Back in June, when the unmarked graves of children were found via ground-penetrating radar at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, I was profoundly shocked, and I wanted to do something. I saw that two Indigenous people had created a Go Fund Me campaign to raise a comparatively small amount – I think their goal was about $25,000 – and I contributed what I could afford. The amounts grew so rapidly that they soon reached somewhere like $170,000, and were able to help two bands arrange for the ground-penetrating radar to search their areas.
I was thinking about that when I read recently in the New Humanitarian that Indigenous groups in the US have received a massive outpouring of support from ordinary people who had learned about their needs via media coverage of the pandemic, which hit Indigenous people very hard. Go Fund Me and others like PayPal has made it possible for all of us to be givers – philanthropists, even if we don’t have a lot to give individually.
In total, $32.2 million was donated to Indigenous communities through GoFundMe campaigns between March and October 2020. Of that total, ordinary people donated at least $8.7 million while another $23.4 million was donated to Indigenous communities from organizations.
A good chunk of that organizational amount may have come from MacKenzie Scott, who donated massive amounts of money to 286 groups, in the US and internationally, in June.
This level of support is a huge change. In 2019, just half of one percent of all philanthropic funds were directed towards Native communities, said Native Americans in Philanthropy executive director Erik Stegman ((Carry the Kettle First Nation – Nakoda).
“Native people care deeply about their relatives and relations and this kind of investment will help NAP support a growing network of Indigenous leadership in the philanthropic sector,” he said. “Together, we’re helping move money to Native people and organizations that are making a difference on the issues that matter to our communities — and we’re doing it with a focus on healing so that we can turn the tide on intergenerational trauma.”
“I’m very optimistic,” Stegman said of the massive donations. “There’s this consciousness in the public, across the board, that didn’t used to be there.”
Today, the median income for Native households on the reservations, $29,097, is less than half the median household for white Americans. Native Americans on and off reservation have the highest poverty rate of any race in the US, at 25.4% – compared with the US rate of 11.4%.
“We struggle day to day with an invisibility issue,” Stegman said. “The only thing most people really understand about our communities is what they get from their middle or high school textbook, which is not much and that’s often a really bad narrative. It tends to dwell on our historical traumas and not our contemporary cultural strengths.”
One of the stories that the New Humanitarian article shares is this one:
“On a cold April morning in Gallup, New Mexico – a small city surrounded by Indian reservations for the Zuni, Navajo, Acoma Pueblo, and Laguna Pueblo tribes – 31-year-old Krystal Curley (Navajo Nation) is in the driver’s seat of a 26-foot box truck.Curley is the executive director of Indigenous Lifeways – a Native-led non-profit that is ingrained in the communities it serves. Her truck is filled with blankets and pallets of canned water donated by American actor Sean Penn’s organisation, CORE. She left Gallup and in just 15 minutes was driving on the Navajo reservation – a sovereign entity larger in area than 10 US states.
Curley said her organisation’s funding has increased by a multiple of eight during the pandemic, fuelled by both small PayPal donations from individuals and larger grants from organisations. She and others have been working tirelessly to use those donations to provide pandemic relief and address the reservation’s underlying challenges.
“I just want for my community to have jobs, to have a roof over their head, to have clean water, to have clean energy, to have food at their table,” she said. “For so long, so many generations, we had to live without all of that.”.
Indigenous Life Ways (ILW) began as a collective action, culture-based organization in 1987 as the Southwest Indigenous Uranium Forum. In its 30 years, it has worked with over 150 Tribal communities and convened a gathering of Indigenous peoples from Alaska, North America, Bolivia, and Japan near Acoma Pueblo to discuss uranium developments and share knowledge, experiences, and strategies combating nuclear power worldwide.
It is Indigenous-led and plugged into its community. Curley has used funding to deliver essential goods – food boxes, water, and firewood – directly to family’s homes as the virus and strict lockdowns have made shopping illegal and unsafe. “[People] understood that if you just gave us a chance and gave us some money and invested in us, we can do it. Just give it to us and trust us – just do it,” Curley said. “I feel like I’m finally being heard.”
Although it has been more than a year since the pandemic first spiked on the Navajo Nation in the spring of 2020, Curley told the New Humanitarian that donations are still flowing in for her organisation and she has been turning her attention to long-term solutions – like solar panels – while remaining vigilant of the fast-spreading Delta variant.
She attributes the increase in financial support to media attention during the pandemic. “It’s like a portal that’s opened,” she said. “I was brought up [to think] of this world [as] like a battery. And there’s always a negative and there’s always a positive. We experienced COVID, it is negative, it is horrible.” But, she added, “You give us flour, lard and salt, and we make fry bread.”
“Because of COVID, because we had that spotlight, we had the mic for once. And the whole world was looking at us. And we took it, and we really tried to change something. And I think that’s the most beautiful thing about it,” she said. “Continue to look at us. Don’t forget us. Because we’re still out here struggling.”
Blessings to all you folks who contributed that $8.7 million to help Indigenous communities during the pandemic. And once the pandemic is finally over, keep thinking about them, and sending them support.
How COVID-19 put Native American needs on the aid map. The New Humanitarian, Oct. 26, 2021
Indigenous Community Leadership In Response to COVID-19. Native Americans in Philanthropy.
COVID deaths of Native Americans linked to limited access to resources and healthcare. USA Today, Oct. 20, 2020