It’s no secret there is innovation in Indian Country. It is especially apparent in landscape conservation, where Native populations have called on their centuries of knowledge, practices and traditions to honor, maximize and sustain their land for generations. But limits in philanthropic grant guidelines have made it difficult to implement and expand Native approaches and also contribute them as best practices for other conservationists. Now, in efforts to harness this Native innovation for the good of collaboration and progress, the Network for Landscape Conservation is launching a new grant program, opening new doors for Native communities and new collaborative, effective solutions for the environment.
A Mission to Meet
The Network for Landscape Conservation is an umbrella network of more than 250 organizational partners and 3,000 individual practitioners that implement and advance strategies that conserve our natural landscapes. The network supports the evolution of land conservation as a larger and more holistic approach, as people increasingly recognize that landscapes encompass our water, ecosystems, communities, culture, and recreation, and that protecting and sustaining them is essential to people’s identity, health and future.
Conservation at this necessary landscape scale calls for moving beyond piece-meal or top-down approaches and embracing inclusive, community-grounded conservation focused on the health of whole landscapes. And it means collaborating across the private-public land continuum to achieve enduring landscape health.
This essential paradigm shift in conservation has been building for several decades, with landscape-scale partnerships forming in multiple regions across the country, but, according to Network Director Emily Bateson, these groups weren’t talking to each other at first.
“Everyone was recreating the proverbial wheel, trying to figure out how to work collaboratively across large landscapes,” Bateson explains. “The Network was launched in 2011 by more than 25 nonprofit groups, academic institutions, and agencies to connect people to the best resources, and practices, and to each other in order to accelerate the pace of collaboration and conservation on our imperiled landscapes.” The Network is fiscally sponsored by one of its founding organizations, the Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC) in Bozeman, Montana.
Bateson notes that we can all learn from each other as we advance collaborative conservation of whole landscapes, and that we have much to learn in particular from the Native community, which has embraced this holistic approach for thousands of years.
A catalyst for change
The Network is fortunate to operate a new grant awards program to help accelerate the pace and effective practice of place-based, collaborative landscape conservation across the United States, generously funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Hewlett Foundation has specifically designated some of its funding for Native population grants.
Opening the doors to Native populations has required some careful thinking by the Network and CLLC on how to best award money for landscape conservation projects. To that end, they created the Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund, which recognizes that:
“Indigenous collaboratives are often rich with qualities that embody and enhance landscape conservation—including a multigenerational approach, the use of traditional knowledge, the integration of other important societal issues (health, jobs, education, etc.), and a value system that prioritizes symbiotic health between the landscape and its inhabitants.”
Based on this, applying for grants through the Catalyst Fund is open to all Indigenous-led partnerships that are focused on the long-term health of their ecological or cultural landscapes or that focus on advancing and conserving indigenous/aboriginal interests, territories, and rights across a specific landscape.
And yet, Bateson explains how the new Catalyst Fund first required applicants to be designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations – a requirement that excluded many Native organizations, including those with the most need and the most promise in holistic, effective landscape conservation.
The Fund quickly adapted to include applicants with a 7871 designation, an IRS tax code applicable to sovereign nations.
Melly Reuling, deputy director of the CLLC, says that Native communities understand that conservation efforts have an ecological, economic, and cultural impact and that the Catalyst Fund provides an opportunity to build on their efforts, whether they be in wildlife, protecting natural habitats, enforcing hunting and fishing rights or treaty rights, entering into MOUs with other agencies, or other initiatives in conservation.
“CLLC is here specifically for raising money for coordination and collaboration — to get the money to the right groups, and support in Indian communities is an extension of that,” she says. “We all do better work when we’re together.”
Listening and responding
The Catalyst Fund is an example of the philanthropic community listening to the Native community and responding with action. Not only has the eligibility criteria changed, but the Fund also addresses the lack of broadband and internet connectivity issues in Indian Country, as Catalyst Fund Native population applications can be submitted by hard copy instead of online only. The Fund also support webinars and in-person convenings so that grantees – Native and other landscape partnerships – can connect and learn from each other in new and vibrant ways. “We know we have a lot to learn from our Native partners and hope the Catalyst Fund can help facilitate that,” notes Bateson.
To get the word out about the funding opportunity, the Network turned to a Native advisory committee and personal outreach to the Native community, and they received almost 50 indigenous applications in the pre-proposal stage and 271 pre-proposals overall, says Bateson. Applicants may request a one- or two-year grant of $10,000 to $25,000, drawing from $330,000 per year in the overall fund. A request for proposals will be released for the second year of funding in early 2020 and native communities are encouraged to learn more about the effort and apply.
In August 2019, the Network announced 14 grant award recipients, including four Indigenous Communities recipients.
Loren BirdRattler, project manager for the Blackfeet Tribe’s Agriculture Resource Management Plan, is a member of the Network’s leadership and is excited about how the fund can tap into knowledge that the Native community has known all along.
“Indigenous people can be leaders in this field. The Blackfeet alone have been on our land for 15,000 years. They’ve led a spiritual life and they know how people and the land are integrated,” he says. “I would hope that non-Native people could learn from that.”
And there is a lot to learn. According to Reuling, “This is a funding resource people can use to share ideas, form partnerships, and benchmark their own progress,” says Reuling. “This can build bridges where there were none.”
More Inclusive Philanthropy
The call for learning from Native communities is a mandate by the two funders of the Catalyst Fund, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Reuling says that the Network and CLLC are grateful for their support and vision.
Indeed, Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation reports that Hewlett programs are committed to examining how they can expand their networks to new grantees; support field-wide efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion; and be more inclusive of the views of the people their philanthropy ultimately seeks to help.
In backing the Catalyst Fund, the Hewlett Foundation sends a message to the philanthropic community that it is listening and responding to the needs of organizations and agencies trying to effect change.
Lindsay Austin Louie, Program Officer of Philanthropy Grantmaking for the Hewlett Foundation, explains that the Foundation’s Effective Philanthropy Group supports high-quality research by a range of organizations about how to do philanthropy well in order to improve funders’ work. “We know that much of what influences their practice is peers, so it is exciting to see the Catalyst Fund making changes so that their philanthropy will be more inclusive.”
Mike Roberts, President of First Nations Development Institute, which has also received grant funding from Hewlett Foundation for other projects, applauds both foundations and the Network for recognizing the potential inside Indian Country and improving their approaches to making funding available. He cites research contained in First Nations report, “We Need to Change How We Think,” about the declining levels of giving by large foundations, as well as minuscule levels of giving by community foundations, to Native American organizations and causes.
“Seeing the philanthropic community take active steps to make their giving more inclusive is vital to the sustainability and success of Native-led organizations, which are some of the most innovative out there,” Roberts says. “We never doubted whether grants that included the sophisticated practices of Indian people could make a difference, and we now look forward to seeing how practices like this make a long-term difference in philanthropy and grant making.”
Bateson too sees promise in the direction. “It’s our hope that we show people the tremendous value in this area for funding and that the Catalyst Fund continues to grow,” she says. “We’re at the beginning of an important process, and the need is clearly there.”
For more information about the Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund, please see http://landscapeconservation.org/catalyst-fund/, and sign up for the Network e-news to receive future updates.
By Amy Jakober