This Funder is Bringing Native Perspective to Alaskan Conservation

Alaska Native communities have a long and deep history as stewards of the land. At the same time, Native populations are more vulnerable to certain environmental degradation, and are often marginalized in land management and conservation. One local funder just started its fourth grant cycle to counter the problem.

The Alaska Conservation Foundation started the Alaska Native Fund in 2011, as a way to bring indigenous perspectives back to the table when it comes to protecting the land and ecosystems. The program makes grants to advance Alaska Native priorities for conservation, sustain Native ways of life, and further an indigenous framework to take on environmental issues. In other words, it backs projects that rely on the knowledge of Alaska Native communities to solve conservation issues, while strengthening their role in the region’s decisions.

The fund just opened up its fourth round of giving, with applications due at the end of the year. A total of up to $200,000 in grants are made each year, to both individuals and organizations.  

It’s not a lot of funding, but the strategy is very focused, intentionally avoiding the pitfall of relying on outsider or academic forces parachuting in to take on environmental problems. This is a frequent concern with global conservation projects in places where large native populations tend to be marginalized, and Alaska is no exception. 

Alaska is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with erosion, reduced ice, and warmer temperatures threatening the way of life, especially in Native communities. But the Fund also supports projects in food security with a focus on marine resources, sustainable economic development instead of reliance on extraction, energy conservation, and holistic wellness in response to toxic substances. 

The fund’s strategy for leveraging Native perspectives and bolstering their involvement includes connecting indigenous knowledge to policy, elevating Native leaders and elders’ voices, and a side focus on supporting youth as leaders of some projects.

Cultural engagement is also a big part of the execution, as the Fund rewards use of artistic expression in environmental preservation, and places an emphasis on gatherings to share strategies and success stories. 

Some past grantees include one local artist for a project spreading the awareness of certain diseases more prevalent in Native communities. Another current grant for close to $20,000 supported the Chickaloon Native Village as it opposes coal extraction proposals that would supplant tribal oversight of land. And a media project, the “Arctic Series,” will examine climate change issues through the indigenous lens on public radio. 

The Alaska Conservation Foundation started in 1980 to protect the natural environment and diverse cultures it sustains. The funder gives to a variety of programs and awards, making about $3 million in grants a year.

Check out the Alaska Native Fund's guidelines.