Native Nonprofits Crucial to Culture, Sovereignty & Growth


In rural and urban Native communities across North America, Native-led nonprofit organizations are experiencing a golden age of growth and development. Faced with a broad array of challenges and opportunities, nonprofit organizations are finding local solutions to local problems. In June, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) released a new report that explores the history of Native and non-Native-led nonprofits in Indian Country and shares findings from interviews with key leaders in the Native nonprofit sector. The report also draws upon a unique dataset to empirically assess the types of nonprofits serving Indian Country as well as some characteristics of Native-led nonprofits.

Funded by the Northwest Area Foundation (NWAF) and titled “A Case for the Native Nonprofit Sector: Advocating for Cultural, Economic and Community Change,” the report looks at the nonprofit sector in eight states that are home to 76 tribal nations. It found that Native nonprofits in these states have been successfully advocating for cultural, economic and community change and continue to contribute to community-building and cultural expression. The interviews with Native nonprofit leaders reveal the ways in which the Native nonprofit sector has protected traditional cultures and advocated for American Indian legal, political and economic rights.

“I think that the Native nonprofit sector in many ways … saved Indian Country,” stated Rick Williams, former president of the American Indian College Fund, who was interviewed for the report.

The report also includes an analysis of data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, which provides the founding dates of nonprofits, their locations, and the types of services they provide. The data indicate that the Native-led nonprofit sector is younger than the non-Native sector – the majority of Native-led nonprofits were founded after 1975 – and the Native-led nonprofit sector appears to be more likely to focus on human services, arts and culture, and education than the non-Native nonprofit sector.

Overall, the report corroborates previous research that found that the Native nonprofit sector is characterized as being young and relatively under-resourced. Previous research also has found that the Native nonprofit sector is disproportionately funded by federal grants and mostly providing education, art/culture or social service programs. Most important, this report corroborates previous research that suggests that the Native nonprofit sector is vital to local economic vitality, is nurturing the next generation of American Indian leaders, and is supporting self-determination for tribes and tribal leaders.

“This report uncovers the tremendous work being done by the Native nonprofit sector. Not only do these organizations bring in significant revenue for the local economy, but they serve a multitude of roles that support Native community vitality and resiliency,” said Michael E. Roberts, First Nations President & CEO. “Still, their lack of funding and relatively young existence demonstrate that the Native nonprofit sector requires greater support from funders, donors and capacity-builders.”

The report concludes with a list of existing programs and models that assist in the growth of the Native nonprofit sector and a set of implications for action to continue supporting the Native nonprofit sector.

The full report is available as a free download from the First Nations online Knowledge Center at (Note: You may have to create a free account if you don’t already have one in order to download the report.)

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