Key Points

The gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and its disparately harsh impact on Indigenous peoples are now well known. U.S. death rates normalized by population, for example, have been far higher for Native Americans than for the white population in the United States. Many funders, realizing that basic human services are lacking for many Native American and Indigenous communities, have responded to the crisis. While this desire to act is laudable, many fail to grasp the complexities and necessity of applying trust-based collaborative principles that respect tribes as sovereign nations.

This article describes a successful model for collaboration among a tribal nation, funders, and subject-matter experts to address a critical problem — access to clean water for Navajo families — based on respecting the leadership and values of the Navajo Nation and born from the pandemic crisis taking place there. Collaborating partners were drawn from dozens of state and federal agencies, nonprofits, universities, and philanthropies. All were connected by honor and respect for the Diné — “The People,” as the Navajo call themselves.

This model can be replicated by funders working with multiple experts, agencies, and governments to continue to meet community resilience challenges that do not retreat with the pandemic and to promote equity and justice in any philanthropic venture.

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