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Honoring Native American Heritage Month


November 16th, 2021

The Gates Foundation is grateful to call Washington state home. We also honor and recognize the 34 nations who have lived and worked here for more than 10,000 years—long before the Gates family established roots in the region. As a philanthropic organization, we have an opportunity to move beyond acknowledgment and move in a direction that puts resources back into the community.

Since the Gates Foundation was founded in 2000, we’ve partnered with Tribes, Native-led nonprofits, and other programs that support Native communities. What started as responsive grants evolved in 2012 to include a focus on advancing Native American student success, a shift decided in conversation with tribal leaders. Tribal leaders also served as partners to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s housing first project, an effort we supported that brought together domestic violence, housing, and homelessness providers to connect survivors to housing as quickly as possible, and then provide the necessary support as they rebuild their lives.

More recently, the Washington State Initiative team moved from direct grants to Native-led organizations to working with Tribal intermediaries like Potlatch Fund, supporting statewide priorities for Native students, and investing in Native researchers. During Native American Heritage Month, meet just a few of our grantees doing great work in Washington state:

​​​​​​Helping Build Community Resiliency

We made our first grant to the Potlatch Fund in 2004, and this long standing support continues. The Potlatch Fund provides grants and leadership development to tribal nations in the Pacific Northwest. As a Native-led nonprofit, they know first-hand that Native communities—if given adequate resources—possess the abilities to generate the best solutions to their challenges.

When COVID-19 first hit, Potlatch heard from communities that flexible, unrestricted funding was needed most—especially in rural areas—to respond to the multiple crises brought on or worsened by the pandemic. Potlatch set up a Rapid Response Fund that granted more than $700,000 by the end of 2020. Building on the success of this fund, Potlatch launched a Resiliency Fund this June for organizations, projects, or artists that “seek to protect our way of life by funding resiliency actions that create hope, social connection, adaption, flexibility and purpose.”

Uniting to Improve Native Student Success 

The Suquamish Tribe has been active in leading efforts to improve educational outcomes on the Kitsap Peninsula, providing funding and governance to Kitsap Strong, a regional public-private collaboration we’ve supported that focuses on education equity. Since 2015, leadership teams from 17 schools representing all of the region’s school districts have taken part in Kitsap Strong’s Collaborative Learning Academy focused on trauma-sensitive school environments and social emotional learning.

The Suquamish Tribe has led a strategic planning process for the Tribal Leaders Congress on Education, a collaboration between tribes to advance Native student success. Through a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant, they sought feedback from 18 of 29 federally recognized tribes in the state to establish the Tribal Education Priorities, which expand resources for tribal curriculum and professional development, improve data collection on educational opportunities and outcomes for Native students, and continue to focus on culturally responsive resources.

Native Researchers Working to Help Students Grow

While growth mindset curricula have been effective in motivating students, there are few existing best practices for implementing this type of curriculum in culturally diverse classrooms. A team of researchers—including Tulalip Tribal member Dr. Stephanie Fryberg—worked with Washington classroom teachers to develop strategies for implementing growth mindset teaching practices that are tailored to students’ cultural backgrounds, building upon student diversity.

Dr. Fryberg introduced these practices to local teachers through annual summer institutes. This was part of the research team’s comparison study to assess the student impact of this professional development when it includes only growth mindset interventions versus when it also includes content focused on increasing students’ sense of belonging. Their research found that the belonging interventions were more effective. Based on these findings, we provided a grant to help the research team expand this work, including a focus on sharing their research findings with the field:

Continuing Our Responsive Grants

While our work in Washington state focuses more intentionally on advancing equity in education today, our Community Engagement team continues to provide responsive grants to local organizations that address urgent community needs and are a strategic fit. That includes more than $800,000 in responsive grants supporting the following Native-led organizations in 2021:

As a family foundation that cares deeply about this state, we have a responsibility to examine our own relationship to the land we live on and to the local Indigenous communities who lived on and stewarded these lands and waters for thousands of years—and continue to do so today. While we celebrate and honor Native American Heritage Month, we know true allyship comes with supporting communities, nurturing relationships, and amplifying the voices, experiences, and histories of Indigenous people throughout the year. We are committed to a more equitable future that respects and protects Washington's Native communities.



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