The International Funders for Indigenous Peoples released a landscape scan report that brings together knowledge about Indigenous-led funds and the wisdom of Indigenous leaders in philanthropy. Coast Funds was invited to contribute our experience and knowledge to the report.
“It is time for philanthropy to recognize Indigenous Peoples as innovators, thought leaders, active contributors in philanthropy who are bringing solutions based on resiliency from the ground-up,” said Lourdes Inga, International Funders for Indigenous Peoples.
The report, released by the IFIP in March 2021, examines the unique leadership and worldviews rooted in Indigenous-led funds, describes what draws funders to support these types of funds, and points to lessons learned and benefits of supporting and operating them. The report ends with a call to action to support Indigenous-led philanthropy.
As one of 29 funds identified globally as Indigenous-led, Coast Funds was grateful for the opportunity to share our experience as part of the report and to learn from similar organizations. Since the release of our 2020-2022 strategic plan, our organization has evolved its role to offer greater support and access to self-determined funding for First Nations. The findings in the report reflect the need for Indigenous-led funds to increase self-determination for Indigenous Peoples across the globe.
It is time for philanthropy to recognize Indigenous Peoples as innovators, thought leaders, active contributors in philanthropy who are bringing solutions based on resiliency from the ground-up.
What and Who are Indigenous-led Funds?
Indigenous-Led funds, the report states, are guided by Indigenous worldviews and led-by and for Indigenous Peoples. Importantly, they “strengthen self-determination and support a process that empowers the communities…to be able to change paradigms and shift power relations addressing the asymmetry of powers and resources to recognition and reciprocity.”
The funds, as diverse as they are, are resourced largely from philanthropic, government, and corporate donors. Coast Funds stands apart from the majority of Indigenous-led funds, as one of the few whose resources are endowed.
The IFIP report points to the strength of endowed funds as providing access to permanent and sustainable financing. Coast Funds’ conservation fund is an endowment build to permanently provide self-determined funding for First Nations’ stewardship. In 2020, First Nations directed Coast Funds to explore opportunities to grow their endowed stewardship funds to increase access to stable funding.
“If you want to build strong partnerships with Indigenous people, you have to approach them as equals and on their terms” – Monica Alemán, Ford Foundation, Alliance Magazine Feature
Why Support Indigenous-Led Funds?
The IFIP report explores funders’ reasons for and benefits of supporting Indigenous-led funds, thus pointing to some key strengths of such funds, including:
Indigenous-led funds are closest to communities and problems being solved, and understand what works best
Support strengthens Indigenous Peoples’ self-determination and reduces their dependency on outsiders
Indigenous Peoples hold inherent power and wisdom and can be effective for themselves
Indigenous-led funds hold stronger trust with their communities and partners
It is an act of rebalancing historical inequalities and decolonizing philanthropy
“This is an opportunity to improve your chances of impact. Working with Indigenous people, supporting their leadership, investing in their institutions is an opportunity for impact,” wrote Darren Walker in Alliance Magazine’s Indigenous Philanthropy Feature.
“So this is not ‘please do us a favour,’ this is a proven way of making impact in the world and if you believe in justice, justice is calling and justice won’t be achieved without walking hand in hand and resourcing and supporting Indigenous Peoples, their organisations, their leadership, and believing in them.”
Honouring Connectedness and Self Determination
Contributors to the IFIP report stated that their work is rooted in supporting self-determination by being responsive to the needs of their communities, and employing a holistic understanding and approach that honours the interconnectedness of people, land, language and culture.
True to the findings in the report, Coast Funds was created in 2007 to make the vital connection between sustainable development projects that embrace conservation values; the social, cultural, and economic well-being of the First Nations communities; and the long-term stewardship of the region.
Today, Coast Funds serves as a globally recognized model of Indigenous-led conservation finance, demonstrating that First Nations’ leadership and self-determination are key to permanently protecting ecologically and culturally significant places on Earth.
As our organization learned through conversations with First Nations community and business leaders—and as is reported in the IFIP publication—Indigenous-led funds offer greater value than grant-making alone.
In addition to doing grant-making, Indigenous-Led funds offer communities:
Support and coaching through the grant-making process
Networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities with other Indigenous communities
Networking with funders and learning opportunities about philanthropy
Collaboration and alliance building with other sectors (such as government)
Mentorship and capacity building support
Platforms to amplify and share their voices and stories
If you want to build strong partnerships with Indigenous people, you have to approach them as equals and on their terms.
Call to Support Indigenous-led Funds
Indigenous-led funds hold a unique and powerful position. In the IFIP report, Indigenous-led funds described the values and principles guiding their decisions including long term perspectives that consider the well-being of future generations, connection to the land and considerations for stewardship responsibilities, and trust-based reciprocal community relationships and community-tailored processes.
The report ends with nine calls to action to support Indigenous-led philanthropy and Indigenous-led funds.
Invest in Indigenous-Led Funds
It is no surprise that Indigenous-led funds are in need of more funding. In particular, unrestricted, general support funding, and multi-year funding is needed to fulfill Indigenous-led priorities and self-determination. Indigenous-led funds are interested in and prepared to receive and responsibly manage large investments.
Indigenous-led funds need support to be introduced and connect with new donors that can support their work. Indigenous-led funds also need opportunities to share knowledge with other Indigenous leaders and communities. Through knowledge-sharing and mentorship, Indigenous
peoples strengthen leadership and capacity.
Indigenous-led funds need platforms where they can share their own stories, and where their community partners can share their stories. They need access to spaces where they can educate others, especially donors, about the importance of their work to decolonize philanthropy.
Increase Indigenous Leadership
In addition to wanting support, resources and opportunity to grow and strengthen their own internal and community leadership, Indigenous-led funds are also calling upon funders to increase Indigenous leadership within their own institutions, on staff, boards, and other decision-making bodies.
Indigenous-led funds are calling upon funders to actively review how they uphold white supremacy and systemic racism. To educate themselves to understand how they as individuals, as institutions, and as a sector are connected to and play active roles in the oppression of Indigenous communities. Through education and learning, mainstream philanthropy can identify ways to decolonize its own processes and contribute to meaningful change.
Give Space to Heal
Indigenous leaders in philanthropy also need their own spaces and opportunities to convene as communities and heal from decolonization together.
Philanthropy needs to open the doors and accept Indigenous peoples as equal partners. Non-Indigenous power and control over the world’s resources needs to be relinquished to enable systemic change and a just future where Indigenous self-determination is realized.
Trust Indigenous-Led Funds
Indigenous-led funds are asking for trust in their work as a most effective means of granting to Indigenous communities and advancing Indigenous-led priorities
Change the Narrative
Philanthropy needs to change the narrative on Indigenous regranting models. Indigenous-led funds are not risky investments, they are responsible ones. Investments in institutional capacity are not high overhead, they are long-term strategies. Indigenous leaders are not just administering grants, they are leading transformation of the philanthropic sector. It is time to shift perspective and change the narrative.