After Tough Few Years, Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada Hopeful for Future

Financial constraints plus a pandemic left organization scrambling to keep services for indigenous residents

By all accounts, Deserea Quintana has what seems like a pretty tough job. She manages the needs of residents across 28 tribal communities in Nevada, helping them with everything from workforce development to head start.

“The past years have been challenging for everyone,” Quintana said. “The world has changed. The way we interact has changed, and the way we work has changed.”

Quintana is the executive director of the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, a nonprofit organization that has worked to provide and connect tribes to services, including violence prevention and child care.

“When I was younger, I was a single mom and full-time student; I struggled financially,” Quintana said. “I applied for child care assistance through the ITCN Child Care Development (CCDF) program. Also, I was eligible to receive financial aid for books and other college expenses through the ITCN Native Workforce Development Fund (NWD) program.”

The ITCN began in the 1960s as a way for tribes to connect and address common areas of concern among 28 tribal communities in Nevada. Rather than each individual tribe applying for grants, the ITCN can receive and administer funds for all tribes.

And things seemed to be humming along pretty well, until 2018. That’s when the organization lost its previous executive director of 30 years, as well as its finance director.

“The change was very impactful to all our programs and staff,” Quintana said.

That meant the organization was operating without those critical high-level positions – and the institutional knowledge that came from them. Once she took over as executive director, Quintana set out to understand how tribal needs and grow and change, with support from tribal leaders, the community and ITCN staff.

“I traveled to most of the 28 tribal communities and gained strong relationships with members of each community,” Quintana said.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and Quintana was once again forced to adapt. To ensure that all the tribes within Nevada had access to ITCN programs during the shutdown, Quintana and her staff worked many days and long hours, helping provide personal protective equipment, health supplies and other requested materials tribes needed.

“That added additional chaos, confusion, and anxiety for ITCN staff impacted the lives of the communities we are serving,” said Quintana.

Setting sights on the future – and a new beginning

An image of a woman looking in the distance, with a mural behind her. In the mural, she is wearing the same colorful dress as in the photo
Credit Alejandro Rubio

In August, the Department of Commerce announced an $18.9 million “Internet for All” grant to the ITCN to expand reliable, fast internet on tribal lands in Nevada. The funding comes from the congressional appropriations act of 2021 and the bipartisan infrastructure package passed by Congress. According to the administration, the move “makes funding available for grants to eligible Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian entities for high-speed internet deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.”

In addition to federal grants, ITCN will seek long-term sustainability plans, including developing partnerships with other organizations, growing and establishing relationships with local and national donors, and creating new opportunities to engage with the public. One of those ways is through the center’s headquarters on State Street in Reno, where it plans on holding a re-opening event that was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An image of ITCN staff and others standing in front of a mural.
Credit Alejandro Rubio

With the help of the Nevada Indian Commission, ITCN plans to open a field office on the grounds of the Stewart Indian School and Cultural Center & Museum within the coming months, as well as establishing an additional field office in Winnemucca and another location in the Reno/Sparks area.

“I’m currently working on a unique funding opportunity that (if funded) will allow us to further engage with other state agencies or local community non-profit organizations to collaborate and create partnerships for wrap-around services or to fill gaps where they may exist.”

Quintana is especially excited about ITCN’s upcoming 50th convention, the first time it’s being held in seven years due to financial constraints and the pandemic.

“This convention will allow everyone to be physically present and speak to one another face-to-face. We are not purposefully providing any sessions or meetings on a virtual platform. We want everyone to reconnect with one another and create new connections without technology,” she said.

While she knows there is a long road ahead, Quintana is grateful to bring people together to talk about solutions. But with many tribes without a grant writer, staffing or needed resources, she knows she’ll need help.

“We seek those with federal or state grants management or fiscal experience, community fundraising/event planning, or other areas, grant writers, historians, and laborers,” said Quintana.

The Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada’s 50th Annual Convention takes place from Dec. 11-15 at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno. It will include an historical museum space, daily workshops and even a tribal fashion show at the Lex Nightclub.

Alejandra Rubio is a visual artist who works with photography and mix-media. She embeds herself into different cultures and subcultures to share their voices, experiences, and inflections, giving viewers a respectful glimpse into their unique worldviews, concerns, and aspirations. She is a member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation and grew up in Camp Verde, a rural river valley in northern Arizona.

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