Native American and Tribal Communities Recovery Program

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In the U.S., Native American and tribal communities are disproportionately affected by weather and climate-related disasters. These weather events along with persistent crises compound existing disparities and highlight increasing opportunities to reinforce community and change systems.

This program by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s Midwest Early Recovery Fund focuses on early to long-term disaster recovery needs of Native American and tribal communities in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. We support Native-led organizations and Native people through technical assistance and boosting the capacity in tribal communities to address systemic issues while rebuilding communities and addressing barriers to full and equitable recovery.

Photo courtesy of Wambli Ska Society.


Since 2015, our Midwest Early Recovery Fund has invested 30-40% of grant funding to Native American and Tribal Communities in Minnesota and South Dakota, totaling nearly $1 million in grantmaking from 2015-2019.

In 2019, a grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies allowed us to focus disaster recovery work on reservations and Native communities in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. We hired a program manager to build relationships and trust within tribal communities on the frontlines of disaster recovery.

From 2020-2021, the program awarded $750,000 in grant funding to eight organizations working in five communities.


Disaster Recovery for Native American and tribal communities

It is no exaggeration to say that certain conditions on Native reservations are dire before disasters strike. Nearly every statistic on Native Americans reveals harsh conditions and large disparities when compared to non-Native Americans. These disparities are a product of long-term disinvestment in Indigenous communities. In times of disaster, they are left on their own to figure out how to recover, receiving even less public attention and little or no investment from federal and state government, relief organizations and philanthropy.

Funders and NGOs must understand the pre-disaster conditions of Native communities. It is impossible to focus solely on the recovery from a weather-related disaster in marginalized and underserved areas that face poverty, food insecurity, and inadequate and substandard housing.

Working with Native American communities requires building trust and relationships. Disaster recovery in Native communities involves multiple partners, collaboration, and a large investment of time, technical assistance and capacity building.


Why North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana?

Focusing our attention, time and resources for the Native Nations and tribal communities of the Northern and High Plains is critical. The challenges and barriers of equitable recovery in these communities are immense. Our approach is to meet these challenges through consistent relationship development and intentional capacity building.

Our grantmaking in this region is unique. There are often limited Native-led formal nonprofit organizations, and communities need additional time and attention to develop and fund culturally appropriate recovery services. Each grant supporting recovery work requires additional time in all phases of grantmaking, and the relationships developed require long-term commitment.


Early Recovery Fund Criteria and Process
Utilizing the Early Recovery Fund model, the program funds and builds capacity around early recovery services; education and  Outreach; and specialized service needs including children and psychosocial supports. Our three-step process is as follows:

Step One: Impact Study and Needs Assessment
Our starting point is a needs assessment that involves analyzing indicators about social vulnerability, post-disaster impacts and recovery capacity or assets. We identify low-attention, under-resourced disaster-affected communities.

Step Two: Community Conversations and Grantee Partner Identification
Once a community has been identified, we offer strategy sessions about next steps, job descriptions, and training and coaching resources. Conversations with community stakeholders continue as needed to help us – and them – understand how these identified challenges uniquely appear in their community, what solutions work best for them and how the needs and responses change over time.

Step Three: Grantee Partnership
We vet potential grantee partner organizations and collaborate to develop a plan and proposal, fill out a low-burden application and collect all necessary documentation. Based on the information, our staff completes a due diligence, review and approval process. Throughout the grant period, staff are available for check-ins and technical assistance as needed.

Local-Culturally Aligned Grantee Partners
Whenever possible, the program supports Native-led or local culturally aligned organizations. This focus on building local capacity and leadership supports sovereignty and assists tribal work towards self-determination.

Native communities know their own assets and needs. As needed, we help find a Native-led fiscal sponsor to grant to in support of the community’s disaster recovery efforts.

Sharing our expertise

Technical Assistance for Donors
Working with Native and tribal communities can be a challenge due to the complexity of tribal governance and relations. Our team of experts can help funders understand the cultural landscape, values and practicesthat are essential toworking with Native and tribal communities. Our experience can be especially critical to grantmakers that have not partnered with Native nations.

Technical Assistance for Communities
CDP provides technical assistance in the form of education, outreach and leadership on disaster recovery, long-term recovery groups, case management training and mentoring, mental health, individual and household needs assessments, program development, nonprofit management and grant writing and fundraising. We also work to connect them to government agencies, nonprofit organizations and funders working in disasters.

Disaster recovery in some Native communities is delayed or has stalled out when CDP gets involved. Many grantee partners have expressed appreciation of the orgnanizational structure and process that CDP shares.

Relationship-centric grantmaking and partnership

CDP builds relationships with individuals and communities to partner with in this work. Unlike traditional grantmaking, which fosters a transactional relationship, our team works in relation and in community with Native partners.

Program staff work inbetween Indigenous values and funders’ colonial values with patience to build trust and solid relationships. If you desire help working through the complexity of funding in Native communities, please reach out. We’d love to assist other funders who want to support Native-led and Native-serving projects.

With support from our Native American and Tribal Communities Recovery Program, our grantee partners are helping affected communities recover and rebuild stronger than before disaster struck.

See all grantee partners

Real Impact

Making a difference in Native and tribal communities

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Thank you to the following donors for their generous support of the Native American and Tribal Communities Recovery Program.

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Your support has a direct and significant impact on our efforts to minimize the impact of disasters on Native American and tribal communities in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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Connect with us

For more information about our grantmaking approach or assistance with tribal recovery, contact Cari Cullen, director of the Midwest Early Recovery Fund.

To make a gift or learn more about the program, please contact our Development Team.

Photo courtesy of We Are Warriors. Read the impact story.