Jaelynn LittleBear IS A YOUTH INTERN WITH Pueblo Action Alliance, A GRANTEE OF THE NEW SONGS RISING INITIATIVE. Photo COURTESY OF Pueblo Action Alliance.
Jaelynn LittleBear IS A YOUTH INTERN WITH Pueblo Action Alliance, A GRANTEE OF THE NEW SONGS RISING INITIATIVE. Photo COURTESY OF Pueblo Action Alliance.

The total amount of philanthropic dollars committed to support girls and women of color is vanishingly small—less than 1% of the $66.9 billion provided by foundations in 2017, according to a report from the Ms. Foundation for Women. And the amount Indigenous women and girls receive is microscopic—just 2.6% of that already tiny sum.

In response to what Monique Morris, president and CEO of Grantmakers For Girls of Color (G4GC) calls the “ridiculous underinvestment in Indigenous girls,” G4GC partnered with Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples to create the New Songs Rising Initiative.

Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) may be just a few years old, but it’s on the move. As IP reported previously, it became a standalone entity last year, bringing Morris on board to head the organization. G4GC recently announced the first round of grants through its Black Girl Freedom Fund and the #1Billion4BlackGirls Campaign, a drive to invest $1 billion in Black girls and young women over the next 10 years (read more about the initiative here).

Now, G4GC is teaming up with the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples on the new initiative. In its inaugural slate of grants, New Songs Rising will invest over $500,000 in eight organizations serving Indigenous girls and women. The grants will range in size from $30,000 to $50,000 and New Songs Rising is just getting started, with another round of funding on the way later this year.

Tia Oros Peters, Seventh Generation Fund’s CEO, said of the partnership with G4GC: “Until this partnership, philanthropy has been reluctant, and largely ignored Indigenous women, girls and our peoples. We recognized in each other the opportunity to unite and create change for the sector, but mostly for Indigenous peoples and our futures.”

New songs 

The Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples was established in 1977, almost 45 years ago; Oros Peters calls the organization “the grandmother of Native foundations.”

The New Songs Rising Initiative is part of the organization’s Thriving Women program. The goal, according to Program Coordinator Alex Gonzales, is to “empower and uplift community-organized, grassroots, Indigenous-women-led and serving projects,” she said. “The projects are addressing, preventing and remedying violence against women; they are also uplifting a lot of traditional matrilineal knowledge and cultural practices, and revitalizing coming-of-age ceremonies.”

Oros Peters underscores the connection between environmental exploitation and violence against Indigenous women and girls. She points to the “man camps” that house workers in areas of resource extraction, like mining and pipeline projects. “The camps result in human trafficking, sexual violence, and missing and murdered Indigenous women, which is epidemic not only in the so-called U.S. and Canada, but throughout the Indigenous world,” she says.

Several New Songs Rising grantees focus on environmental and gender violence, working to protect both Indigenous communities and their land and water. Under the partnership, G4GC and Seventh Generation will each fund four different organizations. Seventh Generation is funding Dances with Words, Pueblo Action Alliance, Ho’opae Pono Peace Project, and Iakionhnhehkwen (We Sustain Life). Grantmakers for Girls of Color grantees include Protect the Sacred (a project of HARNESS), Restoring Justice for Indigenous Peoples, Hmong American Women’s Association and Xinachtli Comadres National Colectiva (XCNC).

The groups take different approaches to supporting and empowering Indigenous girls and women— fostering leadership through storytelling and poetry, protecting Indigenous resources, languages and cultural practices, advocating for Indigenous youth in the juvenile justice system, and rediscovering and celebrating girls’ coming of age ceremonies.

The approaches of the organizations are all different, but they share a common goal, according to Oros Peters: “To support young women and their Two Spirit relatives in achieving their dreams of what a healthy future could look like in all its different manifestations.”

Abundance vs. deficit

Will New Songs Rising spur other philanthropies to step up their support of Indigenous girls and other girls of color? Oros Peters believes that is already happening, and she credits this movements in part to the growing number of women of color now working in philanthropy.

“We’re seeing some resonance amongst other potential partners. There are beautiful partners that are stepping forward and saying, ‘What can we do?’” she said. “I think this has a lot to do with a number of very insightful, brilliant, powerful Black and Indigenous and brown women who are now in philanthropic positions. People are stepping forward together, and women are stepping forward together. I hope it’s an inspiration to others in philanthropy to catch up.”

Monique Morris, for her part, wants the new initiative to steer away from what she calls a “deficit model” of philanthropy. “Clearly, when we think about opportunities for investment, we think about areas where there are disproportionately negative conditions and harms,” she said. “But what we’re trying to do through this partnership and through all our funds is to identify where there are articulations and strategies for resistance to oppression that center the well-being and engagement of young people standing in their truth. We’re thinking about how we can move through a lens of abundance rather than deficit, so instead of focusing on all the things that are negative and all the things that are producing harm, we’re supporting ways young people are cultivating community, supporting cultural practices, and facilitating new opportunities.”

As Oros Peters put it, “There have been centuries of repression, yes, but these projects are not only centered on the tragedy and the trauma and the sadness, but also on the revitalization, the healing, the blossoming, the beauty, and yes, the new songs.”