The California 2020 wildfire season was unprecedented, by December nearly 10,000 fires had damaged or destroyed more than 10,000 structures and burned over 4.2 million acres.(1) This devastation disrupted and destroyed lives, homes and livelihoods, and exhausted our emergency responders with the added challenge of living in a global pandemic. The California Community Foundation (CCF) focused its relief and recovery efforts on the most vulnerable wildfire-affected communities across the state, while also identifying effective ways to seed resiliency for those vulnerable populations.

Our grantmaking sought to address the vulnerabilities created by structural racism which limits access to relief and recovery resources for many Californians following a disaster, including California’s Native American population. Native American communities across California face specific challenges that make recovery from natural disasters arduous.Although California has the largest Native American population in the nation, with nearly 216,000 individuals, they continue to be underserved by federal, state and local disaster relief programs.(2)

“In times of crisis it’s essential to engage and collaborate with local partners on the ground to address the needs of the community”

— Lindsie Bear,
Vice President of Strategy, Program, and Community Solutions, Humboldt Area Foundation

Their ancestral homelands are often located in densely forested areas that are prone to wildfires due to climate change. In addition, the rate of tribal poverty is more than twice that of the rest of California’s population with one-third of tribal residents living below the federal poverty rate.(2)

Humboldt Area Foundation, a grantee of the Wildfire Recovery Fund, has been working with tribal communities for more than 20 years. They have a well-established relationship with tribe leaders in Northern California and when the Slater fire raged through the ancestral heart of the Karuk tribe on September 15, 2020 they moved quickly to identify the gaps in relief aid.

The grant from the Fund allowed Humboldt Area Foundation to provide necessities such as heaters, air filters, propane tanks and trailer weatherproofing for the 192 households that were affected by the fire. Which ensured that 413 people were safely and warmly housed through the winter.

“In times of crisis it’s essential to engage and collaborate with local partners on the ground to address the needs of the community”, says Lindsie Bear, Vice President of Strategy, Program, and Community Solutions, Humboldt Area Foundation. “It is equally as important to work with tribal leaders who know best what the needs of their members are.”