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Indigenous Communities Deserve Care—Here’s How CSR Can Help

Corporate commitments to Native communities need to go beyond awareness and visibility. It will take dedicated support to fill the growing gaps.


 

Since 1990, national efforts to celebrate the traditions, languages, and stories of Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and affiliated island communities have expanded. These efforts aim to ensure their rich histories and contributions thrive. Companies across the United States have joined in honoring these communities.

But it sparks the question: Is this just optics?

An awakening of new support for Native causes has followed in the past couple of years, including the shift away from Colombus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day and a new annual Native Nonprofit Day launched in 2022 by Native Ways Federation. Along with Native American Heritage Month celebrated every November, companies that support Indigenous communities have the opportunity to leverage these events to create positive social impact.

But even with two new national days for Native communities gaining momentum and talk of decolonization, diversity, equity, and inclusion sweeping through many spaces, Native causes remain severely underfunded. While Native Americans and Alaska Natives represent 2.9% of the US population, data shows Native-serving causes receive just 0.4% of philanthropy dollars. Josh Arce, leader of the Partnership With Native Americans asks, “Where’s the CSR and DEI for Native Americans?” A handful of companies have stepped up with charitable giving, with varying motives and levels of investments.

    Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Bank of America committed a combined $13 million to capital financial investments and charitable giving to address health, hunger, and jobs-related needs in Native communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

    Wells Fargo launched an initiative for Native communities, committing $20 million to address housing, small business, financial health, and sustainability needs in six US states. But this may only start to repair the harm the bank has caused. In 2019, Wells Fargo paid the Navajo Nation $6.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the bank took advantage of older citizens who didn’t speak English, among other unethical and unlawful practices.

    Some companies have recognized that support for Indigenous communities is aligned with their existing equity goals. As part of their outdoor accessibility initiatives, The VF Foundation awarded $100,000 to the Trust for Public Land’s Tribal Lands Program. The donation supported a Tribal and Indigenous Summit accelerating the work of 11 Indigenous leaders and is helping develop green schoolyards in partnership with the Bureau of Indian Education.

    LUSH is supporting Native land preservation by funding land defenders and water protectors around the world, aiming to raise $350,000. They’re selling a special edition product where 100% of the purchase price will fund the work of two nonprofits, Indigenous Peoples Rights International and Blue Planet Project.

Leaders in Native communities have been vocal about the importance of funding Native causes and, especially, Native-led organizations. “For Native communities, our work is based on connection, relationship, and love. Philanthropy must work to heal divisions,” Edgar Villanueva (Lumbee), author of “Decolonizing Wealth,” said. “Money must be a tool for building relationships and love, rather than a tool for exploitation or power.”

Barriers remain to Native communities accessing corporate funding, such as policies and processes that don’t support tribal entities registered with IRS 7871 status. As companies create Employee Resource Groups to direct some grant dollars to communities, employees with Native identities might be underrepresented and, therefore, rarely have their own groups or philanthropy budgets. With enough creativity and curiosity, companies can overcome obstacles of visibility and access to make waves in funding important needs in Native communities. Raising awareness alone is not enough.

GlobalGiving is proud to partner with nonprofits listening to and healing Native communities, including Seeding Sovereignty, Native American Advancement Foundation, and Highland Support Project.

GlobalGiving can help you support nonprofits in Indigenous nations and countries around the world. Contact us to learn more.

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Featured Photo: Support Reforestation Across the Indigenous West by Trees Water & People

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