In late November, with leadership from member Jen Racho of the Northwest Area Foundation, Workforce Matters hosted a peer-to-peer conversation for funders supporting or interested in supporting workforce development in Tribal nations and Indigenous communities. The group was able to share grantmaking experiences and interests as well as what they have learned from their investments to date.

We thought we would share a few of those learnings with the network. Thank you to Jen Racho, Northwest Area Foundation, and Alvin Warren, LANL Foundation, for their contributions to this post.

Approach workforce development in a holistic way. Funders on the call encouraged their peers to think of workforce investments as encompassing not only skills training approaches but also healing, trauma-informed care, and practices that build holistic individual and community well-being. They also encouraged funders to seek out and support programs and services that are rooted in cultural values and context. In addition, workforce funders may want to consider investing in economic development alongside workforce development due to limited employment opportunities on or around many reservations.

Utilize local, community-determined definitions of workforce development, career pathways, and success, and look for authentic partnerships with Native communities. Our country has historically imposed an outside vision of success on Native Americans and tribal nations. Participants on the call encouraged funders to begin with an inquiry process--asking Native communities to define what outcomes are important to them and what might work to improve outcomes--rather than beginning with the prescription in mind and imposing an external vision on Native and tribal communities. If supporting non-Native organizations that propose to serve Native workers and learners, funders should look for evidence of authentic partnerships with Native communities.

Support tribal sovereignty in workforce development. Funders can support tribal sovereignty in a number of ways through their workforce grantmaking, such as:

  • Supporting tribal capacity to gather and analyze their own data
  • Investing in tribal evaluation capacity
  • Investing in professional development for Native and Indigenous workforce development providers
  • Investing in mechanisms or advocacy to ensure collaboration with state and federal workforce policymakers and equitable distribution of public funding to Native Americans on and off tribal lands
  • Advocating for Native and Indigenous representation on and collaboration with state agencies and local workforce boards

Opportunities for Partnership

Funders in this peer-to-peer conversation identified a number of areas for potential partnership and collaboration with other funders:

  • Policy advocacy to ensure we can maximize federal dollars, including through new infrastructure investments, to equitably fund and benefit Tribal nations and Indigenous communities.
  • Capacity building to strengthen Native advocacy infrastructure as well as to identify and share promising models for workforce development in Tribal nations and Indigenous communities.
  • Exploring opportunities to make workforce development investments at the intersection with sustainable development and climate change, including land protection, natural resource management, and renewable energy
  • Creating accountability measures to ensure Native Americans on and off tribal lands benefit equitably from the federal funding received by state departments of labor and local workforce boards.

For more information and recommendations on workforce development in Tribal nations and Indigenous communities, we encourage you to read the National Congress of American Indians policy brief, Empowering Tribal Workforce Development: Indian Country’s Policy Recommendations for the Federal Government. For more information on philanthropy in Native communities, please see Investing in Native Communities: A joint project of Native Americans in Philanthropy and Candid.

Interested in joining our next conversation? Let us know! We are currently planning a second peer-to-peer conversation in March 2022 for grantmakers that are currently invest in .