Native American Heritage Month was first established as a celebration of Indigenous cultures and a time to reflect on our shared history. However, only recently has our country begun to have honest conversations about that history and its ongoing impact on Native peoples in America. As this year’s Native American Heritage Month draws to a close, we now have an opportunity and an obligation to go further by committing to real action to address historical wrongs through healing—and a new, innovative partnership bringing together the state with the largest Native population and an Indigenous-led nonprofit demonstrates the pivotal role philanthropy can play in moving our country forward.
On Indigenous Peoples’ Day last month, the California Truth and Healing Council, a collaborative of Native peoples, state actors, and non-state allies convened by Gov. Gavin Newsom, announced a new partnership with the Decolonizing Wealth Project, an Indigenous-led organization that offers truth, reconciliation and healing through education, reparative giving and wealth redistribution, and narrative change. The partnership marks a first-of-its-kind, at-scale effort to begin addressing the ongoing effects of historical trauma for Native American communities through healing, uplifting stories and philanthropic resources.
The philanthropic community is critical to this partnership, offering funders inside and outside of California a unique opportunity to support holistic truth and reconciliation. The partnership seeks to raise a multimillion-dollar grantmaking program supported by philanthropic partners that will support healing opportunities, providing resources for the Native community to engage in the process, and to advocate for the adoption and implementation of recommendations that come from the Council as a result of this process. Those resources also will help build a healing collaborative, including Native and non-Native people across the state, who will lean on traditional practices to offer support for those coping with trauma unearthed through the process. Throughout the entire journey, Native-led storytelling will share the human face of those directly hurt by these historical wrongs and those working for a better future.
For many California Native Americans, this new partnership brings the exciting—but difficult—possibility of unvarnished truth and honest healing. The process undoubtedly will surface conversations, themes and memories that will resurface trauma for both Native and non-Native peoples, while also providing a necessary opportunity for justice and accountability.
“California Native peoples have not forgotten the true history of the State of California,” said Council Member and Vice Chairman Frankie Myers of the Yurok Tribe in northern California, when announcing the partnership. “Through philanthropy, and the healing tools it will empower us to provide, we are excited to advocate for real change through reparative justice.”
This journey will also touch non-Native people, many of whom will have to reckon with how they continue to personally benefit from the legacies of colonization that traumatized and oppressed their neighbors. Native peoples across the country have borne witness to near genocide and their continued erasure for centuries, leaving individuals dehumanized and communities fractured. These traumas have created intergenerational economic damage; Native Americans have only 8 cents of wealth for every dollar that the average white American household has, according to a recent study. But this short-term pain of unearthing past traumas is necessary for both Native and non-Native peoples. Only when our country prioritizes action through truth and healing can we begin to right these wrongs and move toward collective reconciliation.
Key leaders in the philanthropic world are starting to awaken to philanthropy’s power to support Native communities just as elected officials are seeking truth, reconciliation and healing. This year, with support from the Decolonizing Wealth Project, the Bush Foundation pledged $100 million in reparative support for wealth-building activities for Black and Native communities. Governments are also taking action. The U.S. Congress recently re-introduced a bill to establish a formal commission to investigate and acknowledge past injustices around Native American boarding schools. In Canada, the government established this year its first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which started as a recommendation from a report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. These philanthropic and government leaders have come to understand that in order for healing to occur, we must acknowledge the horrific history and impacts of policies on marginalized individuals and communities.
The path to healing is long and difficult. But our country has an opportunity, and now a roadmap, that can inspire the philanthropic community to do its part in this process of reckoning and repair by offering increased engagement and funding. As we look back on this year’s Native American Heritage Month, and ahead toward a better future, it’s no longer enough for those of us in the philanthropic community, and beyond, only to honor Native cultures with words and no action. From government to funders and other private entities, we have an exciting opportunity to take responsibility for our part in the healing process and to support Indigenous communities—and to help us all heal together. The way forward is there. It’s now up to all of us to follow it.
Edgar Villanueva, an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, is an author, activist, and expert on social justice philanthropy. He is the author of Decolonizing Wealth and founder and principal of Decolonizing Wealth Project and Liberated Capital.
Christina Snider, an enrolled member of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, serves as Tribal Advisor to California Governor Gavin Newsom.