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Urban Native nonprofits receive $2M MacKenzie Scott grant

Learn more about the generous grant for the National Urban Indian Family Coalition and Indian Country Today editor reflects on some of the people lost this year in a special tribute
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The National Urban Indian Family Coalition, a coalition of more than 12 organizations, received a $2 million grant from MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. 

Janeen Comenote, executive director of the National Urban Indian Family Coalition, talks about receiving the grant and a report the coalition released on how the pandemic is negatively impacting Native nonprofit organizations.

Indian Country Today Editor Mark Trahant has a year end obituary story, reflecting on just a fraction of the people lost this year.

Also on the newscast, the Phoenix Indian School Visitor Center receives back trophies and other memorabilia from the City of Phoenix. The items were part of the Phoenix Indian High School, which was a boarding school.

Plus, just for all the kids at heart, we have a short film the "Native American Night Before Christmas," from our friends at Vision Maker Media.

Some comments from the show:

Rosalie Talahongva:

“Today is a historic day where the city of Phoenix is returning trophies and other memorabilia to the Phoenix Indian school visitor center. These items were part of the old Phoenix Indian high school, which is a boarding school for native American students coming off the reservations.”

“We had a representative from White Mountain Apache come down and we had a yearbook and, and it was his yearbook and we found him and to see him back then, and then to see him as, as a council representative was really an amazing journey for him.”

“Recently, we did find a student whose name is on trophies and we found his yearbook picture. And then he called now, mind you, this guy is in his late seventies, mid to late seventies, and he's still is talking about his time here because really when any of the students were here through any of the times, this school became your family.”

Janeen Comenote:

“We were contacted a few months back by a third party agency who said that they were doing some research for an anonymous donor but we didn't know who the anonymous donor was. And so we went through a pretty, pretty big series of interviews and document dumps and up interviews but we still didn't know who it was. And then we didn't hear anything for a while and just kind of sat on it. I didn't know what was going on. And, you know, we just, we had a lot of work to do.”

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“So at that point in the game, we were just slammed because we're working with so many different urban Indian organizations at the time. I mean really nothing changed. It was, it was a set of interviews, you know, when you get word from an anonymous donor, you're usually like, is this going to be like a $500 gift? Is it going to be a, you know, we just, you just have no idea. So you just kind of have to take everything in stride and just keep doing the work that you're already doing.”

$2 Million grant from Mackenzie Scott could strengthen Urban Native American Non-profits

“So the National Urban Indian Family Coalition has been around since 2003. We were really founded in Seattle at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center where I worked, doing urban Indian work. So my background is in working in local, urban in my local urban Indian community here in Seattle. And it started out of a curious curiosity question. Really, I wanted to know where other urban, Indian orgs, like the one I was working in, did they face the same types of things that my organization was facing? And so we just gathered, I cold called 12 organizations from across the country and they sat in a circle, here in Seattle. And all of these executive directors looked at one another and were astonished that we do actually share a lot of the same issues between say Anchorage in Chicago and Phoenix and Minneapolis.”

“About 70 percent of all Native Americans do not live on reservations and live specifically within sort of metropolitan statistical areas all over the country. Our work really centers around that and it centers around just the magnificent work that these organizations on the ground. These are the organizations that our people come to when they need help for anything, for help, for culture, for community, for connection. These urban Indian orgs throughout the country are doing some of the most important work out there.”

“We're now in the second wave of this. And we're seeing the second wave of shutdowns and knowing that, you know, we may be seeing evictions and work workforce impacts, health impacts, mental health impacts, funding impacts. So we know this is hitting the Native nonprofit sector pretty hard.”

Mark Trahant:

“In 2020, we lost art. We lost music. We lost hunters and fishers journalists. We lost daughters. We lost sisters and grandparents and we lost leaders.”

“Maxine Edmo advocated for her Bannock people and for tribes across the country, she was a community leader and an educator appointed by president Jimmy Carter to the Indian Education Advisory board. She was a translator and she taught the bannock language. She even illustrated children's books.”

“Byron Mallott, Tlingit, was elected Lieutenant governor of Alaska. Leaders, soldiers and police officers. Eddie Benton Benet was a leader on so many levels, a spiritual one, as well as one of the founders of the American Indian movement.”

“Sadly, we cannot note all of those. We lost this year. This is a tiny reflection of those lives who have touched us.”

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Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. She is also the anchor of the weekday newscast. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

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