The Overlooked: Foundation Support for AAPI/Native American Leaders and Communities project and its findings must serve as an abrupt wake-up call for foundations and the philanthropic industry as a whole. While we are not entirely surprised by the findings and commonalities that our organization shares with our Indigenous nonprofit counterparts in terms of foundation support, we are eager to experience the impacts that this project will bring to not only our efforts as an Indigenous organization but also the impacts this will have on our Indigenous relatives moving forward. It is time for foundations to stop hiding under the guise of embracing diversity, equity and inclusion within their efforts while overlooking entire populations such as Indigenous and Asian Americans/Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

It would be remiss to not acknowledge the potential negative impacts that we and other participants in this project face in terms of current and future funding from foundations. Foundations hold immense power over nonprofit organizations in terms of access to vital funding and resources. We hope that foundations and other philanthropic organizations seeking to reach Indigenous populations utilize this report as a starting point to increase the representation and accessibility of Native communities within their philanthropic efforts. We recognize that this will not happen overnight and without growing pains, but we must build relationships and work together to achieve shared goals and outcomes.

Growing up in a Meskwaki and Dakota household, I was always taught the importance of the concept of “mitakuye oyasin,” which roughly translates to “we are all related.” In addition to this concept, it was also instilled in me to follow the seven Dakota Values. These values include Praying, Respect, Caring and Compassion, Honesty and Truth, Generosity and Caring, Humility, and Wisdom. Throughout childhood, my mom always talked about everything as related, from the food we prepared for our bodies to the spirit plates for our ancestors who are no longer with us and understanding and respecting the sacredness of all living things. I am thankful to carry that with me in everything I do so my children too can live this way of life for their grandchildren.

In my years of experience working with foundations and other funding organizations, I have struggled with foundations whose models and frameworks do not incorporate these Indigenous values into the efforts we are undertaking. The importance of relationships and interrelatedness within Indigenous communities is deeply embedded in cultural and historical contexts. As highlighted in CEP’s report, another Indigenous nonprofit leader said, “The foundation made a positive impact because the relationship was about working together to find a solution to the problem.”

Read the full article about building relationships with Native communities by Melissa Buffalo at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.