“The future of philanthropy is one centered on funding solutions that are led by communities most impacted by inequities. Indigenous philanthropy is a pathway to fund indigenous-led solutions and diverse indigenous voices that are critical to achieve equity in philanthropy,” said Lourdes Inga, Executive Director of International Funders for Indigenous Peoples. In September, IFIP hosted its Learning Institute’s closing retreat in San Francisco, where funders gathered to dialogue on amplifying Indigenous philanthropy. The delegates also visited the Indian Valley Organic Farm & Garden at the College of Marin that is a Native-led teaching farm to restore Indigenous foodways.
“We know our people suffer from nutritional racism. This Native food garden is a way for us to connect with our ancestors,” said Melissa Nelson, President of the Cultural Conservancy (TCC), a Native-led organization that strives to restore Indigenous foodways and culture.
“The Learning Institute is a reminder of the principles to work with Indigenous communities to ensure their self-determination and thinking through practical ways in which we can partner respectfully with communities,” said Danielle Fuller-Wimbush, Director of Partner Support and Grantmaking for Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
“This is the beginning of a new process where funders are trying to understand the needs of Indigenous Peoples, where we are also voicing our perspectives. For us what’s most important is building relationships. If you don’t understand a person or a group, how will you develop trust, solidarity and reciprocity,” said Dr. Yolanda Teran Maigua of the Quechua peoples.
“Funders need to realize that much of the material wealth comes from the exploitation of the lands of Indigenous Peoples. It is the responsibility of funders to support Indigenous Peoples. We are part of the problem, and we need Indigenous Peoples to design their own solutions,” said Nittaya Saenbut, Program Associate for Trust Costs Initiative.
Hussein Isack is an elder and a leader from the nomadic Gabra community in Northeast Kenya that is impacted by climate change and harmful development projects. “The Learning Institute builds a bridge between funders and Indigenous Peoples, a bridge of understanding so that we can journey together. This is very important because our humanity and the Earth requires us to avert hardships of climate change,” said Isack.
During the tour of the Native food garden, the delegates learned about the creation stories of Native communities that are deeply interwoven with ancestral foods–the sacred corn, squash and beans. Here Maya Harjo shows us an ancient variety of the ‘Moon and Stars Watermelon,’ which has small yellow spots akin to stars and a large yellow full circle that symbolizes the moon.
“We know we need to start eating healthier. We know how prolific a small garden can be. Food is beautiful; it is this embodied knowledge that Indigenous Peoples have learned by knowing and being in relationship with the land,” said Nelson.
“IFIP gives me hope. I feel I am part of a dedicated network that sees whole systems and the big picture. We are not ending the relationship when the retreat has ended,” said Saenbut.
“It is important that our engagement with funders is that of collaboration and support rather than funder-recipient relationship. There is a movement and awareness for Indigenous-led funds, and I think it’s only going to grow,” said Isack.
“Decolonizing philanthropy is about building relationships. We are not just receiving funds. [Indigenous Peoples] are also sharing our knowledge, our values and giving our time. We need to dialogue more deeply to build this model together,” said Dr. Maigua.
“We engage with youth and start to understand they only have access to canned vegetables and GMO foods. So many kids have not seen their ancestral foods. We were taught it was backwards. Now when they come to this Native garden, they eat fresh fruits and summer squashes,” said Maya Harjo, organic gardener and Foodways Coordinator at TCC.