Where’s the CSR and DEI for Native Americans?

There’s a movement afoot for racial and social equity at the corporate level – or at least it looks that way on the surface. A closer look shows that many big brands are promoting aid for the underserved and checking it off their list. Yet, it seems they are not walking the talk or supporting communities of color in a way that will lead to transformative change. This is certainly true for Native American communities.

When I look at the millions to billions of dollars in revenue being generated by Fortune 500 companies, it is clear many of them are assisting at a minimal level if at all – especially when you weigh the outsized need against their executive bonuses and their capacity to give. What’s more, I feel that many big brands often require that their charitable giving must grow their own initiatives – forcing a square peg into a round hole – rather than simply giving for the sake of helping others.

This leaves me to wonder: where’s the real corporate social responsibility (CSR) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)? Why are those most in need still being left behind when big brands could make such a huge difference?

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a heightened awareness of the challenges faced by people of color. Perhaps for the first time, many Americans came to understand the cost of social inequity and what it looks like. Across Native American communities, social inequity looks like an inadequate healthcare system and high disease rates, overcrowded housing, food and water shortages, lack of internet and other education barriers.

But America has tired of the pandemic, while Native Americans still face these disparities – all created by decades of racial prejudice, institutional and systemic oppression and historical mistreatment of the tribes. And all these factors predispose Native Americans to multiple risk factors now integral to reservation life.

This is the legacy America has seen fit to bestow on Native American, Black and Latinx people and their communities. It’s also the legacy that big brands and foundations can help change. Unfortunately, less than 1/10 of the 4000 companies traded through the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ staff Native representatives. Yet, there are so many ways these very brands could make an impact:  

  • Make a multi-year commitment to ensure sustainability of Native grant projects – one and done isn’t enough
  • Fund scholarships for minority students who dream of college
  • Fund leadership development for emerging community change-makers
  • Fund culturally relevant nutrition training and keep food banks stocked
  • Help solve big housing and water problems
  • Help get internet to every reservation community
  • Give for the sake of giving and not to further your own business
  • Seek out Native Americans to improve diversity on your Boards and Foundations

The first step is to genuinely care about the plight of Native Americans in this country. Corporations have a long way to go with using their power to truly benefit those who need help the most. As a consumer, I encourage you to ask your favorite brands to do more as outlined above. Start taking CSR and DEI seriously and make our world a better place. If you’re a CEO or senior executive at your company, I encourage you to contact me directly to explore the possibilities in Indian Country!

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