Virginia Changemakers
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Rebecca Adamson (1949 - )

VWH 2002 Adamson.jpg




Native American Advocate and Business Developer


A native of Akron, Ohio, Rebecca L. Adamson spent the summers in North Carolina with her maternal grandmother who fostered in her a love of her Cherokee heritage. She also learned about the difficult conditions Native Americans faced living on reservations, which shaped her life's mission. She left college in 1970 to work on western reservations and directed efforts to end the practice of removing Indian children from their homes and placing them in government or missionary boarding schools where they were severed from their tribal language and cultural knowledge. Her work contributed to the 1975 act for Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance that allowed Native Americans to administer funds for their own reservation schools.

Recognizing that education meant little without financial self-sufficiency, Adamson sought funding to support Native American economic development. In 1980 she established the First Nations Financial Project (later the First Nations Development Institute) in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to work directly with Native American communities in achieving economic empowerment within the context of their culture. First Nations established the Lakota Fund, one of the country's earliest microenterprise loan funds, to counteract poverty at the Pine Ridge Reservation, in South Dakota. After building First Nations into the leading Native American community development organization in the country, in 1997

Adamson founded First Peoples Worldwide to promote indigenous economic determination and strengthen indigenous communities across the globe. Adamson earned an M.S. in economic development at New Hampshire College (later Southern New Hampshire University), and in 2004 Dartmouth College awarded her an honorary doctorate. She has received numerous awards for her transformative work on behalf of indigenous peoples, including the John W. Gardener Leadership Award in 2001.

2002 Virginia Women in History honoree, Virginia Foundation for Women and Delta Kappa Gamma Society International.

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Image Courtesy of First Nations Development Institute.