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Amplifying Tribal-led Policy Solutions

Thursday, December 1, 2022
by Dwayne s. Marsh, President and CEO, Northern California Grantmakers

It was a brisk fall morning, with a coastal breeze generously being offered to us in what is known as Humboldt County. The strong connection I was feeling to nature usually came when I was alone, but this was different. Nearly 300 of us were assembled and sharing the experience, connected in support of the Yurok Nation, who were hosting us on their ancestral lands for a traditional welcoming ceremony. Tribal members of all ages were in direct communion with the Earth in a submerged structure that drew your attention to the natural curves of the landscape. I could smell oak-smoked salmon, hear the songs of the Yurok people reverberating on their land, and feel the power of a people reclaiming their sovereignty and heritage. 

I’ve been reflecting on an experience I had last month. I was honored to attend the first Annual Northern California Tribal Policy Summit held in Arcata, California. Hundreds of leaders, survivors, legislators, and funders gathered to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) crisis.  

I attended as a student thinking deeply about the role of philanthropy in showing up in true solidarity with Native tribes in California.  

What I learned from this powerful Summit organized by the Yurok Tribe in Humboldt County was sobering: 

  • California has the largest population of Native Americans of any state in the United States and the fifth largest MMIP caseload. 
  • The Yurok tribe and many tribes in California have strong judicial systems and infrastructure frameworks to address MMIP issues, and yet not enough resources flow back to indigenous communities to sustain these systems.  
  • For the first time ever, the 2022-2023 California state budget allocated $12 million for tribes across the entire state to address MMIP, which only amounts to approximately $63,000 per tribe to combat the crisis – not including the large urban Indian population that also needs support. 

Most importantly, I learned that there are people across philanthropy, law, and government that are ready to follow the leadership of Tribal leaders to address this crisis. In philanthropy, we have a responsibility to redistribute resources to fortify indigenous sovereignty. 

As the policy report created by the Yurok Tribe in partnership with Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition states, “There needs to be holistic and comprehensive funding for Tribal Nations at the federal, state, and local levels that address the underlying causes of MMIP so that Native people can thrive. This includes an increase in funding to support current programming, changes to allow more flexibility in the use of funds, noncompetitive funding to support tribal justice systems and preventive service.” 

I left the summit feeling a deeper sense of responsibility to Native communities in California and on Turtle Island. If you feel called to learn more about the importance of liberating resources to address the MMIP crisis, you can learn more here.   

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