Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women reporting grant dramatically cut
International Women's Media Foundation reduces $10 million initiative for Native journalism to $750K.
WASHINGTON – The International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) acted prematurely last year in announcing it had received $10 million in philanthropic funding to support journalism on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit crisis.
This month, the organization, headed by several wealthy and famous non-Indigenous journalists, announced that a total of $750,000 in grants to individual Native journalists would instead be available.
That’s a reduction of $9.25 million from when the IWMF announced less than a year ago, in May 2021, “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 IWMF is a non-profit journalism organization founded in 1990 by well-known PBS journalist Judy Woodruff.
Tara Gatewood, the former popular host and producer of the Native America Calling radio and web-based show, left that position last July to join the IWMF as a director to oversee the announced $10 million initiative.
Gatewood, Isleta Pueblo and Diné, will now have far less funding to oversee – at least in the immediate future – according to the IWMF.
The $10 million is no longer being offered, according to the organization, which now says “[t]he Howard G. Buffett Foundation has given the IWMF a $750,000 grant to establish a three-year fund supporting U.S.-based reporting projects by Indigenous journalists on issues related to Missing & Murdered Indigenous People (MMMIP) with a concentration on women, girls, Two-Spirit and transgender people.”
Charlotte Fox, a spokeswoman for the IWMF, told Indigenous Wire that the initial $10 million program, which involved other components, including a comprehensive database, “is no longer available.”
“The new $750K program is comprised of direct-to-journalist grants,” Fox said in an email, adding that the funding continues to be provided to the IWMF by the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, the mission of which “is to catalyze transformational change to improve the standard of living and quality of life.”
Everything about the dramatic cut and re-tooling feels unusual to several Indigenous journalists and thought leaders who have been monitoring the situation.
“Why would IWMF have announced that it was ‘fully funded’ at $10 million in the first place, if only $750K was available from the Howard G. Buffet Foundation?” asked one person who has an ongoing relationship with the organization and is investigating the situation further. “Indigenous journalists have been misled, and it’s sad and frustrating that this is happening on such an important topic.”
The IWMF is framing the change as a positive one, with Fox telling Indigenous Wire that “[t]he new direction follows feedback from an Indigenous-led advisory committee, which pointed to the lack of Indigenous-led reporting, and stressed the importance of enabling more journalism on MMIP. The current grant structure will channel funding quickly and exclusively to Indigenous journalists.”
Fox shared that the advisory committee included Mary Kathryn Nagle, Mary Annette Pember, Connie Walker, Lucy Rain Simpson, Jodi Rave Spotted Bear, Heidi Heitkamp, Kerry Smith, Mary Hudetz, Tyesha M. Wood, Patina Park Director, Amber Kanazbah Crotty and Rebecca Landsberry.
No one on that committee has suggested that they thought it would be a good idea for the IWMF to announce that it had $10 million in hand to support Indigenous journalism, only to re-tool and dramatically reduce the initiative.
Katie Oyan, an Oglala Lakota citizen, reported for the Associated Press in January that the $10 million project had been “canceled” altogether after she wrote an article that pointed to the grant as a positive development for Indian journalism, only to be forced to clarify that the money had been taken away.
Indigenous Wire followed up on that clarification at the time, and Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director of the IWMF, told us that the “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.”
Nagle, a well-known Indigenous lawyer who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, said she has been mystified by the handling of the grant.
“[T]hat whole experience has been so strange…the whole thing has been a giant mystery,” Nagle told Indigenous Wire.
Nagle shared that she agreed to be on the IWMF advisory committee, and she participated in one Zoom meeting after which “they announced this cut.”
“It also seemed like at one point they were canceling the entire initiative,” Nagle said by email. “I have been confused by the whole thing. I was surprised to see them come back with the 750K after they sent us an email saying they weren't doing it all anymore (they being the Howard Buffett Foundation).”
The IWMF, which is composed of journalists who Native advocates say should strive to be transparent and clear, has not clarified whether the full blame belongs with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, or if a combination of both the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the IWMF are responsible.
In response to that question, Fox would only say that the previously announced $10 million is no longer available to the IWMF, and the “new project is a three-year fund at $750,000.”
When asked, in retrospect, if the IWMF should have waited to announce the original initiative, if it did not have the “fully funded” $10 million firmly in hand, Fox did not reply.
Meanwhile, starting this month, “applications will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis by an advisory committee comprised of distinguished Indigenous practicing journalists and editors, along with Indigenous thought leaders,” according to an announcement from the IWMF regarding the $750K program.
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