Our Investments in Indian Country

Developing a Native American Arts Business Sector

Art holds significant cultural meaning within Native communities. We support Native-led efforts to grow arts creation as a viable industry capable of creating new jobs, living wages, and economic development on and near reservations. A three-year, $1 million grant to First Peoples Fund (FPF) of Rapid City, S.D., will fund a pilot program to bolster the Native arts sector on reservations in three states and beyond. The grant is based on the findings in research presented in a new report by FPF, Establishing a Creative Economy: Art as an Economic Engine in Native Communities. The data reveal that many Native artists and cultural bearers are capable of catapulting their artwork into greater self-sufficiency for themselves, their families, and their communities when they have the proper financial tools, training, and support networks.

FPF will lead the three-year Native Arts Economy Building Pilot Project on three reservations:  the Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation in Washington, the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, and the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota and their surrounding regions. The program will offer comprehensive business training, affordable loans, and better access to arts markets in an effort to build a strong Native arts business sector. The goal is to further develop a new economic engine that will benefit all Native artists and people.

“Each work of art is an act of cultural empowerment and strengthens our sovereignty. We welcome the business opportunity this grant provides for our Native artists – contemporary and traditional,” said John Sirois, business councilman for the Colville Tribes. “Creating diverse economies on and off our Reservation communities is at the heart of what we do as tribal leaders.”

The Native Employee-owned Enterprises Pilot Project

This community wealth-building project will explore the development of employee-owned enterprises with six participating Native organizations. The Foundation has committed more than $1.2 million to this three-year pilot where:

  • Participants include three nonprofits from 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 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.

Support for Native Americans Living Off Reservations
Today, roughly 60 percent of all Native Americans live off reservations. We support strategies that build the ability of urban Indian organizations to reduce poverty and help move Native Americans living in cities toward prosperity. Foundation grants assist Native organizations that provide asset- and wealth-building services to urban Native communities.

In 2012, the Foundation made grants to six 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, workforce development and training, micro- and small-business development, access to business capital, homeownership, and community and youth leadership development.

Tribal College Innovation
Tribal colleges are sources of innovation, inspiration, and hope. These institutions often operate in remote and economically challenged regions. In addition to their core academic focus, many tribal colleges are delivering non-academic services that build community resiliency and prosperity. Some examples include health services, cultural programming, workforce development, and small-business services. 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 supports a competitive awards program in which five tribal colleges have been named winners of the Tribal College Leaders in Innovation Award. AICF selected and honored Sitting Bull College of Fort Yates, N.D.; Stone Child College of Box Elder, Mont.; Leech Lake Tribal College of Cass Lake, Minn.; Oglala Lakota College of Kyle, S.D.; and Northwest Indian College of Bellingham, Wash., for their contributions to building vibrant and healthy communities. Read about the winning strategies.

Social Entrepreneurship
In fall 2011, the Foundation introduced the concept of Native American social entrepreneurship, and funded it with a grants strategy designed to stimulate the local economy on reservations. The long-term goal is to build a strong financial and technical assistance network that supports Native-owned businesses 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 more effectively allocate resources and services to help local Native entrepreneurs develop businesses and local economies.  Another goal is to build the knowledge and application of social entrepreneurship that uses business principles to address other 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.

Strengthening Nonprofit Organizations

Although Native American nonprofit organizations can be 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 total philanthropic support provided to Indian Country remains below one half a percent. 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. The Native nonprofit sector is taking hold and growing in Indian Country. It is a catalyst of change and an area the Foundation supports. 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) supports strategies that maximize the community empowerment work of participating 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 receive guidance in grant seeking, applying for nonprofit charitable status, and ways to build strong organizational structure. The long-term goal is to create a collaborative regional network of Native nonprofit organizations that will have long-term sustainability and broad impact in Indian Country.

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, developed a far-reaching vision, and outlined a long-term framework for grantmaking in Native communities. This work began in 2010 and continues today. We welcome the opportunity to share this work with funding partners.

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 health care 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 mjennings@nwaf.org.

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.