Jun 15, 2020 2:19 PM

Poverty in Our Area: Native Futures

Posted Jun 15, 2020 2:19 PM

By Patricia Jones, Task Force on Poverty

Edison Red Nest III is a young entrepreneur in Alliance who saw a need in the Native American community and stepped up to fill it. In September, 2013, he started Native Futures to help those who are in poverty and have lost their way. His program has since expanded to include small businesses and contracts with other agencies. Native Futures is currently the only Native-owned and operated business in the Panhandle.

Much of the poverty in the Native American community is generational; parents lived in poverty and their children do not know another way of life. There is also a struggle to overcome the systemic discrimination against Natives. His goal is to teach others to live a better life by helping them learn to manage finances and to grow spiritually. Their rich culture is being relearned through traditional parenting practices and Native-based services. 

More than one third of the Native Americans in Nebraska live in poverty, the highest rate of any ethnic group. To help with this problem, the Santee Sioux Nation has established the Community Response Program, and Red Nest is the Western Nebraska Navigator. Their funds are available to any households with children under age 18, and these funds can be used as needed after an intake application has been completed. Funds have been used to purchase food, clothes, shoes, books, tires, auto parts, pay utility bills, and help with deposits. The organization does not discriminate, so funds can be used by anyone in need with children.

Alcoholism is another problem with much higher rates in the Native American community. America had a fifteen-year experiment with Prohibition, then gave it up. For Native Americans Prohibition continued until 1953. Native Americans for years came from the Pine Ridge reservation to work as migrant laborers throughout our area. With their income they accrued wealth and property and built businesses. But after 1953 much of that changed, as alcoholism destroyed many families who sold their possessions to support their addiction. 

Native Futures does not seek or accept grants, but instead operates for-profit small businesses and is sustained through contracts with other agencies. 

Red Nest runs the Diversion Program for the Box Butte County Attorney’s office. He works with juvenile offenders who have committed minor crimes; if they successfully complete the classes, charges are dropped and do not appear on their permanent record. The focus in Alliance is on evidence-based practices and getting to know the kids and their situations better. He stresses that they should learn what their rights are, how their government works, and how to resolve conflicts. The Box Butte County program boasts a 90% success rate for kids who have completed the program and who do not reoffend - the highest in the state.

Red Nest has a contract with Judicial District 12 Probation and another with the Department of Health and Human Services. He is the Panhandle’s only Native provider of family support services, including supervised family visitation and parenting classes, helping families overcome problems and get back on track.

Nebraska Appleseed is another organization who has contracted with Red Nest for their program’s outreach. Their focus has been to register voters and to help with the Census. Red Nest explains to people the importance of being counted, how that is tied to funding for his programs and government programs.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center just contracted with Native Futures to participate in a research study focusing on alcoholism and alcohol use, with reimbursement for participants who submit to testing on a regular basis. UNMC hopes to involve people from Alliance, Scottsbluff, Gordon, and Rushville.

For the last few years Alliance has enjoyed watching kids play Lacrosse, a team sport played for hundreds of years by indigenous Americans. The sport now has collegiate, professional, and international teams. Red Nest hopes that Panhandle kids will develop the competitive skills that will help them earn college scholarships and continue the sport. Because of COVID-19, teams have not been practicing yet this year.

The bike taxi program isn’t currently operating due to high insurance costs, but Red Nest hopes to move past that hurdle soon. That business allows War Bonnett Transportation to employ day laborers and provide transportation to those who need an inexpensive way to get around town. 

The only drive-in theater on this side of the state, the Sandhills Drive-In, is another business operated by Red Nest. With its focus on family-friendly movies, and social distancing limiting much of what we can do this summer, the drive-in offers great entertainment for our area. Movies change regularly, so check the Facebook page for information. 

Native Futures continues to grow and to offer new and innovative ideas for small businesses in our area. Their work helps the Native American community and those who live in poverty. We are all benefitting from the businesses created and the work being done by Native Futures throughout the Panhandle.