The Unusual Northwest Area Foundation, Devoting 40 Percent to Natives

Mark Fogarty

The Northwest Area Foundation is an unusual foundation based in St. Paul, Minnesota that acknowledges 75 tribal governments in eight states. The unusual aspect comes in the form of earmarking 40 percent of its grants for Native-led organizations.

The eight states covered by the foundation, were served by James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railway in the 19th Century. It was started by his son, Louis W. Hill, in 1934. Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington are the eight states.

“The wealth of our region is rooted in Native lands and communities,” says the foundation,and we’re committed to both acknowledging and honoring that history. That’s why we’re devoting 40 percent of new grant dollars to Native-led organizations working to advance economic, social and cultural prosperity in the urban, suburban and reservation communities that anchor our region.”

The foundation has targeted three Northwest tribes with venture grants totaling $26 million to fight poverty on the homelands of the Lummi Nation, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

— The North Dakota-based Turtle Mountain tribe has used its $10 million grant in a number of ways, including starting and capitalizing a CDFI (community development financial institution). The tribe has also developed a local transit center, a baseball field, a horse racing track and other assets.

— The South Dakota-based CRST has invested its $9.5 million grant towards projects like building six learning centers, working with CDFI Four Bands Community Fund, and establishing a Native Chamber of Commerce.

— The Washington-based Lummi Ventures Community Partnership received $6 million, which it used to start and capitalize a CDFI, collaborated with the tribe to buy trust land and open a Gateway Center to help incubate business by tribal entrepreneurship, as well as other projects.

— Other Indian country investments include a three-year, $1 million grant to First Peoples Fund of Rapid City, South Dakota, to fund a pilot “to bolster the Native arts sector on reservations in three states and beyond. The grant is based on the findings in research presented in a new report by FPF. The data reveals that “many Native artists and cultural bearers are capable of catapulting their artwork into greater self-sufficiency for themselves, their families, and their communities when they have the proper financial tools, training and support networks.”

Other focuses at NAF include the roughly 60 percent of all Native Americans who live off reservations, tribal colleges, including the American Indian College Fund, and social entrepreneurship through CDFIs.

The Foundation made 120 grants in Fiscal 2015 worth $13,417,765 (40 percent of that, the amount targeted for Indian country, would come to more than $5.3 million).

“A disproportionate number of Native Americans, people of color, refugees, immigrants, and rural Americans are living in crisis—or just a paycheck away from it. Nationally, six in 10 families of color don’t have the cash on hand to cover basic expenses—like rent, medical emergencies, or the need to fix a car—for three months,” it says.

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