New California Tribal Fund Meets Unique Needs of California’s Native Communities

First Nations Launches California Tribal Fund to Meet the Unique Needs of California’s Native Communities

LONGMONT, Colorado (August 25, 2020). In California, circumstances for Native communities are among the grimmest in the nation. At the same time, philanthropic funding for Native causes in California mirrors inequitable trends throughout the country, resulting in minimal grants being awarded in California Indian Country. Grants that are received are often in modest amounts, far beneath those received by non-tribal causes. In response, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) today announced the launch of the California Tribal Fund, a program created and implemented to address California’s Native populations.

California has a powerful philanthropic community, but little gets to the Indigenous people of California, according to A-dae Romero-Briones, First Nations’ Director of Programs and Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative. But despite this — and the state’s rapid colonization from the Gold Rush, massive Native population removal, missions, boarding schools, and a secreted history — California Tribal Nations and people continue to steward their lands, people and culture.

Fund’s Co-founder and Program Officer Rebecca Tortes, who has worked in developing programs and seeking funding for California tribal communities for over a decade, said the historical trauma experienced by California’s Native populations creates unique needs. “And when it comes to meeting those needs, there is not much support, even from California’s main philanthropic funders,” she said.

Indeed, in keeping with national data on philanthropic gifts to Native causes, giving in California is disproportionate to Native Peoples’ needs. Only .01% of foundation giving goes to Native communities and causes in California, and yet California represents 12% of the total Native American population in the United States.

And, from 2010 to 2018, grants focused on Native Americans averaged around only $8,000, with 58% of grant dollars and 75% of total number of grants going to non-Native controlled organizations, said Tortes.

Funded by The California Endowment, Swift Foundation and 11th Hour Project, the California Tribal Fund was created as the result of a workshop held in early 2020. The workshop, a collaboration between First Nations and board members and staff from the California Indian Basketweavers’ Association, brought together an Advisory Council to discuss the needs of California’s tribes and create a pathway toward solutions.

The overall goals of the California Tribal Fund are to ensure both Federally recognized tribes and non-recognized tribes, in addition to California Tribal nonprofits, are served and to connect philanthropic supporters with those doing grassroots work to advance California’s Native communities.

The first round of applications made through the Fund will open in summer 2020, with plans to award the first round of funding in the fall. Meanwhile, an immediate round of emergency grants was made possible through the Fund to directly support COVID-19 response and recovery efforts of California Native organizations. To learn more, visit

About First Nations Development Institute

For 40 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit


Rebecca Tortes, Program Officer or (951) 265-7822

Amy Jakober, Senior Communications Officer or (303) 774-7836