In 1990, the United States designated the month of November as Native American Heritage Month. This month is intended as a time to learn about and celebrate the rich and diverse histories and cultures, as well the important contributions, of the 6.9 million Native people and 574 Native nations of the United States. It is also important to recognize that learning about, and honoring, the Indigenous nations and people of this country should not be reserved for one month out of the year. This country was founded on Native land, and the original stewards and caretakers of this land have paid an enormous price as a result. It is important that all Americans learn this collective history, including its present-day impacts, in order for us to heal and move forward as a nation.
How organizations are responding
Longstanding organizations such as Native American Rights Fund and Association on American Indian Affairs have led the way for decades in the protection and assertion of tribal sovereignty, self-determination and the legal and cultural rights of Native nations, organizations and people. However, they need support and resources to further this important work. Natives continue to cope with disparities in areas such as housing, health care, education, and the justice system. Today, Native American children continue to be overrepresented in state child welfare systems (at rates up to 12 times the proportion of the population).
Organizations such as the National Indian Child Welfare Association are working hard to address such disparities. The roots of these issues lie in racial discrimination, broken government treaties, and destructive federal policies, subjects not covered in US schools, but essential in understanding why Native nations and communities remain misunderstood and underserved across multiple sectors. Also, while many of these issues are not new, they are being exacerbated as communities navigate both the short and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and their ability to respond appropriately.
Raising awareness for Native-led nonprofits is a great way to advocate for Native Americans. Organizations like Running Strong for American Indian Youth work to provide reservations with heating assistance in the coldest months. The American Indian College Fund has provided life-changing scholarships to thousands of Native college students. The American Indian Science & Engineering Society is a national nonprofit organization which nurtures community building by bridging science and technology with traditional Native values. As part of their efforts to strengthen American Indian economies, First Nations Development Institute recently released a movie, titled Gather, which lifts up Native resilience as it relates to Indigenous food systems.
How to be an ally
Donating to Native-controlled nonprofits such as these ensures that community-led organizations receive the necessary funding to access and utilize their strengths in addressing disparities. Support for Native nonprofits increases the chances that they can pave the way for a more equitable future.
Native Americans face issues in funding by the philanthropic community. National and local foundations tend to overlook Native nonprofits and organizations, leaving large funding gaps that desperately need to be addressed. Fixing the disparities in giving to Native nonprofits and causes will help organizations seeking equity and fairness and help Native communities that have been underserved for generations.
The fact remains that Native American people and communities are often an afterthought at best when it comes to charitable giving. One solution to the existing funding disparities is to give directly to Native-controlled nonprofits and organizations. Giving to Native-controlled nonprofits best ensures that donor investments will reach the communities they are intended to serve.
“The answers to addressing the systemic inequities of this nation can be found by listening to the voices and leaders from the communities that have been most impacted by them. Organizations that are led by and for communities of color and Indigenous people are on the frontlines of addressing the harm caused by, and dismantling, the oppressive systems their communities face every day. The field of philanthropy needs to support them in this incredibly important work across the nation.”
- Carly Bad Heart Bull (Flandreau Santee Sioux tribal citizen and Executive Director of Native Ways Federation)
This Native American Heritage Month, we hope you take the time to learn more about Native history on this continent as well as the ongoing challenges that Native people and nations face. Find out how you can help and consider donating to the Native-controlled organizations, as they are best equipped to help their people, and communities, thrive.
For more information on the organizations listed above, as well as many others, visit nativeways.org or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Ofira Bondorowsky, Director of Ratings & Nonprofit Engagement at Charity Navigator, and Carly Bad Heart Bull, JD, Flandreau Santee, Executive Director of Native Ways Federation. In 2020, Ms. Bad Heart Bull was instrumental in the curation of Charity Navigator’s Indigenous Peoples & Native-Led Nonprofits Hot Topic featuring 3- and 4-Star rated charities, and the subsequent promotion of several Encompass rated Indigenous and Native-led charities on Charity Navigator’s social media channels.