Investing in Native Communities

by Edgar Villanueva

Schott Vice President of Programs and Advocacy Edgar Villanueva is a board member of Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP), and wrote the foreword below for the pathbreaking new report "Investing in Native Communities," produced by NAP and Candid. Read the report and explore the new website.

It’s been said that “whoever holds the data tells the story.” Our story is a difficult one, due to the history of colonization and genocide in the United States and around the world. Because of this, Indigenous peoples have historically not been authors of our own narratives. But thanks to the work of Native Americans in Philanthropy, other Native-led organizations, and Indigenous leaders inside philanthropic institutions, many donors are becoming aware of this history and the resulting trauma that continues to plague our communities.

Still, too much of our story remains invisible—to policymakers, to mainstream culture, and to philanthropy. This has resulted in historical underfunding from the philanthropic sector (Native Americans receive 0.4 percent of grant dollars, on average, although we represent 2 percent of the population) as well as instability in year-over-year funding levels. With only 20 percent of large foundations giving to Native communities and causes—many of these intermittently—long-term relationship building between Native communities and the philanthropic sector becomes incredibly challenging.

Nonetheless, our current story is also one of resilience and opportunity—and powerful Native-led work that is building community, increasing power and leadership, and preserving our cultures. The world is now looking to our communities for solutions and leadership across sectors—from environmental conservation to innovative entrepreneurship to cultural preservation. Even the field of philanthropy, which is grappling with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, is looking to us for ways to better integrate these values into practice.

Our work at Native Americans in Philanthropy engages philanthropy in learning about Native peoples, our culture, and history while challenging the sector to explore its own history. We also work to increase the sector’s awareness of how it can better support existing and emerging Native-led solutions with a spirit of reciprocity. Noticing a need for greater field-wide data and resources, NAP partnered with Candid to spark sector-wide discourse and visibility about investments in Native peoples and communities.

This report and the accompanying web portal,, will be invaluable to philanthropic practitioners on this learning journey. It provides access to the most recent data about funding in Native communities and contextualizes the data with our history and our voices about how philanthropy can adopt more equitable practices. In addition, the portal will help practitioners find and connect with organizations and peers who are grounded in this work across a range of issue areas. I believe that the data contained and contextualized by these tools will make the formerly invisible more visible.

I’d like to thank all who have contributed to the making of this report and online portal. A special thanks to Candid, the funders of this project, the advisory committee, and the board and staff of Native Americans in Philanthropy for this labor of love. It is our hope that through this work, we can inspire new thinking about philanthropy’s relationship with Native communities and foster intentional investments specifically to Native-led organizations. Money can be medicine if it’s deployed in love and given in ways to restore, repair, and heal. Let the healing begin!

Read the full report here >

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