$10 million Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women grant 'canceled'
International Women's Media Foundation quietly ‘adjusts’ budget for Indian Country reporting after hiring Native America Calling’s Tara Gatewood.
WASHINGTON – Ten million dollars in philanthropic funding intended to support reporting on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit crisis in Indian Country is being retooled – and potentially cut down – the recipient of the grant tells Indigenous Wire.
The money, announced last year by the D.C.-based International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF), received fanfare in Indian Country – especially in Native journalism circles – because it was supposed to serve as a much-needed financial resource to strengthen reporting to the general public about abuse toward Indigenous people.
The topic has long been ignored and under reported, according to the Native American Journalists Association, tribes, and Native citizens themselves.
The IWMF, a non-profit journalism organization founded in 1990 by well-known PBS journalist Judy Woodruff, spent time promoting the grant in 2021 and advertising for a director to help distribute and oversee it. The foundation said at the time that the grant was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the mission of which “is to catalyze transformational change to improve the standard of living and quality of life.”
Several notable mainstream journalists sit on the IWMF’s board of directors, but none are known to be Indigenous.
“The IWMF seeks a Director to develop and lead a new multi-year news initiative focused on addressing violence against Native American women and girls in the United States,” the organization wrote in a job posting from May 2021. “This is a 4-year, $10M news initiative fully funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation (HGBF) in partnership with the IWMF to bring awareness to Native American women and girls who have been trafficked, gone missing, been murdered, or are otherwise exploited.”
The advertisement continued: “The Director of this initiative will lead the creation of a media ecosystem to enhance reporting on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG)...Reporting produced by this initiative will contribute to a fuller understanding of the scope of the crisis…
“The Director will hold a leadership role in the organization contributing to all aspects of the organization’s strategy along with its three other directors. They will report to the IWMF’s senior leadership. They will work with an Advisory Committee, which will include members of the IWMF’s Board of Directors, the initiative’s funder, members of Native American communities, and experts on various aspects of this issue.”
Tara Gatewood, the former popular host and producer of the Native America Calling radio and web-based show, left that position last July, hired by the IWMF to fulfill the weighty duties.
Many people in Indian Country, while sad to see Gatewood exit Native America Calling, were happy – and hopeful – to see her take on a leadership role with the IWMF, since the organization has generally not been perceived to have had a strong relationship with Native Americans. Her role could only help to better spotlight the MMIW crisis and increase Native storytelling in the mainstream media, the general thinking went.
But sometime after Gatewood’s hiring, the path for the Howard G. Buffett Foundation’s money at the IWMF changed, and organization leaders are offering little transparency on what’s happening.
Inklings that something was amiss came after the the Associated Press, in an article published Jan. 11 about Native progress in journalism, issued a retraction involving the following sentence in the initial article: “The International Women’s Media Foundation, meanwhile, recently announced a four-year, $10 million news initiative focused on violence against Native American women and girls, funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.”
The AP’s article was soon changed to remove that sentence, and a correction was amended to the bottom of the piece: “This version has been updated to remove a reference to an International Women’s Media Foundation initiative that has been canceled.”
To observers, especially those in Indian Country, it would seem to be big news that a $10-million grant for Native-focused reporting had been “canceled,” particularly when it was used by the reporter of the AP’s piece as an example of increasing Native strides in journalism.
Had the AP buried, or missed, the lede? That is, had two well-known philanthropic foundations supposedly wanting to prove their dedication to improving journalism in Indian Country, gone back on their word?
The AP’s article was written by Katie Oyan, formerly a managing editor for Indian Country Today. When Indigenous Wire asked her for clarification, she noted that the AP has rules that require its reporters to go through AP’s corporate communications office, but she did say that when she started reporting her piece, the $10-million initiative was still on.
When Indigenous Wire asked the IWMF about the initiative and why it was now canceled, as the AP had reported, Charlotte Fox, a spokeswoman for the organization, offered the following comment — with potentially good news for Native journalists — by email: “At the end of 2020, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation engaged the International Women’s Media Foundation to explore ways to bring more media attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, 2 Spirit, and Trans People. Following a year-long review, and informed by valuable feedback from an advisory committee of diverse voices, the Foundation and IWMF concluded that a fund to disperse individual grants directly to Indigenous journalists covering the critical issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in the U.S. would have the most impact.”
“We look forward to supporting more journalism from Indigenous voices and news outlets covering MMIWG2T, and we’ll announce more details on the fund soon,” Fox added.
When asked how much money was going to be part of the retooled plan, whom it would go to and how and when it would be dispersed, the organization said that all of the details were not available.
Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director of the IWMF, did offer the following input by email: “Our initial idea to involve other journalists and media collaborations was adjusted to move funding directly and exclusively into Indigenous journalists’ hands through reporting grants, based on feedback from the advisory committee. The details on the fund will be released when they are finalized but will be modeled on other reporting funds like the Fund for Women Journalists.”
When asked whether Gatewood, a citizen of the Isleta Pueblo, was still on the team, Lees Muñoz said: “[Y]es, we can confirm that Tara is continuing her role at the IWMF as a director with the organization and will lead all programmatic work on Indigenous issues.”
When asked if the $10 million was no longer the amount that would be offered through the initiative, as the organization had previously advertised, Lees Muñoz confirmed that an adjustment had taken place.
“No further details on the scope or structure of the adjusted grant disbursement program are available right now,” Lees Muñoz said. “Additional information on the program will be released when it is finalized.”
Does that mean that more than $10 million could potentially be distributed under the initiative in the future? No one is saying right now.
Officials with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation have not responded to requests for comment on whether the adjustment took place on their end or on the IWMF’s end. IWMF officials have been asked for details on the adjustment, and we will update when and if we hear back.
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