Investing In Indian Country
“We view Native communities as great places of potential to do work that makes a lasting philanthropic impact,” said Northwest Area Foundation President & CEO Kevin Walker. “The wealth of our nation is directly connected to Indian Country. Through our nation’s early history, Native lands were the stage for exploration and exploitation, the substance for new industries and wealth-creation. Today, Native American communities represent opportunities for Native-owned growth and restoration. Now is our time to support their vision.”
The Foundation has dedicated 40 percent of its overall grant dollars to programs that support poverty-reduction and prosperity- building programs among Native Americans. Since 2001, the Foundation has directed more than $80 million to support culturally-based, innovative initiatives in reservation and urban Native American communities within its eight-state region. The Foundation’s commitment to Native giving is in recognition of both great need and opportunity for social change in Indian Country.
Grants to Support Native-based Economic Development
In fall 2011, the Foundation launched its Native American Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, a grants strategy designed to stimulate the local economy on reservations. The long-term goal is to build a powerful network of Native-owned business that over time would create new jobs and a thriving business community. The strategy focuses on advancing the abilities of Native economic development organizations, known as community development financial institutions (CDFIs), which provide loans, training and administrative support.
The goal is to accelerate the learning curve of the CDFIs so they can provide more services to more business owners sooner. Another goal is to build entrepreneurial skills that Native Americans can apply to social challenges such as improving education, access to health care, and reducing poverty. In order to be successful, social entrepreneurship must include partnerships among many sectors: government, nonprofit, tribal leadership, and private business in order to carry out the work.
The Foundation made seven grants to Native nonprofits that are working in a two-year learning cohort to build social entrepreneurship on reservations.
Gatherings to Envision and Plan for Thriving Communities
In order to promote the deepest and most sustainable change in Indian Country, The Foundation can’t go it alone. The saying ‘there is strength in numbers’ is especially true when funding partnerships come together. To foster these possibilities, the Foundation has sponsored Native American Roundtables that assemble influential tribal and philanthropic leaders. The purpose of those meetings is to cultivate understanding of each other’s missions and explore where there might be an intersection of goals. Meetings have focused on examining gaps and misconceptions, developing far-reaching vision, and outlining a long-term framework for grantmaking in Native communities. These rich discussions are vitally important, given the dearth of philanthropic funding in Indian Country. A study by the Foundation Center revealed that between the years of 2000 and 2009 Native funding had dropped to 0.3 percent of all grants made to nonprofit organizations in the United States.
By bringing together diverse talent, experience, leadership and ingenuity, funders began to identify how they could realize their respective missions through grants into reservation communities. Together they laid out the 2030 Vision for Vital and Vibrant Native Communities that suggests how funders might partner in programs such as education, economic development, and healthcare to create flourishing Native nations within the next two decades. The Foundation has presented this information to peer funders on both a regional and national level to foster additional conversations and partnerships. Plans are underway to continue the conversation among funders about increasing investment into Native communities, with a focus on funder collaboration. For more information, contact Martin Jennings at firstname.lastname@example.org or Justin Huenemann at email@example.com.
The Foundation also supports long-term strategic initiatives with three Native American tribes seeking deep and lasting change:
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe spans 2.8 million acres and contains 18 communities in central South Dakota. The Foundation committed up to $9.5 million over 10 years to support a 10-year strategic plan to reduce poverty.
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is located in Belcourt, N.D., near the Canadian border. The Foundation committed up to $10 million dollars over 10 years to support the Pathways to Prosperity initiative to help reduce the reservation’s high poverty rate.
Lummi Nation is located across the bay from Bellingham, Wash., near the Canadian border. The Foundation committed up to $6 million over 10 years to the Lummi Ventures Community Partnership to reduce poverty rates on the Lummi Native reservation.
Northwest Area Foundation has made grants of nearly $10 million since 2007 to support strategies that build the ability of urban Indian organizations to reduce poverty and move toward prosperity among Native Americans living in cities. Roughly 60 percent of all Native Americans live off the reservation, spurred in part by past government relocation policies as well as a need to move to areas with more economic opportunities. Foundation grants recognize that urban Indians living in cities often face disadvantages from lack of access to cultural and tribal resources available on reservations.
Foundation grants to Urban Native American organizations will support efforts to integrate asset and wealth building with community development and public policy strategies under a social entrepreneurship framework. Grants are funding access to financial education, the Earned Income Tax Credit, micro and small business development, business capital, home ownership, and youth leadership development.
In 2001, the Foundation made a grant of $20 million to establish the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF), which seeks to address the root causes of poverty due to inability of Indians to fully utilize and benefit from their land-related assets. ILTF serves Native American nations in the recovery and control of their rightful homelands.
Northwest Area Foundation has also supported a number of other Native poverty reduction efforts including:
• Community leadership
• Native American leadership curriculum
• Cross-reservation learning exchanges between tribes
• Grants to build and strengthen Native community development financial institutions and small business agencies
• Native entrepreneurship and small business development
• Support for the Cobell trust fund lawsuit
• Tribal college leadership