First Peoples Worldwide (FPW) has awarded more than $1.2 million in grants directly to Indigenous projects, programs and communities since its inception in 1997. In the past five years, the FPW has leveraged more than $15 million for Indigenous communities, states a FPW press release.
FWP aims to strengthen Indigenous communities by restoring their authority and control of their assets, according to the organization’s website. Because Indigenous people traditionally inhabit biodiversity-rich wilderness areas, they are often involuntarily removed from their ancestral lands, stripped of their food, trade and medicines. With their livelihoods threatened, they risk poverty, disease, social unrest and, at worst, cultural extinction.
FPW devised a better solution to environmentally protect the areas. FPW shifts the management and design of Indigenous territory to local Indigenous people, as stewards of their lands. Called “Keepers of the Earth,” FPW’s first global strategic initiative, the model applies traditional knowledge to conservation, protecting land and biodiversity in a time-proven way, in addition to preserving the unique Indigenous cultures and their essential knowledge.
“Working directly with grassroots Indigenous organizations has reminded me again and again how awe-inspiring our communities are,” said Neva Adamson, managing director of FPW. “Despite the challenges of climate change, threats to our self-determination, and the rapid erosion of our traditional resources, Indigenous Peoples continue to see hope and abundance in the world, and continue to preserve their cultures in ingenious ways.”
The Fredericksburg, Virginia-based nonprofit is particularly unique among grant makers because it is Indigenous-led and provides funding directly to Indigenous communities. The organization’s head staff and its global network of board members, grantees and other practitioners all come from diverse Indigenous backgrounds. FPW was founded by Rebecca Adamson, a Cherokee who has worked nationally as an advocate for local tribal issues since 1970. She started First Nations Development Institute in 1980, and 17 yeras later founded FPW.
In the press release, FPW expressed gratitude to the Bay and Paul Foundations, Kendeda Foundation, Kalliopeia Foundation, the Flow Fund, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and others “for having the faith and wisdom to support an Indigenous-led organization to work with and fund our own communities.”
“We have been extremely impressed and gratified by the constant influx of grant proposals we’ve received from Indigenous organizations,” said Jackie Tiller, FPW grants coordinator. “I never cease to be amazed at the originality, inventiveness, and optimism we find in these grant projects.”
Among the numerous Indigenous peoples FPW has helped, it has made major strides among Indigenous communities in Botswana, Bolivia, Ghana and Sri Lanka.
In Botswana, FPW has steadfastly supported the San, the indigenous peoples of Botswana collectively known as Basarwa or Khoi-San peoples, since making its first grant to the Letloa Trust. The lead nonprofit of the Kuru Family of Organizations, Letloa manages program areas in health care, sustainable development, government networking, culturally adapted education and mother tongue intuition, and much more.
A series of grants has provided San organizations with capacity-building support and water deliveries in the parched Central Kalahari Game Reserve–where the government refused their access to water by cementing their boreholes, or water wells. FPW grantee organizations estimate they are assisting more than 6,000 San who were forcibly evicted from their homelands to make way for the Reserve, along with those who maintained their lives on their traditional lands in the desert, despite innumerable hardships.
Bolivia’s Itika Guasu region holds 60 percent of Bolivia’s oil and gas reserves, as well as the traditional lands and livelihoods of the Guarani peoples. When the Guarani peoples of the region were threatened with further exploration and drilling by Repsol, the Assembly of Guarani identified and documented social and environmental impacts of the oil and extractive mining industries, verifying that these have come at the cost of their rights and without their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. While the Guarani sought unsuccessful help from intermediary NGOs, our grant went directly to the organization, allowing them to work with Repsol and gain a multi-million dollar settlement.
Farms have been destroyed by elephants living along the boundaries of Ghana’s Kakum National Park, and hunters are killing the marauding elephants. In response, the Association of Beekeepers in Ghana, led by Fante Peoples living at the Twifo Hemang Lower Denkyira, constructed a beehive barrier that is used along the perimeter of properties to keep crops safe, while simultaneously reducing conflict. The presence of the hives naturally prevents elephants from crossing the grounds, and the honey production has increased income for farmers through sales, which has improved local commerce.
The Nirmanee Development Foundation in Sri Lanka collaborated with support from FPW to design a program for traditional snakebite healers. Snake bite anti-venom is not readily available in the contemporary Sri Lankan medical care system, and only traditional healers are equipped with anti-venom and the knowledge to administer it. A grant from First Peoples Worldwide is helping snake bite healers formalize their expertise in a way that documents Indigenous, traditional knowledge about snakebite medicine, while, at the same time, legitimizing their ancient practice.