Native Youth Education & Health: Is Philanthropy up to the Challenge?

In recent years, philanthropy has experienced a surge of interest in supporting racial equity across this country. It’s an encouraging trend, but our sector has a great deal of work ahead of us to counter a long history of neglect of Native American organizations. To put it in perspective: Native Americans make up 2 percent of our country’s population, yet their communities receive less than 0.3 percent of philanthropic dollars.

The Schott Foundation for Public Education in partnership with Native Americans in Philanthropy, with support from Nike N7, recently released a set of recommendations for helping Native youth live healthy lives. These recommendations came directly from Native American leaders who hold expertise across health, physical fitness, education and youth development sectors. The report, Original Instructions, outlines both challenges and opportunities to philanthropy. It’s a first step towards using our resources to recognize and learn from the resilient Native youth.

For example, here are key things philanthropy can do to support Native youth by strengthening public education:

  • Move dollars to community controlled solutions. Native peoples and communities know their communities and are in the best position to decide what will work best for them.
  • Invest in supports-based education, rather than standards-based education. The goal is not delivering test scores, but completing what our ancestors want us to do.
  • Invest in innovation. Transcendental meditation and mindfulness have supported students with focus and empathy in Native-controlled schools. More is needed with regard to testing trauma-informed teaching models. Philanthropic support can demonstrate effectiveness that can then spread through a broader system-wide approach.
  • Support safe schools. Native youth talk about needing schools to be a safe place of support. Invest in efforts to create healthy and safe learning environments for Native youth.
  • Invest in all youth. National philanthropic work around men and boys of color is admirable, but alone insufficient. There is a need to focus on women and girls of color being engaged in their future, as well as gender non-conforming youth.
  • Resist the reservation-urban binary. It’s not enough for philanthropy to only fund on reservations or in urban places. To elevate outcomes for Native youth, efforts must be inclusive of all Native youth, wherever they reside.
  • Rely on trusted relationships. Understanding Native history and context can be difficult, given that the mainstream educational system does not do a very good job of educating Americans about Native history and contemporary peoples. It’s okay not to know everything. Cultivate relationships with Native peoples, organizations, and networks to help you navigate the details.
  • Value Indigenous worldviews. It’s important to respect and understand what success looks like from an Indigenous perspective. Funders must make sure evaluations and reporting tools don’t unintentionally impose a Western worldview onto an Indigenous program.
  • Support school-community partnerships. Although schools themselves are often overtaxed with responsibilities, local community-based organizations are positioned to manage extracurricular programming on school campuses.

As the report concludes:

Every day, Native youth and communities demonstrate the ability to thrive and persevere despite historical, structural and institutional inequities. We appeal to philanthropy to invest in the strengths and assets of our communities, and stand ready to partner with us over the long term to reverse the historic under-investment in Native communities.

By working in partnership, funders believe that we will see Native communities make great strides in healing, restoration, and advancement of our greatest resource – our youth. Native youth have shown that they are invested in a better future – not just for Native people, but for all Americans. Philanthropy is hereby challenged to take the lead and invest in the power of their potential to create social change. If you stand for justice in this country, we urge you to stand with and invest in Native youth.

Learn more and download the report here.

Are you a funder or organization interested in partnering with Schott to support Native youth? Please contact Schott Vice President Edgar Villanueva to learn more.