At this spring’s “Further Together” conference, Workforce Matters held a lunch plenary session titled “Supporting Self-Determination & Workforce Development in Native Nations and Indian Country.” 

Moderated by Natasha Hale (Navajo), the panel featured Native workforce development practitioners Kelly Drummer (Oglala Lakota), President, MIGIZI Communications, Ryan Howard (Bishop Paiute), Executive Director, Owens Valley Career Development Center, and Kirstin Yeado, Senior Program Officer, Ascendium Education Group.

Natasha shared about Workforce Matters’ Workforce Grantmaking in Native Nations and Communities Initiative (WGNNC) and its work over the last two years to deepen funders’ collective understanding of and investment in workforce development efforts designed by and for Native nations and communities. The need for this work was highlighted when Natasha asked the more than 100 philanthropists in the room if they had experience working with Native Nations and communities; less than 20 raised their hands. Fewer still considered themselves knowledgeable about current Native workforce development efforts and how they are resourced. Only four attendees indicated their organizations were currently investing in Native-led workforce development entities.

Kelly and Ryan emphasized the holistic nature of workforce development in Native Nations and communities and the ways in which workforce development is not only about jobs, but also self-sufficiency, community enrichment, and cultural empowerment. They encouraged philanthropy to build authentic relationships and partnerships with Native Nations and communities and to listen to what is needed. And they asked for recognition of Native nations and organizations as proven innovators of Native workforce development solutions – ones that require flexible, long-term operating support to effectively implement and sustain.

Kirstin shared how Ascendium took the time to learn about and invest in Native Nations and communities, the value of participating in the WGNNC, and encouraged attendees to utilize the newly-released funders’ guide to Native workforce development as a resource.

The guide uplifts philanthropy’s unique role and ability in supporting the building of strong Native Nations and individuals through Native-led workforce development initiatives that advance the long-range priorities of the Native communities. 

The guide’s features include a comprehensive history of Native workforce development in the United States, 11 key strategies philanthropic organizations can adopt to maximize the positive impacts of their giving to Native-led workforce development entities, 16 tools for philanthropic “self-reflection,” and 11 key messages from Indian Country about Native workforce development that philanthropy should recognize and embrace. Learn more and download the guide here.

Workforce Matters members are invited to join us for a free webinar introducing this important new resource on July 16, 3-4 pm ET. Attendees will learn how to establish and grow impactful philanthropic partnerships with Native Nations and communities and support policies that expand and strengthen Native-led workforce approaches and providers. 

Register here.

About the Author: Ian Record, Ph.D. provides consulting services to Tribal Nations and Native organizations consisting of strategic planning, federal policy analysis and education, tribal governance and policy analysis, executive education for tribal and organizational leaders, and research on trends and best practices in tribal governance and development. His work includes providing research, policy, and advisory support to Workforce Grantmaking in Native Nations and Communities, an initiative of Workforce Matters. From 2014 to 2021, he served as Vice President of Tribal Governance and Special Projects at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), where he served as a policy lead on tribal workforce development and authored NCAI’s “Tribal Workforce Development” decision-framing toolkit for tribal leaders.