Grants Department is important source of funding for the Band — and the region


Twenty-for-twenty. That’s a pretty good percentage in sports — and in grant writing. And that was the final score last year for the Mille Lacs Band’s Grants Department when it came to securing COVID-19-related funds.

The team that’s responsible for that perfect record has been together for about two years, under the “coaching“ of Band member Brittany Wind, who has been with the department for more than six years.

Two and a half years ago, she recruited Band member Naomi Weyaus, a recent master’s degree recipient in English from St. Cloud State. Naomi brought her colleague Nate Stoll from SCSU to Brittany’s attention. A few months later, Brittany lured Band member Colin Cash over from Aanjibimaadizing, where he had been working as a case manager, and the “dream team“ was in place.

“It’s super important to have Band members who live within the community as part of the team,“ said Brittany. “We hear what our relatives and friends are talking about and what the needs are.“

Colin agrees. As a lifelong member of the District I community, an active member in the Sober Squad, and a former employee of the DNR and Aanjibimaadizing, he understands the average Band member as well as tribal government — and how the latter can help the former. “I think I bring a community perspective from what I’m seeing on the ground every day,“ he said. “It’s amazing to see how these programs are helping the people we love, our relatives.“

Naomi, who also grew up in District I and lives there now, put it simply: “Everything we do is for the betterment of the community.“

Big impact

Twenty-for-twenty is just one relevant statistic that shows the impact of grants. Here are a few more:

• 109: The number of active grants providing funds to our communities. In 2014, there were 55 grants. This increase is partly due to COVID-19-related grants but mostly to the hard work of the dream team.
• 55 million: The approximate amount of money the Band’s current grants are bringing to the community. Those millions don’t just help Band members directly, they also increase employment in the region, pay building contractors for new projects and renovations, and spread throughout the region’s economy in the form of rent, groceries, gas, and utilities paid by Band members, employees, and contractors.
• Number 1: The Mille Lacs Band is the only tribe with a dedicated in-house Grants Department. Other tribes either have to rely on staff in other programs to apply for grants, or they have to contract with grant writers.
Grants see page 15“The Mille Lacs Band is way ahead by having us on staff and on site helping programs find grants to meet the needs of the community,“ said Brittany.

Two recent examples of the Grants Department’s work: CHAP and CERA. CHAP — the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program — came out last year and helped 900 people with $2 million in assistance with mortgages and other housing-related expenses.

“Nate thought we should go for $300,000, but I said, ’No, we’re going for $2 million,’“ said Brittany. “And we spent all that money helping people.“

CERA — COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance — is a similar grant that will help renters who were impacted by COVID-19. (See page 4 for more on CERA.)

Not all grants are as dramatic as those. “I wrote a grant for a new milk fridge at Nay Ah Shing,“ said Nate.

“No matter the size or who it’s helping, all our grants are equally important,“ said Brittany.

The list of grants is long and varied, including COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics, Hepatitis C testing, tribal court renovation, sidewalks and traffic lights, family violence prevention, air and water quality, nutrition, fingerprint machines, child home visiting, food distribution, crime victim services, and substance use supports.

One thing Band members may not realize is that each of those grants is limited by tribal, state, or federal policies and procedures. “That was the biggest learning curve for me,“ said Colin. “People wonder why a program can’t do certain things. Well, it’s because it’s funded by a grant with specific requirements.“

Another misunderstanding is the Grants Department’s role. “We’re here to write grants for the Mille Lacs Band, not for individual Band members,“ said Brittany. While they encourage Band members to apply for individual grants, that’s not part of their job description.

Team spirit

When COVID-19 hit last year, the Grants Department was prepared for it, and that helped them achieve that 20-for-20 record.

Naomi recalled that Brittany was way ahead when it came to the pandemic. “Brittany is the most prepared ever,“ she said. “At the end of January, she was already talking about working from home. We all thought she’d gone crazy.“

Nate added that Brittany made sure they all had access to email on their phones and work saved on USB drives so they were ready to work from home.

As grant opportunities came in, they worked long hours on behalf of Band members. The application windows were no more than five days, so they worked until the work was done.

“I would send a text to Brittany at 2 a.m. — and get one back!“ laughed Naomi.

Coach Brittany’s can-do attitude creates a sense of team spirit that is evident in the smiles and laughter — and in their track record.

“We’re like a family,“ said Brittany. “We have each other’s backs.“

A tale of four grants — and grant writers

Naomi: Child Advocacy Center. Naomi specializes in Health and Human Services grants — an area of high demand. One grant she is especially proud of will fund a Child Advocacy Center, which will be based in a renovated building on Wahkon’s Main Street. “This one is near and dear to me, having been a foster parent for about five years,“ said Naomi. The Child Advocacy Center (part of a larger Bureau of Justice Assistance grant) will be a place for parents with children in foster care to meet for visitation, for meetings with Family Services, to prepare meals together, and to play with their kids. “It’s a space for parents to show they can take care of their kids.“ The new space will help speed up the process of reuniting families, and in some cases will help families avoid becoming part of the foster care system.

Nate: Pathways to Prosperity. Nate specializes in education, but like his colleagues, he helps where needed. Nate was involved in the CHAP and CERA grants as Pathways to Prosperity, a partnership with Pine Technical and Community College, brought several courses to Districts I, II, and III last year and will be expanded in 2021 with offerings in Auto Mechanics, Parenting, Certified Nursing Assistant, ServSafe, Office Basics, and Commercial Driver’s License. (See page 14 for more on the classes.) “A lot of what we do is behind the scenes, so it was nice last year to assign faces to the success stories. When we see the graduates with their certificates, it’s like, ’Oh wow, we really are helping people.’“

Colin: Indigenous Medicine. Colin focuses on community development and natural resources, with expertise that comes from living in District I and working for the DNR. One grant that he’s been involved with has been the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), which has made possible presentations and classes on edible and medicinal plants taught by Linda Black Elk. Phase four will include traditional medicine camps with hands-on learning for youth, including an art show for the community. “I feel like our department is like Seal Team Six,“ said Colin. “We see all these discrepancies and we say, ’Let’s address that!’“

Brittany: Statute Revision. Brittany works in all areas with a focus on Health and Human Services, since that is where there is the greatest need and opportunity. But one grant she’s especially proud of came from the Office of Justice Programs to fund statute revision. Band members have heard a lot about statute revision in recent months, including the creation of a Revisor of Statutes Office. But many are unaware that those efforts were funded in part by a grant. “That’s the most important grant I’ve been a part of,“ said Brittany. “By rewriting the laws of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, we can make impacts in programming that wouldn’t have been possible under existing laws.“