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Keynote: Native Americans in Philanthropy 25th Anniversary

Hello, everyone. Great to be with you here on your 25th anniversary. What an achievement and I am so glad that you are taking the time to pause together, to remember your roots and honor how far you have come together.

I was asked to reflect on my journey to becoming part of the “philanthropy system or circle” and to share some of my thought about philanthropy and Native Americans as we go into the future.

Journey to Philanthropy

Who I am, what I am, and what I do- like all of you- is based on upbringing, beliefs, values.  I was raised on the Red Lake Reservation surrounded by people who knew the power of giving, caring and striving to thrive in the world as it is today while basing the foundation of our future on the strengths of our culture.  I remember going to pow-wows and seeing the wonderful give-aways where thanks and honor were given to those who gave the most of themselves to help others.  I saw our people concerned about environmental issues, our youth, our elders, our families.  Worried about how we could keep our languages and traditions alive. And I saw the power in caring about each other, our families and our community.  Learning how to navigate through systems that didn’t always meet our needs or seem to understand that many times our way of getting things done had different methods, thinking and resolutions.

I have been asked what made me go into medicine, health care and now philanthropy.  I often think of the Poem written by Robert Frost-

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

I liked to take the roads less traveled- I remember looking around at the Indian Health Service Hospital and wondering why there weren’t any doctors and marveling at the time when I saw an Indian doctor and knowing that medicine was a place where I could serve people and our community.  In one’s life there are many roads and paths to take.  There were times when I went down roads only because others had been there and made the road easier and there were, and are, times when the road less traveled is one that I choose- and hopefully make it easier for other to travel that road too.  I have served on non-profit and other boards, including the Blandin Foundation Board.  In 2011, after being off the Board for over a decade- I became aware that the Blandin Foundation was seeking a President and CEO- a path that earlier in my life I would not even seen as an option.  But this organization believes in strengthening rural communities, leadership, working with communities as they envision and claim their futures and seeing where the Blandin Foundation may support them- and how. They emphasize education, economy, and inclusion.  Rural? Community? Partnership? Inclusion?  I saw possibilities and a place that I could fit, contribute and learn.  Being selected as the President of the Blandin Foundation has given me the opportunity to work with rural communities throughout our state and also back working more directly with reservation communities.

Throughout my journey I was encouraged to be persistent, remember who I was and where I came from.  I have been able to touch so many lives through medical practice, IHS and now the Blandin Foundation and this field of giving.  Here I am.

I’m finding the world of philanthropy an interesting place.

Observations/reflections for the future:

 1.  Native voices need to be at the table. 

Just last week I was the National Council on Foundations national meeting in San Franscisco-the first time I have been at this event. WOW! There were 1400 people there from 20 countries. People from institutional and all kinds of philanthropy.  And so many different approaches to work.  At the end of the day, though, we are about both people and the planet being healthy, able to thrive.  Vibrant.

I’ll be many of you have been to that meeting in the past.  When I say it was like drinking from a firehose, you know what I mean!

And yet, it was very clear that our voices- the voices in this room, the voices of rural communities, of native communities- were not fully there.

And so, I walked away- as did others- both fired up with new ideas and resolved to address this voice challenge.  We cannot be having conversations in philanthropy and in this country about broadband, economic development, justice- without hearing a broader range of voices.  We need to claim our seats the the table, even if it is hard or uncomfortable.

2.  Need Native Youth to see philanthropy as career option

-Natives are under-represented in philanthropy- on multiple levels both at Board and staff levels

-Internships, knowledge sharing about what it takes to be part of the philanthropic work world needs to be shared and supported.

3.  Philanthropies need to know how to work with Native tribes and organizations and Native tribes and organizations need to know how to work with Philanthropies.

4.  Some tribes, right where we are today, are generous and philanthropic.  What can be learned from the way they do business?  In the future, As tribes become more economically able, I see tribal foundations and non-profits growing.  NAP will be able to look back and say “we were part of that”.

5. Today Philanthropic entities are working 1:1 with Native groups.  I can see a time when Native nations, organizations, people have visions for their communities and nations that philanthropy can coordinate to help make them come true.  Even individually as philanthropies, we have not quite figured out or roles or the possibilities of coordinated efforts. I see us, as philanthropies, comfortable in knowing and how to navigate this complex world of tribal relationships.  I also see Native tribes and organizations are comfortable in knowing how to navigate this complex world of philanthropic relationships.

6.   Leadership matters


Thank you NAP for inviting me here today.  Challenges? YES.  Opportunities? YES.

Thank you.

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