When the Obama Administration launched Generation Indigenous—an initiative designed to stimulate investment and engagement in supporting the lives of Native youth—in late 2014, Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) was an organization in transition. “We had no executive director and no CEO,” says Sarah Eagle Heart, who became NAP’s chief executive officer in 2015. As a result, NAP was not a major part of the initiative’s rollout. But that changed dramatically once Eagle Heart came onboard and the Obama Administration began seeking ways for Generation Indigenous to carry on beyond the president’s term. “I basically called the White House and said, ‘Can you use some help?’” Eagle Heart recalls.
A membership-based network of nonprofits, tribal communities, and foundations, Minneapolis-based NAP has long served as a connector between grantmakers and Native organizations and communities. But with Generation Indigenous, Eagle Heart saw new opportunity to intensify and invigorate that work. “We were hearing from foundations that wanted to fund organizations supporting Native youth but couldn’t find them,” explains Eagle Heart. Native nonprofits were having similar trouble identifying and interfacing with potential funders. “There were communication gaps and education gaps that needed to be bridged.”
In August 2016, Native Americans in Philanthropy partnered with the White House on a Generation Indigenous event that brought both groups together. The convening featured presentations by 10 Native nonprofits in which they shared with funders the innovation and emerging impact of their work. Each organization saw a surge of investment after the event. “It was really great to see our Native leaders shine,” says Eagle Heart. NAP also used its newsletter and social media platform to introduce the groups and their work to its larger network.
As the White House event was being planned, protests at Standing Rock were gaining the national spotlight. Flooded with calls from would-be funders about how to help, NAP held another Generation Indigenous (now #GenIndigenous) convening at Standing Rock in October 2016. About a dozen funders attended the session, spending time in the camps and talking to nonprofits in that space. They also asked NAP to begin convening regular strategy calls to connect them with the needs on the ground as well as help them present information back to their boards. “We became an intermediary for foundations looking for Standing Rock funding opportunities,” said Eagle Heart. “That gave us the chance to continue educating funders about issues not just at Standing Rock but beyond.”
Since then, NAP has continued “building the organization to be able to be flexible to the opportunities that are coming,” said Eagle Heart. Its #GenIndigenous Rapid Response Fund, for example—offering grants up to $5,000 to Native organizations both led by and serving youth— emerged from this need to act in real time. “It’s a critical moment to support Native young people who are showing a readiness to organize,” says Eagle Heart.
In April 2017, NAP will hold #GenIndigenous convenings in San Francisco and Seattle, with additional regional convenings planned for Southern California, the Southwest, and the Midwest. Eagle Heart sees each as an opportunity to accelerate what she sees as a growing momentum. “Mainstream America is now listening to the fact that Native people haven’t had a seat at the table,” says Eagle Heart. “I think we’re finally at the moment when we are invisible no more. And that’s really, really exciting.”