Skip to main content

Two major Native philanthropy groups confer and tour

DENVER – A week of looking at social justice through the lens of billion-dollar assets concluded with visits to the sites of a World War II Japanese-American internment camp and a 19th century Native massacre, both of which moved one participant to renew his commitment to the future.

“I came away from this experience with a deeper resolve to continue my work in philanthropy as one of many meaningful paths towards change, justice and innovation – themes that were touted throughout the Council on Foundations conference,” Richard Woo, a COF board member, said after the trip to southeastern Colorado.

The Council on Foundations describes itself as a “national nonprofit membership association whose members’ collective assets exceed $300 billion.” Its 61st annual conference near the end of April coincided with the 5th annual Native Philanthropy Institute of nonprofit Native Americans in Philanthropy, a 20-year-old national affinity group based in Minneapolis that advances philanthropic practices “grounded in Native values and traditions.”

“A 2005 survey of large foundation grants (at or above $10,000) showed that less than one-half of one percent of grants went to Native causes.”

– David Cournoyer, Native Americans in Philanthropy director of resource and program development

“At Amache (internment camp) and Sand Creek (massacre site), those words – change, justice and innovation – came to life well beyond what was possible on a plenary stage or hotel breakout room,” Woo said.

The two organizations’ gatherings in Denver intersected on a number of levels, with, for example, Native presentations on “Strategic Funding for Impact and Change” in Indian country and a Native Americans in Philanthropy reception co-sponsored by NAP, the Native American Rights Fund, Boulder, Colo.; American Indian College Fund, Denver; and First Nations Development Institute, Longmont, Colo.

Potential philanthropy was informed by COF sessions on “Intersectionality 101 – Reaching Underserved Populations with Solutions that Last;” “Leverage beyond Pure Grantmaking: Advocacy to Advance a Social Change Agenda;” or “Social Justice Evaluation – Reframing for Real Learning,” and many others.

If support for Native causes is a direct or indirect result of such sessions it could represent a welcome change for Indian country, especially in tight-budget times.

“A 2005 survey of large foundation grants (at or above $10,000) showed that less than one-half of one percent of grants went to Native causes,” said David Cournoyer, NAP director of resource and program development.

“The economic downturn has definitely had an impact on the nonprofit sector. Foundations and individuals are giving less, or giving differently,” he said, explaining that NAP does not award grants of its own. “There is not specific data relative to giving to Native communities, but the numbers before the downturn were not good, so it’s probably safe to assume that they have not improved.”

Cournoyer noted the COF conference theme addressed the intersection of social change, social justice and social innovation, concepts he said were particularly appropriate in the context of two sites – the Amache Relocation Camp, a National Historic Landmark located about 30 miles south of the second, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site where in 1864 Colorado volunteers killed more than 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members.

Recalling Native and Asian past involvement in philanthropy, he said, “We decided to take a special journey to southeast Colorado to go more deeply into our communities’ shared histories of injustice, oppression and relocation” and observed that during the Native philanthropy conference, several sessions addressed the history and issues of historical trauma and healing.

Although more than 140 years elapsed before the Sand Creek site was officially designated as a historic site, it took the federal government only five years to build a memorial after the Oklahoma City bombing, some participants noted.

Among scheduled speakers and participants at the NAP Institute were Wizipan Garriott, Rosebud Reservation, S.D., policy advisor to the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs; Lucille Echohawk, of Casey Family Programs; and South Dakota State Rep. Kevin Killer, D-Pine Ridge, Native Youth Leadership Alliance.

Colorado organizations represented included the Colorado Association of Funders, Colorado Trust, Council of Energy Resource Tribes, Denver Foundation, Denver Indian Center, Denver Indian Health and Family Services, AICF, NARF, the Sand Creek Massacre Healing Run/Walk, First Nations Development Institute, and Denver City Offices of Anti-Discrimination and Strategic Partnerships.

At the COF conference, the Denver Host Committee selected three Native organizations to share their “innovative philanthropic projects.” The first was the Native Ways Federation, organized to facilitate donations to Native organizations in a manner similar to that of United Way, including founding members AICF, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, American Indian Youth Running Strong, Association on American Indian Affairs, First Nations Development Institute, NARF, and the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

Others selected to present were a one-year community leadership/grassroots organizing Health Native Communities Fellowship and Lakota Tiwahe Na Tiospaye Yukini Pi Kte (Restoring Lakota Families and Communities), to provide culturally appropriate services for children who have been abused or neglected.