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Philanthropy: Prioritize Native-Led Solutions

Date: February 14, 2022

Carly Bad Heart Bull, JD

Executive Director, Native Ways Federation

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The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) recent report on funding disparities faced by Native-serving nonprofits highlights what many of us in the equitable philanthropy movement have long known: Indigenous communities are not receiving the support that we desperately need. As Native-led organizations, we have the solutions to address the issues our communities are facing. We know what our strengths are and we have the knowledge and wisdom to utilize them. Unfortunately, we have not had the flexible support or the necessary resources to fully implement these Native-led solutions. This needs to change.

According to the Investing in Native Communities project, large foundations have allocated less than half a percent of their total annual grantmaking to Native communities since 2006. The percentage allocated to Native-led and Native-serving organizations is likely much lower. Native people are often considered as an afterthought, if we are considered at all. According to the dominant narrative, we are people of the past. When we are mentioned, we are often relegated to an “other” category within demographic data sources. We are regularly considered too “statistically insignificant” for our stories to make the front page. In reality, there is important work happening every day — much of it led by Native nonprofits.

Recent philanthropic responses to the pandemic and increased social unrest across the country have resulted in new commitments to address racial inequities in the Unites States. The past two years have seen an increase in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements being developed and shared by foundations. However, there remains a lack of the necessary awareness at the foundation level of how these commitments show up in Native communities. While commitments and statements can be a good starting point, they need to be followed up with action. The original people of this land need to be listened to and their needs prioritized in those actions. The fact that two-thirds of Native-serving organization leaders surveyed by CEP reported zero increase in foundation support in 2020 is evidence of this issue.

Indigenous communities have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Native nonprofits have worked tirelessly to address the massive toll it has taken on our people. With one in 168 Native children having lost a caregiver between April 2020 and June 2021, supporting Native nonprofits is more important than ever. Indigenous-controlled organizations know our communities and how to best serve our people. Investing in Native-led solutions ensures that dollars meant to address disparities actually impact the inequities our people contend with.

A large part of Native Ways Federation‘s work is focused on donor education and advocacy in support of Native-led nonprofits. We know that we are best situated to effectively serve our communities. We are working to strengthen the Native nonprofit sector on our terms, with an emphasis on relationship and trust-building. For too long, grantee organizations have been expected to learn the language of institutional philanthropy to receive funding, rather than foundations learning about the communities they serve.

Foundations can make a significant impact by engaging directly with Native-controlled nonprofits. Trust that we have the expertise to contribute fully to every funding conversation concerning Indigenous issues. Work with our organizations to support systemic change efforts that are led and guided by Native people. We all want our communities to thrive. Trust us and support us so that we can make that happen.

There are resources available for foundations looking to build relationships with Indigenous populations. Engage with Native people, with Native-led nonprofits, and with Native Ways Federation. Recognize that Native-controlled organizations are the best people to partner with to create real change in our communities. Recognize that Native-led nonprofits need resources to do their work as effectively as possible. Finally, know that our organizations would love to hear directly from foundations on how we can work together to build a healthier, stronger, more equitable nonprofit sector.

Carly Bad Heart Bull, JD is executive director at Native Ways Federation. Follower her on Twitter at @C_BadHeartBull and on LinkedIn. Find Native Ways Federation on Twitter at @native_ways and on Facebook.

Editor’s Note: CEP publishes a range of perspectives. The views expressed here are those of the authors, not necessarily those of CEP.

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