A conversation with Chad Poitra
Talking with Chad Poitra, you’d think that he’d been in philanthropy his entire career. Wanting to become a teacher growing up, he started off in Indian education as the American Indian liaison for the Robbinsdale Area Schools. It was there he saw children and families struggling to trust western education along with food insecurity to economic mobility, he quickly understood that there was a limited amount of funding available for the Twin Cities American Indian community, so raising money became a goal.
An opportunity to work with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation soon arose and he jumped at the chance to learn the philanthropic ropes.
Continuing to carry his personal values of listening, empathy and compassion, he then saw the need for helping people within his own community and became a small business owner. Applying for a Tiwahe Foundation economic independence grant in the mid 2000s, he purchased a laptop and software to help develop websites but swiftly shifted from development to web hosting and IT support services after hearing from his clients that they needed these services.
“Tiwahe didn’t place any restrictions,” recalled Chad. “I didn’t have to return that money because my business strategy changed. Tiwahe was very receptive, and I felt they understood that things happen; I had to pivot and respond, and I was still using the laptop purchased with the grant to grow my business. I have so much respect and appreciation for the Founding Board members and staff that implemented those values in the grantmaking of Tiwahe.”
Those inspirational leaders Chad acknowledges include LeMoine LaPointe, Yvonne Barrett, Renee Beaulieu Banks, Justin Huenemann, Alicia Smith, Juanita Espinosa, Valerie Larsen, Carrie Day Aspinwall, and the dedication of Kelly Drummer, the first president and CEO of Tiwahe.
It’s this trusting, respectful approach that Chad, now five months as Tiwahe’s executive director, would like to continue extending to future grantees and the Foundation’s 800-plus alumni. He plans to provide continued support, via mentorships, fellowship and leadership development well beyond the disbursement of dollars, especially as the organization explores expanding their grantmaking throughout Minnesota in the fall of 2021.
“We currently have a grant round open for the Twin Cities area till May 30, 2021, which coincides with American Indian Month. But as the Board and staff look at expanding to outstate Minnesota, we’re asking ‘how can we be strategic’ in deploying our resources while finding support mechanisms and stakeholders to continually show up for our grantees,” Chad says. “The more we can meet the community where they are the more we can go farther than just a transactional relationship. It becomes more of partnership.”
And he’s also frequently thinking about how to be more impactful by listening to subject matter experts, former grantees and community partners on how to improve and respond to the needs of the community. For example, when a student needs support to go home and take part in a ceremony, Tiwahe’s Cultural microgrants are there for them. This approach allows them to honor their journey to stay connected to culture while focused on achieving their educational goals.
“The key is helping our grantees reach their goals and help tell those collective stories that serve as inspiration for others to apply. Indian Country has the collective knowledge, the experience and the awareness to dismantle those restrictive systems. That’s been my role in philanthropy, as a small business owner and my role here with Tiwahe is to bridge the work of Indian Country with distribution of resources,” says the former giving officer for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
“We’re going to be constantly asking how we can show up stronger and more impactfully in deploying the resources of the Tiwahe Foundation.”