Photo essay by Rucha Chitnis
IFIP’s Pacific Hui brought together rich perspectives in strengthening Indigenous rights and philanthropy. In the face of climate change and threats of land grabs, Pacific Indigenous advocates have made powerful strides to reclaim homelands, halt deep-sea mining and revive threatened native languages. Here is some wisdom on community building, sharing power in philanthropy and decolonizing development from the incredible voices at the Hui.
“The land is my mother. The land is my teacher. Traditionally women don’t talk about land in my community. But when I saw people selling their land to outsiders, I had to speak up. We have to protect our resources and pass on this knowledge to our future generations,” said Numelin Mahana, an elder from Tana Island in Vanuatu.
“Our people are our wealth, and our language is a treasure. Language revival is central for our community’s transformation. We see the world once again with Māori eyes,” said Mereana Selby, CEO of Te Wānanga o Raukawa, a Māori center for higher learning in Otaki. Today Otaki is poised to become the first bilingual town in New Zealand thanks to a remarkable revival of Māori language.
Peter Aldenhoven of the Quandamooka people shared how the narrow funding prism of funders in Australia ignores the real needs of Indigenous groups. “There is a yearning in Australia for a fair and a more reconciled future for our country, for a better relationship with the First Australians, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples. We ask you philanthropists to listen to us deeply and walk beside us with strength, kindness and as co-imaginers. We need philanthropy to understand that pride is our culture is what drives us most of all,” said Peter.
“We have to move away from the old model of transactional relationships to real power sharing in philanthropy. Research tells us that what’s good for Māori is good for all people in New Zealand,” said Chelsea Grootveld, Trustee of the J. R. McKenzie Trust.
“One of our greatest challenges as funders is to get ourselves on the right side of history by recognizing and respecting the cultures of our First Nations people. The Hui in Otaki was more than I had expected or hoped for in addressing this challenge. What I learned is that for funders, this means deep listening, two way learning and a willingness to sit in the ‘not knowing’ place to find the most effective ways to engage with cultural leadership, and recognize ideas that serve us all,” said Genevieve Timmons, Philanthropic Executive at Portland House Foundation in Australia.
Veeshayne Patuwai founded a leadership program called Urutapu to empower young Māori women. “Our leadership program is about realizing the greatest, innate gifts of young women so they can change the world. Women are the carriers of knowledge in our communities, and it’s a privilege to work with young women. We believe in a holistic model of leadership that’s authentic and gentle, yet powerful,” she said.
One of the stirring presentations at the hui was by Woor-Dungin, an aboriginal coalition of organizations and funders from Australia. Eight members of the coalition took the hui participants on a journey of dadirri, an aboriginal philosophy on listening deeply. “Reciprocity is deep listening, listening with all of your senses is integral for establishing respectful relationships. Employing deep listening, transparency of relationship, flexibility and reciprocity of respect and responsibility—all go towards enduring relationships, which are sustained,” said one member of Woor-Dungin.
“IFIP sees the profound value in bringing Indigenous voices to philanthropic spaces so that funders can move away from transactional relationships to embrace a partnership model that is responsive and respectful of Indigenous life plans,” reflected Lourdes Inga, Interim Executive Director of IFIP at the hui.
“Children are the most effective marketers of language,” said Mereana Selby. Otaki has Māori instruction schools, where children have become fluent speakers and are transmitting the language to family members.
“We have to practice micro acts of decolonization. It’s important for Māori to tell our own stories of Indigenous agriculture. Māori worldview fosters vibrant production of healthy food systems,” said Dr. Jessica Hutchings, a food sovereignty advocate at the opening plenary.