This guide will tell potential donors everything they need to know about partnering with Indigenous Peoples for philanthropic purposes.

Courtesy Foundation Center/GrantCraft/IFIP

This guide will tell potential donors everything they need to know about partnering with Indigenous Peoples for philanthropic purposes.

New Philanthropy Guide Brings Indigenous Funding to the Fore

Indigenous Peoples are emerging as key global players when it comes to environmental issues, human rights, climate change and food security. Now, philanthropy is poised to join those areas on the international stage in terms of visibility.

Working with the service arm GrantCraft, part of the international philanthropy-information group the Foundation Center, International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP) has created a guide that doubles as a to-do list for organizations that would like to target Native endeavors. 

More than 30 people, including 21 funders, were on hand for the November 9 launch of  Funding Indigenous Peoples: Strategies for Support at Ford Foundation headquarters in New York City, eager to learn how they could better serve Indigenous Peoples’ projects and programs. All pledged to increase their indigenous philanthropy profile and to learn more about Indigenous Peoples and how to partner with them.

According to research by the Foundation Center, 49 percent of the monies donated worldwide to indigenous causes come from Ford, IFIP Executive Director Evelyn Arce noted as she introduced the guide. Thus simply having the launch at the Ford Foundation raised the issue’s visibility immeasurably, Arce later told Indian Country Today Media Network.

“This brings it to a whole new level,” she said.

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The 36-page, magazine-style guide begins with a general overview of who indigenous groups are, and notes that less than one percent of the world’s philanthropic dollars goes directly to indigenous endeavors—though groups receiving money for issues such as human rights and environmental preservation often overlap with indigenous concerns.

“While indigenous issues cut across most program areas, from health and education to sustainable development and culture, data from Foundation Center shows that funders currently supporting these communities often do so through environmental, human rights and international affairs programs,” the guide states. “Few funders actually have a dedicated Indigenous Peoples program.”

That is somewhat mitigated by funders’ focus on programs that overlap indigenous causes: environmental, human rights and international affairs. But there is definitely room for growth, IFIP and other supporters said. Among the key points emphasized are that Indigenous Peoples make good partners, and that it’s important to build a relationship of mutual trust.

“More and more funders are starting to realize that indigenous communities are not only cost-effective partners, but also bring long-lasting impact to programs,” Arce said in a statement announcing the guide.

Although the cultures are myriad and Indigenous Peoples are scattered around the globe, they share some important points, the guide notes. For one, they are often tied culturally and spiritually to the land, which corresponds with environmentalism in the western mind-set. For another, they were universally colonized and discriminated against, and their land taken or threatened, in the centuries since Europeans began branching out across the oceans. Thus self-determination and sovereignty are key issues for Indigenous Peoples as well, the guide notes.

The guide also profiles programs that already fund Indigenous Peoples, homing in on initiatives that give the highest percentage of support, including environmental, human rights and international affairs, as well as new funding for traditional knowledge. And “Action Steps,” such as, “Take the time to educate staff across program areas on indigenous issues through a brown-bag lunch or distributing documents with summaries of facts.”

It also steers would-be donors and those interested in learning more toward United Nations web sites such as the U.N. Development Programme’s State of Indigenous Peoples reports, which give good summaries of issues facing Natives, and reading the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Suggestions for strategies and approaches are also included, along with examples of groups that are already doing it. This gives those exploring the idea for the first time a sense of what is possible. The guide winds up with a chapter on “Tools for Partnering With Indigenous Communities” that advises potential donors on how to initiate indigenous-guided philanthropy, and emphasizing the importance of being flexible, as well as willingness to examine one’s own cultural assumptions.

RELATED: Call to Action: Major Funders Discuss Health and Funding in Indian Country

The guide is available for download at the GrantCraft website, with more information at IFIP.

“This whole publication is meant to inspire,” Arce told ICTMN. “We can make an impact. This is our legacy for our children and our grandchildren. We are warriors.”

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