Suspending Operations in Montana, Saving Seeds by Mark Hall
John Marian working on a wheelchair ramp for a Northern Cheyenne elder.
With an over 20 -year history of helping people help themselves, Red Feather has seen difficult times and has always overcome them.We have been able to sustain our programs by listening carefully to the communities we serve and leveraging the wisdom of our large family of donors, partners, board members and advisors.A new challenge presented itself when our recent annual appeal earned only half of what we were expecting. To determine our path forward, four Red Feather board members, the five Red Feather staff members, and a seasoned facilitator came together. Through those conversations, we collectively concluded that our existing assets and expected income would not support our current operating structure, and that changes were necessary to ensure the survival of the organization. Consequently, the Board and I decided to suspend operations in Montana where we have been working with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, until funding conditions are more favorable. In agriculture, there are times when planting fewer crops is necessary to save seeds for more favorable growing conditions. A similar principle applies in organizational management – difficult prioritization decisions are often required to ensure a healthy future. It is very difficult to discontinue our programs serving the Northern Cheyenne people, and to lose a valuable member of the Red Feather team in John Marian, but we felt strongly that this was the best way to ensure our programs endure to help others, and to hasten our return to Montana. John Marian has served as Red Feather’s Education Director and Northern Plains Program Manager since 2014.He originally joined the organization in 2012 as a part-time temporary employee, hired specifically to develop our first educational curriculum, a Basic Home Maintenance college course which he successfully delivered at Chief Dull Knife College in 2013.Since that time, John has been responsible for creating all of Red Feather’s highly successful Do-It-Yourself educational programs, empowering Native Americans to address their most urgent housing needs.In addition, John has developed and delivered several other important programs with and for the Northern Cheyenne people; such as healthy home maintenance workshops for low-rent tenants, a building performance study which included several Red Feather straw bale homes and led to a major home renovation project for Northern Cheyenne elder and veteran Bilford Curley, and, most recently, a volunteer-driven Weatherization Blitz. While difficult to part ways with John, we are grateful for the time and devotion he gave to the Northern Cheyenne people and to Red Feather, and expect great things from whatever he undertakes next. We ask the Northern Cheyenne people, and all of our supporters and followers, to please be patient.We must strengthen ourselves before helping others.By focusing our remaining resources on the programs we offer to the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe we will grow strong enough to return to plant the seeds we have set aside.We will continue to maintain a smaller office and storage in Bozeman, and thankfully retain our Office Manager, Delisa de Vargas and our VISTA worker Ellary Kramka.We remember the Northern Cheyenne and are grateful for the faith they have shown us and the opportunities they have provided for us to become better people. It is with this in mind, that we store the seeds that will allow us to return our programs to the Northern Cheyenne people.