By Ashley Hernandez
IFIP’s strategic framework hopes to expand the sphere of funders and collaborative action among donors and Indigenous Peoples to advance issues of importance to Indigenous communities. The framework acknowledges IFIP’s important role as an influencer and convener of knowledge holders that will advance both the quantity and quality of funding that supports the self-determination and rights of Indigenous Peoples. This was a foundational element of IFIP’s 2018 Global Indigenous Funders Conference. The conference nurtured new and old collaborations that, as an IFIP community, expands the capacity of donors and Indigenous communities to form partnerships, increase resources for Indigenous initiatives, and improve the accessibility and quality of support. Each track included a collection of sessions that provided cases studies, conversations and learning spaces to tackle these issues and how, as a community, we can begin implementing solutions. We share key takeaways and learned from each track.
Track 1: Expanding the Sphere of Funding: Shifting Roadblocks to Resourcing, Silos to Synergy
In this track we explored funding practices that create barriers to effective funding and offered case studies that illuminated how to shift these funding approaches.
Each session explored a variety of topics ranging from Indigenous-led philanthropy to investing in Indigenous women. A common theme emerged from these sessions on the importance of building reciprocal relationships and trust as essential ingredients to foster and cultivate new and existing funding partnerships. This includes relationships at several levels–between funders and Indigenous communities, between funders and their Institutions and peers, and funders and wider movements.
Funders noted the importance of donors building deeper relationships with the communities they serve. This helps donors understand the gaps in their funding, if their monies are being distributed properly, as well as understanding self-identified community needs. For instance, we learned how Cages Foundation decided to focus its funding on Indigenous issues with a particular focus on youth. In doing so, the foundation changed its giving strategy and how it assessed risk by noting that communities already have the capabilities and solutions. For Cages Foundation, aboriginal self-determination became a key priority and by listening to local communities the foundation became more effective as a funder. Cages recently moved 40% of its portfolio into impact investing and has an allocation of funds available to invest in Indigenous businesses.
Speakers from the session ‘Investing in Indigenous Women’s Human Rights for Well-Being and Empowerment’ noted that a major takeaway in cultivating relationships with communities is flexibility and trust. Self-reflection from donors is essential to build this trust. Another session focused on Indigenous women pointed out that these relationships can help donors better understand and respect Indigenous knowledge and community governance, which helps identify local leaders and advocates as essential partners. It can also reveal intra-power relations and reveal which groups may be marginalized in communities like Indigenous women.
Jim Enote, Executive Director of the Colorado Plateau Foundation explained: “Foundations and funders need to examine and deconstruct the silos and roadblocks that exist in philanthropy; these barriers can be perspectives of values, missions, priorities, language, romanticizing of the exotic, the history of giving, routines, and unfamiliarity with Native systems.” Enote illuminated how donors can be well meaning but bring with them “colonial and isolating language.” This can make Native organizations wonder about their communications with funders and create barriers for communities to share their true intent in the grant writing process.
In addition to self-reflection, funders can also transcend their blind spots by including Indigenous voices and decision-makers throughout the process and advocate for this shift within their organizations. “To create change, power and influence needs to be addressed at all levels…one of the biggest roadblocks is that most boards and staff are far removed from the people that they are serving geographically, spiritually. The only way this can be done is if people push against their board and find their roles in pushing forward,” one speaker explained. Funders can advocate for more Indigenous staff and board members in their organizations. They can also partner with Indigenous-led organizations who are re-granting and have relationships and are more accountable to their own communities.
Finally, donors need to consider building relationships with larger movements and wider philanthropy networks. This can foster critical coalitions that are more effective in bringing change than individual organizations working alone. Funders engaging with other donors will not only allow donors to influence wider philanthropy but it will also prevent “donor burnout” while expanding funding to Indigenous communities.
Track 2: Resilience and Revitalization of Indigenous Knowledge and Practice
Indigenous knowledge and practices can provide an important framework for solutions to both local issues as well as many of the Earth’s systemic crisis.
The sessions highlighted the importance of traditional and ancient knowledge to strengthen self-determination and empower communities to chart their own progress for the future. Many also emphasized the importance of engaging Indigenous women’s leadership in the process and for funders to respect Indigenous knowledge and make sure there is buy-in from communities they are serving.
Indigenous knowledge cannot be separated from a community’s ability to protect their way of life and work with their strengths. The session, ‘Rethinking Indigenous Autonomy from Indigenous Food Systems’ empathized how communities have seen the threats of capitalism (biopiracy, resource extraction, fracking, land theft, etc.) for years. Since agricultural colonization has displaced ancient farming wisdom, it is paramount for Indigenous communities to fight these threats by maintaining “their strength and this strength comes from strong connections, ceremony, values, community, and food systems.” The session underscored that only when communities have access to secure food, seeds, and water can they begin to discuss governance and autonomy. When communities have access to their resources and knowledge systems they “have strong agricultural communities [where there is] strength, power, and a system that exists to face opposition to extractive industry and other threats.”
Similarly, the session ‘Building Economic Empowerment through Women-Led Conservation’ advocated for the importance of cultivating communities’ self-esteem for self-reliance and sustainability, which relies on Indigenous Peoples tapping into their own Indigenous knowledge. This is especially true in communities where this knowledge may be eroding. Indigenous communities need to maintain a deep connection to their territories. By investing in reinvigorating Indigenous Knowledge, this can help to rebuild this connection, and in turn “protect the environment and the rights of the environment.” Several speakers advocated for the importance of engaging Indigenous women, especially in conservation efforts. The speakers noted that Indigenous women are often the most outspoken advocates and educators for the protection of their forests and territories, even when the community may not empower women’s voices. “Women think about food and the welfare of our families and so, they are the right people to lead community projects,” a speaker explained.
Funders need to be aware that agro-businesses and exploitive industries degrade Indigenous territories and dignity. It is important to ensure that “the dignity and the rights of the [Indigenous communities] is at the center of sustainable development.” This includes respecting Indigenous knowledge and governance in all funding efforts, including conservation. Therefore, funders need to need to pay attention to cultural competency and developing cultural sensitivity, while also ensuring Indigenous knowledge is preserved across generations.
Track 3: Potentializing and Supporting Indigenous Self Determination: Lessons and Opportunities
This track addressed how to bolster self-determination by both looking at mediums and approaches. The sessions offered a window on positive and negative outcomes of these efforts. The conversations shared the importance of social movements and strategies that are central for the self- determination of Indigenous Peoples, such as land and territory rights and protection, Indigenous women’s rights, political and economic leadership, LGBTQ Indigenous movements, the practice of midwifery in the Americas and others.
The sessions highlighted the importance of building connections of trust between Indigenous communities and groups, non-Indigenous organizations and funders; cultivating leaders and partnership with local organizations to facilitate these relationships; intergenerational engagement and the power of advocacy and policy changes in bolstering self-determination.
The session “Mana Motuhake: Self-Determination and Autonomy Within a Non-Indigenous Philanthropic Organization: An Aotearoa New Zealand Perspective” underscored the importance of nurturing robust relationships between non-Indigenous funders and Indigenous communities, as these funds can be important supporters of Indigenous self-determination. These relationships require meeting with local Indigenous organizations, where both parties work to understand each other’s ways of knowing and practice, allowing better cooperation. For non-Indigenous organizations this can be achieved by training Indigenous leaders, who may need to grow through alternative leadership models that validate Indigenous knowledge. “Leadership is very important and very key to indigenous development and collaboration, especially in building sustainable relationships based on community development,” one speaker noted.
These relationships are also key for funders supporting vulnerable populations within Indigenous communities. As noted earlier, it’s helpful for funders to understand intra-community power dynamics and engage across generations and identities to address sensitive issues that support all Indigenous Peoples from achieving self-determination. In the session ‘Engaging Indigenous LGBTQ Youth and Generating a National Dialogue in the Philippines,’ presenters noted that Indigenous communities still rely on elders and men as the primary decision-makers who often do not even recognize LGBTQ existence. Hence, funders need to identify key issues with the help of indigenous organizations that can empower the LGBTQ community as activists and leaders to advocate for their own rights and foster understanding from other community members.
Funder’s support of advocacy and policy is also essential to the LGBTQ community achieving its rights and self-determination. This includes more laws that can protect LGBTQ rights, as well as lobbying for more mental health services and institutions that can provide socio-political support.
Similarly, other sessions raised the important intersection between Indigenous knowledge and policy in advancing self-determination. The session, ‘Midwifery and Indigenous Self Determination: Transforming Discourse and Action in Latin America’ emphasized strengthening the future of Indigenous midwifery by empowering Indigenous women to learn cultural knowledge and skills. This is important because women are often forced to give birth in the hospitals against their culture and traditions. Additionally, community clinics are abandoned with little supplies, increasing infant mortality rates. If Indigenous midwifery were to be part of state policy or public policies, this would allow indigenous women to practice midwifery in their countries and their communities with a license, on their own terms and with their traditional knowledge intact.
Funders can, both help support initiatives for policy campaigns to get new laws passed, while also supporting intergenerational movements underpinned by Indigenous rights and knowledge that can build more pressure to influence laws and policies. This can build connections between midwifery and other Indigenous movements. “Midwifery is linked to healing and when skills and indigenous knowledge is used, we shall be making a connection to mother earth,” said one speaker.