. We expect that tribal citizens will be invited to serve on both the commission and its advisory committee. I prefer that the appointees be from Indian country.

How is your relationship with tribes evolving?

I think most tribal leaders would say I had a fairly good relationship with them before I entered the Senate. I think I’ve always approached tribal governments as sovereign governments with sovereign people. We have to be respectful of the government-to-government relationship. And I understand treaty rights, and look at them from a lens of contractual responsibilities. I think my relationship has only gotten stronger with tribes in the last year.

Did the Indian vote help you win your race?

It would be hard to say no, wouldn’t it? It was a huge factor in my campaign.

Native children are obviously a huge priority for you, what other Indian country issues will you be taking the lead on?

One of the issues I have been involved with is looking at the IRS intrusion into sovereign tribal assistance to tribal people. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and I have the lead bill there, trying to roll back IRS excess. Indian housing is also a huge issue for me. I’m on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and intend to be a very active member of that committee. I want to see that the Bureau of Indian Affairs is not seen as the forgotten stepchild of the Department of the Interior. I want its needs to be front and center.

Lastly, you have introduced the bill to establish the commission with Sen. Lisa Murkowski—a Republican. How important is bipartisanship in Congress on Indian issues?

Especially on this issue, it’s absolutely critical. In the end, if we are going to follow up with reallocation of resources; if we’re going to respond with resources, we need to build as broad a base as possible and get as much buy in as we possibly can to implement the recommendations of the commission.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.