For over 10,000 years and up until just 100 years ago, our way of life had a low impact on the environment and a high impact on our people and all living beings. Today, our Indigenous communities are at the center of the impacts of climate change in Alaska, and we now face an existential threat from the most rapid environmental changes in North America and indeed across the globe. It is imperative for human societies to rethink their relationship with the planet, and one approach is through the time-proven cultural lenses of Indigenous peoples.

A part of this process is to recognize the validity of Indigenous knowledge systems and the profound values these systems uphold when it comes to cultural understandings of how to live in relationship with the land, waters, and environment. Another part of the process is for humanity to fully understand the impact Western policies and imposed systems have had, and in some cases continue to have, in diminishing Indigenous peoples’ ability to fully exercise and sustain their fundamental values. We must find radically creative ways to support the new and emergent systemic approaches that our Indigenous leaders need. Doing so will help maximize opportunities needed to reclaim, deepen, and share knowledge and strengthen communities based on Indigenous ideology.

And now, thanks to a transformative gift from the Bezos Earth Fund, Alaska Native leaders will have new resources to protect our communities and ways of life and advance our own solutions to environmental challenges. The Bezos Earth Fund has awarded the Alaska Venture Fund $10 million to support Indigenous-led environmental and climate justice efforts in Alaska. The grant will support a new initiative with three areas of focus:

  • Developing a framework driven by Indigenous peoples to achieve Justice40 in Alaska. Justice40 is the Biden administration’s new initiative to ensure that at least 40% of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy flow to disadvantaged communities
  • Advancing Indigenous-led, place-based environmental and climate justice projects across Alaska
  • Supporting the next generation of Alaska Native leaders as we work from cultural values to tackle systemic challenges

In developing the shape of this new initiative, Alaska Venture Fund drew inspiration and guidance from the ongoing leadership of our many Indigenous partners. We are particularly grateful to several individuals– Nikoosh Carlo, Dalee Sambo Dorough, Melanie Bahnke, and Joe Nelson– for their help in developing this approach.

Native Americans are 2.9% of the U.S. population but receive 0.4% of philanthropic dollars. Gifts like this one from the Bezos Earth Fund help change that equation and shift resources into the hands of Indigenous leaders. We are deeply grateful to receive this extraordinary gift and to support the work of Alaska Native tribes, organizations, and leaders across the state.