National Indian Council on Aging receives $4M donation from billionaire MacKenzie Scott

Group planning outreach efforts to identify issues elders prioritize

By: - March 29, 2022 4:58 am

(Getty Images)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous elders were deeply impacted and the effects can still be felt today. 

Not only are Indigenous elders cultural carriers but are the foundation for Indigenous communities and families. The risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 increased with age, prompting communities to focus on keeping elders safe by isolating them. 

In the process of protecting elders, they also experienced loneliness and depression, one of the main issues identified by the National Indian Council on Aging. 

So, it was a wonderful surprise, the organization’s leaders said, for the council to be one of the more than 1,200 groups who received a donation from MacKenzie Scott, a philanthropist and novelist, who garnered her billions helping her now ex-husband, Jeff Bezos, build Amazon. 

Last week, the council announced it received a $4 million dollar donation, becoming one of the few Indigenous organizations to receive a donation from Scott. 

“It’s a big deal. We are pleased to get that funding and I think it’s also a recognition of the work we have done and the credibility that we’ve earned over the some 40 years that this organization has been in existence,” said Larry Curley, executive director of the National Indian Council on Aging  

This was the largest single donation the council has ever received. Scott has donated $12 billion since 2019 when she pledged to give away most of her wealth. 

Since receiving the unexpected donation, the council has met as a staff to discuss the possibilities of what to do. 

“We’re, essentially, just as a metaphor, we’re kind of throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks,” Curley said with a laugh. “We’re brainstorming right now.”

The council has a few ideas they would like to look into. One of them being a 24/7 outreach program for Indigenous elders, “to work with our elders who might need some help, whether it be in a crisis,” Curley said.

The group is also looking into expanding its outreach to Indigenous elders to inform and update them on issues they care about. 

This type of outreach is important because of connectivity issues and limited broadband access in rural areas where many elders live.

The council was created in 1976 for this exact reason, to be able to practice self-determination and take in funding without having to go through the federal or state government. In 1976, funding for elders came through state organizations called area agencies on aging. 

“Whatever was left over there was given to tribes through the area agencies but a lot of tribes felt at the time that was violating what they felt was their sovereignty, it made them an entity of a state,” Curley said. “There was this concept called self determination, which was passed the year before in 1975. They wanted to see if we could get funding directly from the federal government, directly to Indian tribes.”

So, Curley helped to draft Title VI of the Older Americans Act that promotes “the delivery of nutrition, supportive and caregiver services to American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians that are comparable to services provided under Title III of the OAA.” 

Curley said he lobbied for the legislation in Washington D.C. telling lawmakers the organization would ensure money would be available to support elderly programs for tribal citizens.

“Since that time, we have been advocating, we have been fighting on behalf of not only the elders, but I think, in essence, in the much bigger picture, the continued survival of Indian tribes in this country,” Curley said.

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Pauly Denetclaw
Pauly Denetclaw

Pauly Denetclaw, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, is Haltsooí (Meadow People) born for Kinyaa’áanii (Towering House People). An award-winning reporter based in Gallup, New Mexico, she has worked for the Navajo Times and Texas Observer covering Indigenous communities, and her radio pieces have aired on KYAT, National Native News, NPR’s Latino USA and Texas Public Radio. She is a board member of the Native American Journalist Association. Follow her on Twitter, @pdineclah.