Depending on what weather vane one is observing, the field of philanthropy is either making important strides within communities of color and identity-based philanthropy or it continues to crawl with limited understanding. Whatever your outlook, for Native Americans, the reality is total foundation giving has steadily declined as a share of total foundation giving since 2000.  In 2009, one-third of one percent of total U.S. foundation giving was directed toward Native American issues and causes[1].  Today, of all philanthropic funding by large U.S. foundations, only 0.4% or $2.8 billion on average is directed to Native communities.

This means that Native peoples, the Indigenous inhabitants of this continent, for the most part, are not a part of the philanthropic consciousness of this country.  Therefore, it is difficult to participate in a meaningful dialogue and critique around equity in philanthropy when, in fact, Native Americans are barely an afterthought. In 2009, 1,400 foundations were surveyed by the Foundation Center regarding their giving to Native causes and people.  Incredibly, 1,149 of these foundations gave zero grants to Native causes and people.

This country and its wealth holders have worked extremely hard to erase from our national collective consciousness how their wealth has been amassed.  Be clear, it is not by accident that these philanthropic facts and figures are present today and that Native people and issues are largely missing from the narratives of most U.S. foundations.  As long as U.S. foundations support platforms absent of any acknowledgement of the Indigenous people of this country, advancing equity in philanthropy will be incomplete.

So how do we become a part of the consciousness and narrative?  A first step requires institutional willingness by foundations to even desire to engage in a process of understanding and relationship building with Native peoples and their issues. Not surprisingly, what one will find through this process are rewarding experiences, enhanced learning, great people and opportunities that mirror programmatic interests of U.S. foundations.

[1] Mukai, Reina and Lawrence, Steven. (2011) Foundation Funding for Native American Issues and People, The Foundation Center in cooperation with Native American in Philanthropy.