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IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
The IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was the recipient of a $3 million gift from philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett. After shutting down during COVID-19, MoCNA reopens to the public on June 17, 2021. Photo: Sallie Wesaw, 2019
Donations boost Native organizations amid COVID-19 recovery
Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Several prominent national Native nonprofits received a major boost this week after billionaire novelist MacKenzie Scott announced her latest round of philanthropic gifts.

On Tuesday, Scott and her husband Dan Jewett announced 286 donations worth more than $2.7 billion to “high-impact organizations in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked.”

“In this effort, we are governed by a humbling belief that it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a small number of hands, and that the solutions are best designed and implemented by others,” Scott said in an online statement titled “Seeding by Ceding.”

“Though we still have a lot to learn about how to act on these beliefs without contradicting and subverting them, we can begin by acknowledging that people working to build power from within communities are the agents of change,” said Scott. “Their service supports and empowers people who go on to support and empower others.”

The Native nonprofits to receive gifts in this latest round include: the Alaska Native Heritage Center; IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts; Native Americans in Philanthropy; Native Arts & Cultures Foundation; NDN Collective; American Indian College Fund; American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC); First Peoples Fund; and Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation.

Erik Stegman of Native Americans in Philanthropy said his organization would use the multi-million dollar gift from Scott and Jewett to “build deeper relationships between funders and Native-led nonprofits serving our communities.” The organization seeks to promote equitable and effective philanthropy in Native communities.

He said Native organizations are often overlooked by philanthropists, and in 2019 alone, just half of one percent of all philanthropic funds were directed toward Native communities.

“MacKenzie Scott’s donation to Native Americans in Philanthropy is one among many contributions to Native American organizations that shows she is taking Indigenous advocacy seriously,” said Stegman, a citizen of the Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation.

“Together, we’re helping move money to Native people and organizations that are making a difference on the issues that matter to our communities — and we’re doing it with a focus on healing so that we can turn the tide on intergenerational trauma,” Stegman added.

The IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, based in New Mexico, received a $3 million unrestricted gift from Scott and Jewett, the museum announced this week.

“This generous donation was made possible due to all the museum’s work to advance contemporary Native arts and cultures and for that, I’m grateful to all the staff past and present, said Patsy Phillips (Cherokee), the museum’s director.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said the donation to her organization couldn’t come at a better time as the coronavirus pandemic has only widened the academic achievement gap between Native and non-Native students across the country.

Lockdowns closed many tribes and tribal colleges and universities, forcing many to host online-only classes, and leaving many students in remote, rural reservation communities “cut off due to lack of affordable technology resources and connectivity.” In addition, the closure of tribal enterprises also led to high rates of unemployment in those communities, leaving many of the College Fund’s scholars jobless.

As a result, enrollment among first-time Native college students was down 11 percent at tribal colleges and universities and 23 percent at all colleges and universities in the fall of 2020, according to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

The College Fund is the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education, and in 2019-2020, provided $9.25 million in scholarships to Native students.

“This gift is timely and pivotal because, in combination with the generosity of our network of current and future supporters, we now have the capacity to grow greater opportunities for American Indian and Alaska Native communities and to create lasting change,” said Crazy Bull, a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

“MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett’s acknowledgement of our work is a testament to the important role of education to transform the lives of our students, their families, and communities,” said Bull.