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    Date submitted
  • 09-Jan-2015




For generations, many Native American people have struggled to achieve self-reliance and prosperity. Once among the most self-reliant people on earth, many tribes now struggle to overcome severe poverty and dependency that have resulted from a variety of circumstances and factors. Without the necessary support and mentorship, many Native Americans are unable to complete their education and secure meaningful employment. This phenomenon has been likened to herding buffalo to the top of a cliff and over a buffalo jump (A buffalo jump is a cliff over which plains Native American tribes historically drove bison to kill them in mass quantities).

The buffalo jump analogy is appropriate, with many Native American communities suffering from shockingly high rates of poverty, suicide, and a wide range of other social pathologies. The alarmingly high suicide rates in Native American communities could be described as an epidemic and are related to historical trauma and the pervasive despair that many Native Americans experience on a daily basis. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, the suicide rate for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) female young adults ages 15-24 is over three times higher than the rate in the general female population and the suicide rate for AI/AN male young adults ages 15-24 is over two times higher than the rate in the general male population. Poverty is also widespread. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, AI/AN experience the highest rate of poverty of any race group, with 29 percent living below the poverty line. The lack of educational attainment in Native American communities is one contributor to the high poverty and suicide rates.

The U. S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that Native American high school students are almost twice as likely to drop out of high school as students in the general population. This organization also reported that only 28 percent of Native Americans ages 18-24 are enrolled in degree granting higher education institutions and only 40 percent of these students graduate within six years. Therefore, only 11 percent of Native American young adults complete a bachelor’s degree within 6 years.

Native Americans are also overrepresented among the working poor. Native Americans make on average 24 percent less than their counterparts in the general population (NCES).

Clearly, the current programs and services provided are not adequately meeting the academic and career guidance needs of the Native American people. Many foundations and government organizations currently provide scholarship funding to the Native American tribes, but very few deploy programs in efforts to decrease the high school dropout rates and mobilize the disengaged workforce. Since the establishment of the reservation system, many tribal communities have been virtually isolated from the mainstream economy and the general population. The Foundation for Indigenous Education, Leadership Development, and Sustainability (FIELDS) provides a bridge to help link Native American people with the mainstream economy through education and career development services. FIELDS has a unique market opportunity providing comprehensive, systematic services directly linked to regional economic opportunities which honor Native American culture, languages, and principles of sustainability. FIELDS helps to unleash the human capital of tribal nations for the benefit of the world and helps these tribal nations to reclaim their traditional heritage of self-reliance and prosperity.


FIELDS was founded in July 2013 and became a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in September 2014. The Mission of FIELDS is to serve as a catalyst in cultivating Native American self-reliance, leadership, and prosperity by facilitating Native American higher education and career success and building human capital for sustainable economic and community development.

FIELDS is a minority-owned business and several key members of the FIELDS team are also tribal members. FIELDS has the expertise to develop, implement, and evaluate the innovative programs that are based on the unique educational and economic needs of the Native American community. The FIELDS team has experience helping Native American people achieve higher education and career success. One of the unique success factors that sets FIELDS apart is the mentoring and tutoring services that accompany each of the four FIELDS programs. These services are available to each student and are delivered by qualified personnel, including volunteers. Many times, Native American students are not given the necessary support in their studies and they are left to navigate their studies on their own, which often leads to failure. The FIELDS team understands and has personal experience with teaching and mentoring Native American students, and the dominant factor in each success story is an attentive mentor and flexible and assertive tutoring support.

FIELDS programming provides a bridge to self-reliance that extends from academic and career preparation for middle and high school students and adults, to higher education and career mentorship and support for higher education students, to career and workforce engagement leadership, and eventually self-reliance.

These four programs are:

1. FIELDS of Dreams (FoD)- Higher education and career preparation for middle school and high school students;

2. Adult Preparation- Higher education and career preparation for adults who have not completed high school, and facilitation of adult recovery programs;

3. The Bridge- Academic and career mentorship and support for students enrolled in higher education; and

4. Tribal Workforce Leadership (TWL)- Human resource development leadership education for tribal education, employment and career development leaders.

FIELDS programming “teaches a person to fish” by creating workforce development champions in tribal communities to help tribal members more fully engage with the regional economy. FIELDS develops this capacity within the tribal communities by teaching students to utilize the FIELDS formula. The FIELDS formula is how FIELDS engages tribes with the regional economy. First, FIELDS establishes relationships with tribal communities to assess their economic needs and aspirations. Then FIELDS conducts a regional economic assessment to identify relevant career pathways and identifies higher education and training programs that will prepare tribal citizens to enter these careers. After these training programs have been identified, the FIELDS team prepares and recruits tribal students into these programs through career exploration and one-on-one advising. When the students have enrolled into the higher education and training programs, FIELDS is then able to establish and coordinate high-contact mentoring, tutoring, advising, and workplace internships. These services will then help students complete the required education and training programs and then successfully transition into career employment.

FIELDS is preparing to implement its full range of programs in a project based in southeastern Idaho that would eventually impact Native American students across parts of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and eventually across Indian Country. Currently, FIELDS has two operational projects. The first project serving the Cree Nation, includes an Adult Preparation program to help engage tribal members with their regional oil and gas industry. The FIELDS of Dreams (FoD) program is also being planned for this project to prepare high school students for academic and career success. The second project is in southeastern Idaho is serving the Native American community in the region. This project is a combination of Adult Preparation and The Bridge program with the FoD initiative being planned for local middle and high school students, and the Tribal Workforce Leadership program being prepared for university students.


FIELDS’ innovative and comprehensive programs and services are based on sound research to meet the specific needs of Native American learners. The project in southeastern Idaho is positioned to make a significant positive impact on the quality of life of Native American people close to home in Idaho and beyond. A $5,000 gift from the BIG Competition would enable FIELDS to launch a FoD program based in southeastern Idaho. As FIELDS works with tribal nations to implement its full range of programs and services in this project, it provides Native American people with a path forward out of poverty and its associated social pathologies. FIELDS connects the Native American community with the regional economy and bridges the gap between Native Americans and their academic and career success. Investing in FIELDS makes a transformative impact by increasing self-reliance in the Native American community and engaging a tremendous economic development and labor resource, strengthening tribal nations, the economy, and society. This project will help Native American participants to achieve their full potential. It will also provide a blueprint for helping to build self-reliance and prosperity across Indian Country - one bridge at a time.

Additional Questions

Who is your customer?

Native American people and communities.

What problem does this idea/product solve or what market need does it serve?

Native American poverty and Native American educational and career underattainment.

What attributes will make this idea/product successful? Why do you believe that those features will create success?

This project is engaging directly with Native American communities and is providing self-reliance-building mentorship and support to create economic success.

Explain how you (your team) will execute to make this idea/product successful? What gives you (your team) an advantage over others already in the market or new to this market?

This project will be implemented in southeastern Idaho by a team with numerous Native American tribal members with over 25 years of collective experience in Native American business education and economic development experience. Much of this experience is in Southeastern Idaho. We will engage directly with tribal education leaders and engage Native students in every stage of their academic and career journeys. There are currently no competitors in this market.