Words by Maya Beck + photos by Richard Marshall
“Tiwahe” means “family” in the Dakota language. Like every family, the Tiwahe Foundation’s beneficiaries are extremely diverse.
Kelly Drummer, Tiwahe’s chief executive officer, recently welcomed alumni to reconnect and invest in future grantees at an annual fundraising event. One of those alumni was Melissa Olson. Tiwahe has invested in Melissa several times, including funding her travel to a Canadian convention where she presented research on the repercussions of forced adoption and foster care on Native children. That experience allowed her to meet many adoptees including fellow Tiwahe alumni. The alumni banded together and have since created a storytelling platform for adoptees to come together and share truths that are too often overlooked.
When Melissa Olson donated money to the Tiwahe Foundation, it was not just because of Tiwahe’s support for her journey. Her financial gift also demonstrated her belief in the journeys of other alumni. Melissa was particularly moved to give back when she heard the story of Grace Smith.
When Grace was a young woman, she had been torn from her village in Alaska when her entire immediate family died from tuberculosis. She was stripped of her language, culture, and extended family. A Tiwahe grant gave her the opportunity to travel home to visit Alaska for the first time in over 40 years. At the Tiwahe annual event, Grace stood before the crowd and wept as she thanked Tiwahe. Returning to Alaska helped Grace heal. Before coming back to Minnesota, she knelt down to the Alaskan earth and ate the dirt. Grace said it did not taste sandy. It tasted like home.
For Grace and Melissa, Tiwahe offers a sense of place and belonging. Melissa donates to Tiwahe in hopes that she will hear more stories like Grace’s—long-standing dreams realized with the help of a small grant and a massive network. Donations like Melissa’s are crucial to Tiwahe’s unique mission. The art of reciprocity is key. Tiwahe builds upon culturally responsive philanthropic models that pay very close attention to the traditions and values of the receiving community.