NAHF Board Awards Funding to Nine Recipients in 2023

Recipients Receive Nearly Half a Million in Funding This Year

Congratulations to the nine 2023 Native American Heritage Fund (NAHF) recipients, who received a combined $480,000 in funding this year. Since its inception in 2016, this fund has promoted positive relationships between public and private K-12 schools, colleges, universities, local units of government and Michigan’s federally recognized Native American Tribes by providing funding for those who apply and are granted their requests.

The NAHF provides resources to help improve curricula and educational resources related to Michigan Indian history, as well as to replace or revise mascots and imagery that may be deemed offensive to or inaccurately conveying the culture and values of Native Americans.

Several of this year’s grants include former recipients, as the funding will help them on their continuous journeys of rebranding and name changes.

The NAHF board hosted a public, annual Grant Award Ceremony at FireKeepers Casino Hotel on August 25, 2023, to honor the following recipients:

  • Baraga Area Schools – $6,000 to integrate Ojibwe language and culture in the school environment by creating a Cultural Liaison on staff; implementing signage, hosting Pow Wows and other cultural activities.
  • Chippewa Hills School District – $66,446 to rebrand signage, floors, athletic facilities and apparel with new “Golden Knights” mascot imagery.
  • Manistee Area Public Schools – $142,585 to rebrand signage, website, athletic facilities and athletic uniforms with new “Mariners” mascot imagery.
  • Meridian Charter Township – $15,000 to replace hateful imagery by installing a new sign at the entrance to Sower Blvd off Okemos Rd.
  • Pellston Public Schools – $6,000 to create, administer and use a new bilingual website designed and built by students to allow them to interact and grow with Native and non-Native community members.
  • Petoskey Schools – $2,925 to purchase new track uniforms with rebranded school mascot that replaced the previous Native American mascot.  
  • Port Huron Area School District – $162,943.90 to replace and rebrand the current mascot at Michigamme and Roosevelt Elementary Schools and High School.
  • Sandusky Community Schools – $74,604.08 to rebrand athletic equipment, signage and athletic uniforms with new “Wolves” mascot imagery.
  • Watersmeet Township School District – $3,845 to implement a mini teaching Pow Wow event using best practices around Indigenous knowledge to promote positive relationships between the school district, Tribe and local government.

“Instead of pushing the problem further down, we like to be part of the solution for mascots changing,” NAHF Board Chairperson and NHBP Tribal Council Chairperson Jamie Stuck. “We are not only here to provide financial support, but we are able to provide guidance and emotional support as these communities move away from hateful terms. The one term that we can all agree on is the ‘R-word.’”

When the NAHF was created in 2016, six school districts in the state still used the “R-word” as a school mascot. A 2023 NAHF recipient, Sandusky Community Schools, marks the last school district in Michigan to move away from using the racial slur. In 2024, there will be zero school districts in Michigan to use the offensive term.

“As I am new to the job, I am learning more as I enter into the community and seeing the bigger picture, so I just want to say thank you. We are learning as we go and we appreciate the partnership,” said Sandusky Community Schools Superintendent Kurt Dennis, who accepted the award on behalf of the school district on his 11th day on the job. Dennis was hired in Sandusky at the end of July 2023.

Dennis was not the only superintendent who expressed gratitude to the NAHF Board.

“We are very gracious for this award,” said Superintendent at Manistee Area Public Schools Ron Stoneman, who spoke on behalf of the school district during the ceremony. “Our main focus was educating on the ‘why’ (to change), which was crucial for this process. And once the ‘why’ was understood, we found that the process became much easier than anticipated. We are also very proud of our students. We had a passionate student group that was part of this, and they shared that passion throughout the entire community and school. This was the right thing to do, and our community is very grateful for this award.”

Established as part of the Second Amendment to the Tribal-State Gaming Compact between the NHBP and the State of Michigan, NAHF board is composed of Chairperson Jamie Stuck (NHBP Tribal Council Chairperson); Vice Chairperson Dorie Rios (NHBP Tribal Council Vice Chairperson, not pictured in photos); Secretary Elizabeth Kinnart (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Citizen); Treasurer Melissa Kiesewetter (Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights Tribal Liaison/Native American Specialist); and Board Member Kimberly Vargo (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians).

This second amendment allowed for a portion of NHBP’s annual state revenue sharing payment to be deposited into the NAHF. For more information, visit:  

For the full photo gallery, please visit here:


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