What You Need to Know about Native Americans in Philanthropy

What You Need to Know about Native Americans in Philanthropy


The philanthropy sector is evolving and expanding, but some groups of people still benefit less from philanthropy than others. One of these groups is the Native American community, which has been marginalized and mistreated throughout American history. Native Americans account for more than 5 million people in the US, or about 2 percent of the national population. However, less than a half of a percent of foundation grants is directed toward issues experienced by the Native community. In an article in Inside Philanthropy, the head of Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP), Sarah Eagle Heart, suggested that early philanthropists took their cues from the government, which is why the Native community has received little assistance.

NAP and Its Role in Organizing for More Philanthropy

NAP has emerged as the primary organizing body to capture the attention of philanthropists and show them how grants can impact the Native community. The organization consists of both Native and non-Native nonprofit groups, as well as foundations, tribal representatives, and community leaders. Since 1989, NAP has worked to increase philanthropic investment in Native communities, drive diversity in the philanthropy sector, and provide reliable data to inform giving. Over time, NAP has adjusted its focus to address what it determines is the most pressing issue at a given time. Right now, the organization focuses on the needs of Native youth.

With this focus on youth, NAP has attracted interest from major names in philanthropy. Recently, the Ford Foundation donated $450,000 toward the Generation Indigenous Response Fund. Other NAP partners include the California Endowment and the Kellogg Foundation. These partnerships, along with donations from other big-name funds, show that institutional philanthropy is slowly beginning to pay more attention to the needs of Native Americans.

Now is an important time for support because people are becoming more aware of the intergenerational effects of injustice. Native youth have exceptionally high rates of addiction, suicide, and family separation. People under the age of 24 make up 42 percent of the Native population (as opposed to 34 percent of the total US population), so it is important to attend to the needs of these young people.

How NAP Provides Support to Native Youth

The Generation Indigenous Response Fund is an important funder of research, education, and support programs for Native youth. The pooled fund is actually housed at the Minneapolis Foundation and supports a range of different Native-led nonprofits with programming for youth. Since 2016, the fund has disbursed $250,000. Last year, the fund increased its grants threefold, and $155,000 worth of donations have already been made in 2019. These grants help bolster the important work that Native youth are already doing to address gun violence, climate change, natural resources preservation, and immigration reform, while getting more youth actively engaged.

Currently, NAP is focused on a multiphase research project to identify the best funding strategies for empowering Native youth. This project involves a circle of indigenous scholars and seeks to couch traditional Native beliefs in their current social context. NAP recognizes that people do not grow up in a bubble and understands that programs aimed at supporting youth need to highlight values like cultural connectedness in a way that resonates with people today.

The projects already funded by NAP seek to empower Native youth in a variety of different areas, from social justice to traditional languages. These programs help Native youth develop a personal identity in a modern context. Grant recipients have worked with youth to reinvigorate traditional games, decolonize food systems through sacred seeds, and more.

Other Key Activities and Programs Spearheaded by NAP

Outside of its focus on youth, NAP sponsors other campaigns, including Indigenous Women and Girls and Native Voices Rising. The latter initiative encourages civic engagement among Native people across the United States, including in Alaska and Hawaii, by holding webinars and trainings, organizing conferences, and publishing briefs. NAP is also spearheading a Truth and Healing Movement, which promotes a kind of interactive history lesson. This participatory program was designed in collaboration with indigenous elders and storytellers. Through the program, participants learn more about their unique history and reflect on the role they want to assume moving forward. In addition, the Truth and Healing Movement organizes regional gatherings and healing circles to strengthen community ties.

NAP also works to build better relationships with the broader philanthropy community through cultural learning tours and other opportunities. These tours allow funders to see Native communities and experience their needs first-hand. Such efforts can combat the incorrect, often racist assumptions about Native communities that are common in American culture.

Furthermore, the tours are an opportunity for Native communities to meet funders and become more trusting of them. The tours have resulted in more than $1.25 million in grants to the Standing Rock Tribe in its struggle to maintain the integrity of its land against incursions and environmental damage from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Going forward, NAP hopes to tie these tours to the Truth and Healing Movement to provide an immersive experience for potential funders.


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