Due to popular demand, we are providing a copy of keynote speaker, Roberta Jamieson’s speech. You can read it below or click here to download.
IFIP World Summit on Indigenous Philanthropy
Roberta L. Jamieson President and CEO, Indspire Remarks – September 24, 2014
Since the theme of my remarks is the reciprocity which is fundamental to Indigenous values – and the role of philanthropy in encouraging it – I want to build on our opening prayer, offered in the oldest ways of our people, reminding myself and all of us of our principal reciprocal relationship which each of us has with our Mother the Earth – we recognize her by our constant thankfulness to her for all her gifts which sustain our lives. It is Indigenous reciprocity which calls upon us to always be conscious of the earth on which we walk, and when we are away from our own homes, conscious that we are in the territories of other peoples.
Today we are meeting on lands and near waters which since ancient times have been known as a meeting place, a place where Indigenous peoples gathered to renew their reciprocal relationships. Those of you from other lands visiting New York may learn the settler dogma that this is the place in 1626 where the Indigenous people of this place stupidly sold off the valuable real estate of Manhattan Island for $24 worth of glass and trinkets. And thus one of the earliest lessons in Indigenous reciprocity, the exchange of gifts as a means of building relationships, was lost to cultural arrogance which, unfortunately, too often continues to this day. Despite the skyscrapers and pavement and noise of “civilization”, we can still recognize this place as the home of those who have gone before us, and whose presence we can often feel since they are a part of our lives. And so I begin by acknowledging them, the Original Peoples of this place, and thanking them, thanking those living, and those who have gone before for the honour and privilege of meeting on their land.
Congratulations to the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples for this great summit, an occasion where together we can plan and act in the promotion of giving, sharing, empowering, supporting efforts to build a strong, healthy future for the Indigenous peoples of the world. We increase the hope of all peoples of the planet when we can guarantee a strong, healthy future for Indigenous Peoples, who, as Felix Cohen once said, are the miner’s canary for all peoples of this planet.
My goal in these 25 minutes and in talks I hope we have afterwards is to consider with you how the concept of Indigenous reciprocity can be related to the concept of western philanthropy, and why it is so important that philanthropists grasp and live by this reciprocity so that their investments in projects will offer returns exponentially into the future. By participating in this event, you are demonstrating your own courageous and innovative spirit in taking on this cross-‐cultural challenge and all the great sensitivities and adaptations this requires.
Reciprocity. I want to make sure that today we are talking about Indigenous reciprocity. Other peoples use the word differently. Diplomats, for example, use it in agreements – you let my airplanes land in your airports and I’ll let your airplanes land in my airports. You give me this, and I’ll give you that – agreed? “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” The term has a much richer more complex meaning, however, when we refer to Indigenous reciprocity. Indigenous Reciprocity is not just some isolated concept: it is an integral part of the nearly universal Indigenous worldview. It rarely stands alone – usually it is one essential aspect of a constellation of positive attributes which are integral to Indigenous societies – and very badly needed by the rest of the world. Generate reciprocity, and the other cultural values flow.
Indigenous Reciprocity is much more complex than a two-‐way exchange of favours: there are reciprocities of reciprocities, involvement of intricate social systems, usually accompanied by protocols, etiquettes, triggering series of events which trigger other series. While the word “Reciprocity” is not used often in our daily lives, it is deeply embedded in most Indigenous cultures where reciprocity remains strong in many respects, – we must acknowledge that in other respects the serious erosion of our world view has consequently caused damage to our systems of reciprocity, but we continue to have strong philosophical continuity. And it is so beautiful in this World Summit to be reminded that reciprocity is such a common principle of Indigenous people all over the planet, each of us applying the concept in our own diverse way.
Long before the Spanish, throughout the Americas there was the principle of compadrazgo (com-‐pah-‐drahz-‐go) implying reciprocity, ritual kinship, and the elaborate festivals and practices of gift-‐giving and communal work . . .the Quechua reciprocity of “ayni”. . .the moral reciprocity of “bao ying” returning in the resurgence of Indigenous practices in China . . .the mention in the recent Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact of collective social responsibility and reciprocity, communal harmony and integrity . . .the Maori concept of ‘mana a kitanga’: hospitability, concern, respect, reciprocity, humility, responsibility, relationship embracing all humanity, the notion of ‘he waka eke noa’, “We’re all in this together” . . .the ancient Hindu reciprocity of karma even beyond this life . . .the Polynesian and Melanesian Indigenous redistribution of wealth reciprocity expressed also on the Pacific Coast in the potlatch . . .Zapotecas in Mexico assume reciprocal responsibilities through guendaliza, meaning “we all are relatives” and say as thank you, “chux quixely,” to reaffirm, “I will reciprocate”.
In Bolivia, fundamentally an Indigenous nation, Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales – the country’s first Indigenous president – has made reciprocity, solidarity and community the basis for a shared vision of a new economic system intended to result in a better future for the Bolivian People. In fact, that is Article 2 of the Bolivian Constitution: “Bolivia is founded in the principles of unity, solidarity, and reciprocity.” (Art.2: Bolivia se funda en los principios de unidad, solidaridad, reciprocidad…) And in that same spirit, we have the Bolivian Guarantee of Rights to Pachamama, Mother Earth – imagine, a North America where the Earth had its own set of rights!
Here in North America, Indigenous Peoples recognize the reciprocity we receive and the reciprocity we provide, the oft-‐ repeated reciprocal thanksgiving we give in return to each and every thing which sustains our lives and to which we are related. Sometimes Indigenous reciprocity is symbolic: the offering of tobacco ties in a Sun Dance, for example, a hunter asking permission from an animal before a kill, a healer placing tobacco on the earth before picking a plant — simple expressions of reciprocity. You see all this built into the Treaty Relationship which is the very foundation of Canada’s existence: history tells us that it was Indigenous people who insisted on the Treaty Relationship with settlers for the sharing of lands, of living together in peaceful co-‐existence and mutual support.
Reciprocity is a deeply-‐rooted concept among Indigenous people internationally because we all learned about reciprocity from the same teacher – from the way nature works. We had the same classroom – the natural world – the reciprocity of sharing the gifts of forests and sky, the mountains and the seas, all giving not for altruism, not for benevolence, not to be philanthropic, but giving to keep the cycles of life moving and strengthening. The reason WHY we are still Indigenous peoples – one of the factors which distinguishes us from others – is that we have retained close intergenerational ties with a particular place on the planet which gave life to our respective ancestors, gives life to us, and which we want to be sustained so it can give life to our children and future generations. This distinguishing factor of reciprocity leads us to other principles: the idea that we are guests on this land, not owners; that our relationship to natural resources must be sustainable; that we are part of some kind of cosmic hospitality system to which we can offer little and yet use a lot.
Our Indigenous Reciprocity is not a philosophical principle, but rather is the way we are instructed to live our lives. It infuses all of our relationships with mutual respect, humbleness, joy, and appreciation. Our challenge today, at this World Summit is this: how can our relationship, that of Indigenous peoples and philanthropists, embrace and be embraced by reciprocity? If we are successful in forming a working relationship based on Indigenous reciprocity, it will be a type of philanthropy rarely seen before. Our understanding of our relationship will be based on what we have learned from the Natural World throughout our history.
In Nature, at the end of the day, all parties are equal. That prompts Indigenous groups to relate to philanthropists as other human beings like ourselves, and to hope that this will help us to heal our colonial traumas in our respective searches for the restoration of our own humanity and values. Generally, we are looking for people with whom we can establish warm working relationships – we want to establish relationships before we discuss money. We want a relationship that will continue after the philanthropy ends. We are looking for ways to offer reciprocity in return. Indigenous reciprocity is dynamic, constant, requiring on-‐going re-‐negotiation, arising from a respectful relationship of mutual trust, the reassurance of mutual obligations. As the Cherokee philosopher Rebecca Adamson puts it, “I have the honour of giving, the honour of receiving…“I honour you by giving. You honor me by receiving.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_Adamson)
Essentially today we are talking about, frankly, is the decolonization of philanthropy in its relationship with Indigenous peoples. The question we ask of philanthropy is whether it can develop decolonized reciprocal relationships with Indigenous peoples not to “help” them, not because they are “poor and needy”, but rather to strengthen our ability to realize our potential so that we may make our full contribution to society and to the future of everyone’s children. If that is to happen, we have to work together to change the rules of engagement.
It is my hope that we will be successful in meeting this challenge – and more: that our success will be a proud example that will encourage others in their own fields to develop reciprocity as a tool in decolonizing the terribly damaging negative relationship which has prevailed for so much of our recent histories in every part of the world. We need to join as two parties working jointly toward a shared goal. In those terms, philanthropy’s move to reciprocity will mean two cultures building bridges, maturely moving beyond assessing blame and instead concentrating on the creation of solutions. We would want to remember that Indigenous values generally cause us to distrust anyone who refuses to share, and as well, to distrust a person who refuses to accept offers of sharing, however humble, from others.
Reciprocity is intended to maintain balance, you see, to maintain equilibrium in a relationship. With reciprocity, we feel good about giving, and we feel good about being offered a gift. We feel nourished by the transaction, both as giver-‐receivers and receiver-‐givers. When reciprocity is not practiced in Indigenous philanthropy, things easily can go awry: givers feel unappreciated and resentful, receivers feel their dignity has been diminished, guilty about not having been able to give back. The loss of balance is felt in our hearts.
Now think what all that means if applied to philanthropy. If we are to move philanthropy into reciprocity, it means the building and nourishing of long-‐term relationships which are developed for the sake of the relationship itself before there is any thought of “philanthropy”. It means the development of relationships which are intended to endure, even if it turns out that no money is provided. This means the relationships formed are intended to continue even after the “giving” is over; means relationships which will cherish opportunities for “giving” and “giving back” many times.
Indigenous reciprocity requires development of an interconnectedness. It implies us all seeing ourselves as part of the same whole. There is no room in our way of thinking for “us” and “them”. Everyone is “us”, members of the same family, children of the same earth, part of the same Creation. Philanthropists who are still of the old school will need to carefully contemplate how all this contrasts with modern values, the personal transformations which are required, the impact on policies and procedures, whether a reciprocal relationship can ever arise from “application for a grant”. Again quoting Rebecca Adamson:
“The traditional philanthropic paradigm is a transaction: one gives, the other receives.
“This is alien to most Indigenous communities whose giving instead stresses reciprocity…
“If we want to change outcomes in Indigenous communities, the first step for donors is self-reflection…”
to understand that cash cannot buy relationships, nor can it be a substitute for human involvement, to see that transparency, trust, and compliance are natural components of good relationships. These issues require us all to review our perspective on our future, our very survival, on questions of economic sustainability, the role of material goods and property in our lives.
Reciprocity raises issues of our social values, questions of power and authority, questions of our goals, our hopes for the future of our people. Reciprocity is based on relationship, and reciprocity builds relationships – it builds networks of trust; it builds friendships. Fortunately, your attendance at this conference is proof-‐positive that there is a trend in philanthropy to change the way we relate to each other, to develop meaningful relationships first and foremost right from the beginning, rather than as a result of “giving”.
Now I know all this advice is light on being a “how-‐to-‐do-‐it” manual. And that’s intentional – the “manual” is something each philanthropist and each Indigenous People must work out together – once you get to know each other. Do not assume, please, that you can just expand whatever great model program that generally works to offer off the shelf to an Indigenous community. I know both as a Mohawk woman and as CEO of an Indigenous-‐led charity that if the people, the community do not feel they share the driver’s seat, if we are not seen as a real active partner – it just isn’t going to work…and may in fact make matters worse.
One of our programs is called “Realizing Projects” – where we bring resources from our funding partners along with Indigenous expertise to Indigenous communities who want to make fundamental change in educational outcomes. “It’s up to you – how do you want to tackle the issues you have identified? Whether it be parental engagement, culturally-‐appropriate learning, we’ll help you create your own roadmap and we’ll help you evaluate its effectiveness.” – we’ll help you talk about it.” This is fundamentally different from implanting the most well-‐meaning program in the world into a community which by its very definition is Indigenous, and wants to remain Indigenous.
Indspire, the charitable foundation of which I am privileged to be CEO and President, is all about reciprocity. It gives away millions of dollars annually to Indigenous students, but I think I can speak for both ourselves and the students when I say that we have never thought of this as “philanthropy”. Rather it is pure reciprocity. We assist Indigenous students to realize their immense potential to achieve for their own well-‐being and that of their families, communities, their nations, Canada and the world. Indspire works hard to get students through high school, to get them into colleges, universities, training, and helping them to remain there until they succeed. Indspire is also involved in the transformation of Indigenous education into a culturally-‐appropriate community-‐driven engine using innovative best practices in the classroom. This is the only way we will ever convert our huge potential to be a part of the Canada of the future into the dramatic results of which we are capable.
All Indigenous students implicitly understand the reciprocity that is involved here. We hear it over and over – they want to give back, to use their potential to improve the well-‐being not only of human life, but the well-‐being of our Mother the Earth. If our current generation of Indigenous youth is supported so they can become achievers, they will change their circumstances, their families, their communities – Canada will be so much richer for it. I am so privileged and proud to be a part of this reciprocity engine, one which invites others to give to students so students can give their own energies and commitment so they can better give their talents to their people.
We are the generation which must bring reciprocity back into our working relationship. This will mean we must open our minds – and our hearts – to unconventional approaches in the application of first principles. Reciprocity involves engaging our courage, conviction, collaboration, confidence. I close with another example of reciprocity deeply imbedded in our cultures. It is a teaching about “transgenerational reciprocity”, an expression of commitment to future generations, recognition of what we have received from past generations, the reciprocal recognition of our debt to future generations.
As is true of many Indigenous peoples, my own people, the Mohawks of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, are instructed that in living our lives and making our decisions for the future, we must focus our attention not on ourselves, not on our children, or even our grandchildren, but rather on the Seventh Generation − those yet to be born, children whose faces are still coming towards us. The Seventh Generation are our great-‐grandchildren’s great-‐grandchildren. The Seventh Generation is not a figurative abstraction: it consists of real human beings not yet born — the people who will call us “their ancestors.” They have every right to expect that we will realize the opportunity to put our minds together to improve life for our children.
The responsibility to live a life focused on the Seventh Generation has been a powerful force in my own life. I commend it to you for your own consideration. This focus has taught me that I have both the opportunity and responsibility to create change. It has taught me that I do not live alone in this world: we walk with our past, our present, and our common future. It has taught me to seek a longer view whenever I have felt the push of impatience or the immobilization of despair. If we think of the Seventh Generation, we will be pushed to go beyond the mark, to go in new directions, to find opportunities that don’t appear when we are thinking of the short term. The Seventh Generation is with us in spirit here, today. They are our future, cheering us on. We need them for our lives to have meaning. They need us to provide them with a foundation, a future which is viable and sustainable.
Remember we here today are their ancestors…As they will look back at each of us – we hope they will find us worthy of their gratitude for our efforts to create a better future for them. That will be their appointment with reciprocity, because we have kept ours. This we must do, in our lifetime, in our generation.
Thank you for listening to my words.