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Native Americans in Philanthropy highlights Indigenous community response to COVID-19

Two persons in Native dress wearing masks to protect over their noses and mouths

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been severe in Indigenous communities. In the face of these significant challenges, tribal communities have mobilized resources to mitigate hardship. Capturing the resilience of Indigenous communities, Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) published a new report, “Indigenous Community Leadership in Response to COVID-19: A Call to Action for the Philanthropic Sector.” The report analyzes Indigenous-led response funds, including through GoFundMe, and shares the perspectives of community leaders who have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response efforts. It also provides key actions for the philanthropy sector to invest in a sustainable future for Indigenous communities.

NAP’s research identified a total of $32 million in philanthropic funding distributed to Native communities between March and October 2020. Some $24 million of these funds were generated by 15 nonprofit organizations, and over $8 million through 56 GoFundMe campaigns.

The report calls for philanthropy to diversify its vehicles for investment in Native communities. Citing the $8 million that was rapidly invested through GoFundMe, the report asserts, “Philanthropy’s traditional vehicles and structures to move money do not work for the diverse range of organizations, initiatives, and mutual aid networks that organized to meet the ongoing challenges of COVID-19. Philanthropy should identify as many flexible and responsive options as possible to invest in Indigenous-led efforts.”

The report also contextualizes the systemic inequities Native communities face, examining the funding and legal complexities they have experienced with the federal government. This history is provided as an opportunity for the philanthropic sector to learn more about these important difficulties and develop stronger funding strategies through meaningful and trusting relationships with tribes and Indigenous-led organizations. The report also calls on philanthropy to invest in Indigenous-led organizations and initiatives, maximize general operating support, invest in Indigenous community strengths and leadership—not their deficits—and invest in tribal policy advocacy and tribal leadership.

Indigenous community leaders also share in the report how they distributed financial resources and set up new innovative support networks across a variety of issues, including food systems, community centers, and youth leadership. Jheri Neri (Diné/Mescalero), executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Native American Coalition (GCNAC), notes the incredible efforts he witnessed among Native people to support their home communities. “People take care of one another. That is the big lesson in how Native people think about this emergency situation—people are willing to give generously, and with everything they have to support one another—and they aren’t looking for praise, or appreciation, but instead, it is out of deep respect and responsibility for one another.”

As tribal nonprofits and community leaders continue to support their communities through the coming phases of the pandemic, NAP calls on funders to commit to Native communities for the long term by strengthening their investment in Indigenous community leadership. “We hope this report inspires philanthropy to partner in the long-term with our communities by investing in Native leadership,” states Erik Stegman (Carry the Kettle First Nation—Nakoda), executive director of Native Americans in Philanthropy.

Native Americans in Philanthropy hosted a COVID-19 Community Conversation about the report, as well as a general reflection on the past year and plan for 2021, on Tuesday, January 26. You can view the recording here.

Read the full report and visit for more resources on how to support Indigenous communities.


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