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Red Blanket Fund to help families of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples

Money to be distributed until $100K in grants runs out; applications open now
Published: Sep. 25, 2021 at 9:58 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - People across the country have worked long and hard to raise awareness of the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, through peaceful protests, artwork, music, and more. Now, a group in Washington is stepping in to help by offering 100 grants of $1,000 to the families struggling first-hand with the plight.

“We found that family need to fund awareness campaigns,” said Joni Crines, Na’ah Illahee Fund grants program officer. “Vigils, memorials, marches, to put their families’ faces in front of the community. And then they also needed aftercare for when people are found, or aftercare for children left behind. You know, for whoever is raising the children. Aftercare for the family, whatever that looks like.”

While data on missing and murdered Indigenous peoples is lacking, it is clear that criminal incidents disproportionately affect members of Native American, Alaska Native and other Indigenous communities. The agency Data for Indigenous Justice, for example, says four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls experience violence within their lifetimes; the same demographic are murdered at a rate 10 times that of the national average.

The organization Native Americans in Philanthropy also reports that, “despite Native Americans accounting for nearly 2% (5.4 million) of the U.S. population, philanthropic funding for the population remains less than 0.5 percent of annual foundation grant dollars.”

While the federal government has, over the years, slowly rolled out programs — such as pilot programs for improved initial response and dedicated units for the pursuit of justice for families of the missing — to help at the ground level, the Seattle nonprofit Na’ah Illahee Fund is offering grants through its Red Blanket Fund to quickly provide direct assistance to Indigenous individuals and families who are most in need in the wake of the MMIP crisis.

The group will provide assistance in $1,000 increments, until the $100,000 is fully disbursed, split between dozens of families who qualify.

The funds are meant to help people with the many things that come with a loved one going missing — and being found — like searches, awareness and aftercare. The needs can include something as small as a bit of gas money or candles for vigils, or a larger item such as a flight across the state or a private investigator. Some recipients are expected to use the money for a funeral or memorializing of a loved one, all of which can make a big difference to grieving families.

Grant developers are currently looking for people from communities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, who might benefit from the program.

“Our applications are fairly simple, because a complicated application process and complicated reporting are barriers in itself,” Crines said. “So our goal is to get funds in our communities’ hands as quickly as possible.”

Among the families working on applying is that of Willis Edwin Derendoff, who went missing in November 2020. His mother said she’d last heard that he was staying at a Fairbanks-area hotel for work, when his phone was damaged and he said he would be getting a new one. He hasn’t been heard from since.

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“Part of the reason I came home was because we ran out of funds,” said Gladys Derendoff, Willis’ mother, who spent several months away from her home in Huslia looking for her son. “It’s too expensive to stay in Fairbanks. And I have my home here in Huslia, so (this grant), it’s a lot of help.”

To apply for the grant, head over to the Na’ah Illahee website dedicated to the Red Blanket Fund, which states that the grant application is open to “Indigenous Individuals or First Nation Individuals (With Tribal Affiliation).” This includes anyone who holds tribal affiliations or identifies with Indigenous nations in North, Central, or South America, or anyone who identifies as Native Hawaiian, according to the group.

Applications opened on Sept. 13 and are being accepted through a Google forms link that’s included on the website. Applicants will need some sort of proof that law enforcement authorities — included but not limited to tribal police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — have officially been informed of the missing person.

The site also states that the grant committee “will convene to review all received applications within 48 hours.” Then, recipients will be notified via the quickest method, whether that’s via phone, text or email.

For now, applicants are asked to only apply once so that the fund might impact as many people as possible.

Other funding opportunities, such as the End Gender-Based Violence and MMIWP Grant, are also available through the Na’ah Illahee Fund. For more information on the related applications and others, people can also contact Crines at joni@naahillahee.org.

Additionally, if anyone has information regarding a missing persons case, they are asked to contact Alaska State Troopers, who can be reached at (907) 451-5100. They can also utilize the new app, AKTips.

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