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.

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.

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.

Read the full article about supporting Indigenous communities by Kayla O'Neill Carriker at GlobalGiving.