2022 Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter Kyle Swann, 23, (Piscataway Conoy), of White Plains, Maryland had a unique dream. His Dreamstarter idea was to create a detailed survey of the 3,500 enrolled Piscataway Conoy tribal members, exploring not just their demographic information but also their priorities, strengths and needs.
“I will use this feedback to connect tribal members in need to others who may be able to assist them and give our tribal chief the information he needs to be serve and advocate for our people,” Kyle stated in his Dreamstarter application.
“Through my interviews, I hope to identify and reach out to some of the estimated additional 35,000 people who would be eligible for tribal enrollment,” he told us. “I hope to have conversations with them in which I can answer their questions about enrolling, their history and their cultural traditions.”
Specifically, Kyle’s dream was to create an accurate, point-in-time snapshot of all the people who belong to the tribe, as well as “as many people as possible who could belong if they chose to.”
Kyle told us that as he discussed his ideas with tribal elders and others, “things fell into place.
“I realized that a survey would be valuable to the Piscataway Conoy Tribe’s efforts to win federal recognition, which have been stalled since the 1970s. I also learned that there are ten times as many ‘unenrolled’ tribal members as there are people enrolled. Some of them don’t realize that they qualify by being able to trace their lineage back to one of the seven tribal families.
In January, Kyle’s mentor and father, Chief Jesse J. Swann, Jr., founder and CEO of Kyle’s mentor organization, Through Piscataway Eyes (TPE), reported that they have received responses from virtually all 3,500 enrolled tribal members.
“They have sent us updated contact information as well as important demographic data that can be used for grant requests and other opportunities to connect our community with the resources they need,” Jesse told us.
“Most importantly, respondents shared with us their current needs and priorities, which have already impacted our organizational focus.”
Survey responses have in great part confirmed TPE’s mission to prioritize the immediate needs of tribal members – hunger, healthcare and housing – through safety net services for low-income families and individuals.
“However, the need for support is greater than we estimated,” he said. “A large number of community members reported utilizing food pantries for the first time in 2022. Dure to rising costs of living, even gas for motor vehicles and home heating is becoming unaffordable for many.”
Jesse reported that in response to learning about the urgent need for nutritious food in the southern Maryland community, “TPE has stepped up its food distribution program during the funding period.
“We now provide fresh fish along with produce, turkeys and milk, and are raising funds to relaunch our community garden, which was forced into hiatus at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.”
Early during the project, they realized that many tribal members were willing to speak with them in great detail about their families’ needs and situation.
“While this was a positive development,” said Jesse, it was clear that they would not be able to provide 3,500 community members with the space they needed to share their dreams, fears and grievances.
“TPE decided to use CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software and allocate Dreamstarter funding instead to hiring part-time staff members who assisted with interviewing tribal members, tabulating results and developing actionable insights,” he said.
In conclusion, Jesse stated that “The 2022 Dreamstarter award has made a life-long impact on Kyle. Connecting with Billy Mills, Pat Mills, Sydney Mills Farhang, and other mentors through Running Strong has inspired him to continue dreaming and working towards Piscataway sovereignty, self-sufficiency and cultural vitality.
“Kyle has had the honor of connecting with other Native youth who are as optimistic and energetic as he is. He has learned a lot about different Native cultures and ways in which diverse American Indian communities can come together to work towards shared goals.
“The census and survey project has given TPE the gift of knowledge – for the first time, we have a comprehensive picture of who belongs to our tribal community and how we, as the official nonprofit of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, can best serve them.
“We cannot thank Running Strong enough for this opportunity.”