Investing In Indian Country
“We view Native communities as great places of potential for philanthropic investments that can make a lasting impact,” said Northwest Area Foundation President & CEO Kevin Walker. “Native American communities represent opportunities for Native-owned growth and restoration. Now is our time to support their vision.”
Since 2001, the Foundation has directed more than $86 million to support culturally-based, innovative initiatives in reservation and urban Native American communities within its eight-state region. In the last two years, we assigned 40 percent of our grant dollars to Indian Country to support two different strategies: investments to build the private business sector in Indian Country, and investments to strengthen the Native American nonprofit sector. This commitment is in recognition of both great need and opportunity for social change.
Investments in the Native American Private Sector
One of the greatest challenges facing Native communities is building a thriving economy where there are currently few, if any, local businesses. When tribal members have to travel off the reservation to buy food, clothing, goods, and services, dollars leave their community instead of circulating and building wealth within it. The Foundation has funded several projects aimed at creating and supporting Native-owned businesses that would capture dollars and contribute to strong local Native economies.
The Native Employee-owned Enterprises Pilot Project. This community wealth-building project will offer training Native Americans need to become joint-owners of flourishing businesses they would help create. The Foundation has committed more than $1.2 million to this three-year pilot where:
• Participants include three nonprofits from low-income reservations and three from urban Native communities
• These organizations take part in a hands-on learning laboratory on developing employee-owned businesses
• They increase their knowledge and ability to implement community wealth-building practices
• New partnerships form
• New structures of economic development emerge
The Foundation launched the pilot program in the spring of 2013 with a $300,000 grant to the Democracy Collaborative Foundation Inc. of Cleveland (TDC), which has been a catalyst in transforming low-income neighborhoods into to great places of great opportunity to work and live. TDC, which has extensive knowledge in community wealth-building, will lead the training based on its Evergreen Cooperative model of employee-owned enterprises. In addition, the Foundation made a total of $300,000 in grants to the participating Native nonprofit organizations for the first year of their participation in the learning cohort.
In fall 2011, the Foundation introduced 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 resources and 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.
Support for Native Americans Living Off Reservations
Northwest Area Foundation supports 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 Native Americans living in cities often face disadvantages from lack of access to cultural and tribal resources available on reservations.
In 2012, the Foundation made grants to Urban Native American nonprofit organizations where the programs focus on efforts to integrate asset and wealth building with community development and public policy strategies under a social entrepreneurship framework. The grants support access to financial education, the Earned Income Tax Credit, micro- and small-business development, access to business capital, home ownership, and youth leadership development.
Tribal College Leadership
We see tribal colleges as sources of innovation, inspiration, and hope. These institutions often operate in remote and impoverished regions and deliver non-academic services necessary to lift a community out of poverty. Some examples include human services, cultural support, and workforce development. The Foundation is working with the American Indian College Fund (AICF) to highlight the important role tribal colleges play in galvanizing community and economic development. A $1 million grant to the AICF is supporting a competitive awards program to honor five tribal colleges that are building healthy and vibrant communities. Winners will be announced in the second half of 2013.
Investments to Strengthen Native American Nonprofit Organizations
Although Native American nonprofit organizations are important change agents within their communities, this emerging network is usually overlooked by mainstream funders within the government and philanthropic sectors. A study by the Foundation Center revealed that between the years of 2000 and 2009 funding to efforts focused on Native Americans dropped to 0.3 percent of all grants made in the United States. Because of their significant positions, this year the Foundation began a pilot effort to build the strength, leadership, and effectiveness of Native-led nonprofits.
A $1.5 million, three-year grant to the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development Inc. (SGF) is designed to support strategies that maximize the community empowerment work of nonprofit organizations. SGF will provide small grants, training, assistance, advocacy, and peer-centered learning to 10 fledgling Native nonprofits in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The organizations will be exposed to guidance in grant seeking, applying for nonprofit charitable status, and ways to build strong organizational structure. The goal is to create a collaborative regional network of Native nonprofit organizations that will have long-term sustainability and impact.
Building Philanthropic Partnerships in Indian Country
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 sponsored roundtables that assembled influential tribal and philanthropic leaders. These meetings created a platform for sharing perspectives, exchanging knowledge, and exploring collaboration about Indian Country. The purpose of those meetings was to cultivate understanding of each other’s missions and discover where there might be an intersection of goals. Meetings examined gaps and misconceptions, developing far-reaching vision, and outlining a long-term framework for grantmaking in Native communities.
By bringing together diverse talent, experience, leadership and ingenuity, roundtable participants began to identify how they could realize their respective missions through grants into reservation communities. Together they outlined the 2030 Vision for Vital and Vibrant Native Communities, a graphic 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. These rich discussions continue in various forms, and some funders are increasing their investments in this area. We believe this shift in thinking and direction is critical, given the dearth of philanthropic funding in Indian Country.
We want to converse with funders willing to consider investing in the potential, innovation and models at work in Indian Country. For more information on how you might have a role in investing in Indian Country, contact Martin Jennings at firstname.lastname@example.org or Justin Huenemann at email@example.com.
Long-Term Work with Tribal Nations
The Foundation made 10-year grants to support 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 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 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 to the Lummi Ventures Community Partnership to reduce poverty rates on the Lummi Native reservation.
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
• Support for the Cobell trust fund lawsuit