What Does a Native Girls’ Covid-19 Response Fund Look Like? ​(Part 4, Covid-19 Response Series)

by Kelly Hallman, Fouding Director, IMAGEN, and Lisa Polen, Program Manager, IMAGEN

The Indigenous Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Network (IMAGEN), is a new initiative in American Indian Country, housed within the Girl Innovation, Research, and Learning (GIRL) Center. IMAGEN seeks to strengthen the protection, safety, and resilience of girls in Native communities by reclaiming neighborhood spaces in which to rekindle matrilineal traditions. The evidence-based approach consists of a set of adaptable planning tools honed over 20 years in global settings that enables one to establish neighborhood safe spaces for girls. Weekly “Girl Society” meetings are led by pairs of local women who serve as mentors/aunties. Girls’ families, elders, and local experts are invited to the girls’ safe space on a regular basis.

There are two unique and special aspects to IMAGEN:

  • IMAGEN is not focused around a pre-determined curriculum. It is instead a set of strategic tools for finding, recruiting, and engaging girls who may otherwise remain invisible due to family stress and trauma.
  • IMAGEN also functions differently from a drop-in center. Weekly “Girl Society” meetings take place at a specific day and time so if a girl is repeatedly absent it will be noticed and she can be checked on. These weekly meetings can function as an early warning system by increasing our ability “to see” girls, and hopefully over time combat trafficking and violence.
Developing a Pandemic Response Fund
IMAGEN believes tomorrow’s Native communities will only be healthier and stronger if we invest today in the Native girls who will soon lead and sustain us. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the world while disproportionately affecting Native communities. In response and thanks to the generosity of an individual donor, $20,000 was allocated to a diverse set of Indian Country entities operating Girl Societies, including neighborhood-based mentors, schools, community arts, trauma-reduction counseling, juvenile justice outreach, domestic violence prevention, and cultural preservation. These operate in 13 U.S. states, including South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Alaska, and New York, and reach girls in remote rural reservations, as well in small and large towns adjacent to reservations. The funds were given out in two rounds, with the second $10,000 being exhausted less than 24 hours after the opportunity was announced. 100% of the resources were distributed to Native entities.
Priority Needs Addressed by the Fund

Among the needs addressed were the following:

Food insecurity:

  • Food parcels assembled by and for girls in food-insecure families
  • Baby food distributed to teenaged mothers
  • Gardening supplies and food preservation equipment provided to girl-managed gardens

Financial needs:

  • Emergency cash distributed
  • Financial assistance to girls in the greatest need, including homeless girls

Buttressing cultural support: Materials for producing cultural objects, such as moccasins, beading, ceremonial dresses, parfleche bags, and medicine pouches were sent to girls along with art supplies such as paint, drawing paper, and pencils. Photo Credit: Josephine Wagner, a teacher from Browning, MT.

For more information about IMAGEN, please visit: