Native Voices Rising Grantee Profiles
To date, Native Voices Rising has supported 32 dynamic organizations that are engaged in a wide range of activities to build community leadership and improve the well being of Native communities. The following grantee profiles provide a snapshot of several grantee organizations and the impact that they are having.
A number of NVR grantees work to strengthen the voice and representation of Native American communities in the electoral process and protect the right to vote. In New Mexico, the Native American Voters Alliance-Education Project works to improve the quality of life for working class Native American communities in New Mexico through organizing, leadership development, and voter engagement strategies. New Mexico, which has the second highest proportion of Native American residents in the nation (10.2 percent of the total state population), prohibited Native people from voting until 1962, making it the last state to finally enfranchise Native Americans. NAVA Education Project reaches thousands of Native voters each year through voter registration, education and mobilization efforts. The organization is also playing an important role by linking voter engagement and policy advocacy strategies. Over the past two years NAVA-Education Project has engaged its members in advocating on a range of issues that impact Native communities including increasing the minimum wage, increasing access to early childhood services, and education reform to increase access to a quality education for Native youth.
Indian People’s Action (IPA) pictured here is another example of a group that works on voter engagement. IPA works to empower Indians in Montana to address the social, economic, racial inequities, and environmental injustices that impact their lives. IPA works to achieve its mission by combining organizing, voter engagement, and advocacy while training and developing low-income Native American leaders. They currently have over 200 active members and engage a larger number of community members through their events, trainings, actions and voter engagement activities. Montana is among the top five states with the highest percentage of Native American residents (Alaska (14.3%), Oklahoma (7.5%), New Mexico (9.1%), South Dakota (8.5%), and Montana (6.8%). IPA has prioritized working in Montana’s urban areas and in the towns adjacent to Montana’s seven Indian reservations. The organizations has been actively working to expand civic participation and defend voting rights, particularly for voters on and around the Northern Cheyenne, Crow, and Fort Belknap reservations. Through their voter engagement efforts, the organization learned that one of the causes for low rates of voter registration and participation was a lack of access to voter registration and polling sites. Some reservation residents would have to drive over 100 miles to cast their vote. IPA worked with the Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes to file a voting rights violation lawsuit against the Secretary of State and the three counties that were refusing to establish accessible polling sites. Ultimately, they succeeded in winning a settlement that resulted in the establishment of new polling sites on each of the three reservations. IPA is a member of Montana Organizing Project, a statewide multi-issue organization dedicated to social, economic and racial justice issues – working with faith, labor and community organizations and community members at large.
A number of grantees led intensive leadership development and organizing trainings for Native community members. While there has been little philanthropic investment in this work, organizations in various parts of the country have taken it upon themselves to expand training and leadership opportunities for Native organizers from the Emerging Indigenous Leaders Institute in Nevada to NACDI’s Organizing and Leadership Institute (profiled below), as well as the Advanced Native Organizers Training that has been spearheaded by the Native Organizers Alliance and has drawn participants from different parts of the country.
In Minnesota, the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) brings together Native nonprofit and entrepreneurial leaders to build capacity, alignment and leadership to advance opportunity and social and economic change that benefits Native communities. NACDI received support for their Organizing and Leadership Institute (OLI), which has now graduated two cohorts of young leaders. The Institute provides participants with skills training and mentorship designed to help them increase their efficacy as leaders and equip them with hands-on experience on how to build power in their communities. During the last grant period, participants in the Institute also helped to organize the successful campaign to officially change the name of “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous People’s Day” in the City of Minneapolis. NACDI’s effective organizing ultimately led to the unanimous approval of the change by the Minneapolis City Council in spring 2014. The organization reported that this was a very exciting victory for the Native American community in Minneapolis while also receiving national attention. The organization estimates that nearly 2,000 community members were engaged in the organization’s work. This campaign enabled the organization and its members to strengthen their voice and influence with local officials, which they hope will translate into even greater gains moving forward. The group’s young leaders have learned how civic processes work and have gained a taste of how civic engagement can result in positive change.
Culturally, it is the norm for Native groups to be composed of members across generations. Therefore, Native Voices Rising grantees are often multi-generational, and often incorporate youth programs. Note that in the pilot round 84% of grantees reported working with youth and 90% with elders. For instance, the Black Mesa Water Coalition has pioneered key public policy victories and involves young leaders in its work.
Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) works to empower Navajo and Hopi communities in order to advance environmental justice, Indigenous rights, and build healthy sustainable communities. The organization was founded by youth leaders in 2001 and continues to be strongly led by young adults while relying on an inter-generational support network. BMWC first made national headlines in 2005 when they, together with a group of allied organizations, succeeded in shutting down Peabody Coal Company’s Black Mesa Mine and the associated Mojave Generating Station that had been excavating and polluting Native lands for nearly 50 years. Since that time they have continued organizing, building leadership, and engaging in strategic advocacy at both the tribal and state levels in order to put an end to the reliance on fossil fuel development and transition the region to a sustainable, culturally-rooted and community-owned economy. They have approximately 75 community members that are highly engaged in their programs and campaigns and a broader network of over 400 community supporters. Their remarkable string of successes include the passage of tribal legislation for the Navajo Nation Green Economy Fund; the protection of Navajo water rights through the defeat of Arizona SB 2019 – the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Agreement; and most recently they set a precedent with their successful appeal to the California Public Utilities Commission for the creation of a clean energy revolving fund from proceeds resulting from the shutdown of the Mojave Generating Station. This pioneering victory rooted in an understanding of California’s climate law and implementation mechanisms, ensures that the group will have the funds needed to pursue a healthier future for community members. The organization also works to link its local work with advocacy at the national and international levels for effective and equitable solutions to climate change, and is a leader in the national Climate Justice Alliance.
The Gwich’in Steering Committee (GSC) was founded in 1988 when elders called upon the chiefs of all Gwich’in villages from Canada to Alaska to come together for a traditional gathering – the first in more than a century – to address the threat of oil development in “the sacred place where life begins,” the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Together they formed the Gwich’in Steering Committee as a vehicle to ensure that the voices of the Gwich’in community would be heard and respected from Alaska to the halls Washington, DC and the United Nations. Since that time, the organization has consistently engaged and strengthened the leadership of Gwich’in communities in the high-profile battle to protect the Gwich’in culture and way of life, and prevent oil development in the Arctic Refuge. One of the organization’s central organizing tactics has been to revitalize and sustain the old tradition of bringing the community together for an annual gathering of the Gwich’in Nation. Each year the organization brings together hundreds of community members and leaders from the 15 Gwich’in villages in Northeast Alaska and Northwest Canada for a unique combination of cultural events, workshops and strategy meetings that are designed to simultaneously celebrate Gwich’in culture and maintain broad community engagement in the effort to protect Gwich’in human rights and traditional subsistence livelihoods. In total, the organization estimates that they engaged nearly 2000 community members through its various activities over the last year. The GSC’s organizing combined with their statewide and national civic engagement and advocacy efforts have helped defeat numerous legislative attempts to approve oil development in the Arctic Refuge. In January 2015, after broad advocacy for executive action, the Obama Administration announced its recommendation that the Arctic Refuge be granted wilderness status. While congressional approval is required for the creation of new wilderness areas, this victory means that the area will receive the highest level of protection until either congress or a future administration takes action.