Our partner Alliance Magazine has generously shared the following article, The reciprocal route to actioning decolonisation, by The Circle from their Decolonising Philanthropy Issue, making it available for free for all PhiLab readers. Enjoy the read!
Philanthropy needs to give Indigenous sovereignty a higher priority to achieve a fundamental and long-lasting difference
Since 2008, The Circle on Philanthropy (The Circle) has been supporting Indigenous peoples, communities and organisations to transform the settler philanthropic sector in Canada by incorporating Indigenous ways of giving and committing to invest in the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. In response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on the legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada, The Circle, through its Declaration of Action sets out to decolonise wealth in a Canadian sector that originates from the accumulation of wealth from stolen land, dispossession and violation of Indigenous peoples’ rights. Violations such as the early surveying of land which forced most of the Indigenous communities in Canada on to 2 per cent of its land mass – a significant barrier to their ecosystems, culture, language, spirituality, identity and well-being. A violation against Métis scrips that often were unobtainable and also interrupted and displaced Inuit communities during resource extraction such as the gold rush. The impact of these violations continues and has taken many forms of policy and legislation since the constitution of Canada came into being.
The Circle works to maintain and amplify Indigenous forms of wealth redistribution and to radically transform how settler philanthropy supports Indigenous-led innovations, movements and Nations.
Community, family and private foundations need to reflect on their origin stories to understand how their resources and wealth began, which in most cases derives from the exploitation of land, resource extraction and displacement of Indigenous peoples from their land, culture and spirituality. Predominantly white-dominated boards and senior leadership roles still make decisions on behalf of Indigenous communities, which undermines their well-being and autonomy. The philanthropic and charitable sector continues to benefit from extraction and appropriation of Indigenous knowledge, stories, wisdom and work without sharing power or resources with Indigenous leaders and their communities. We encourage organisations to go through a process of learning about reciprocity and what this means for Indigenous-led organisations and their work. It is not enough to engage diverse voices. Organisations need to understand and support Indigenous sovereignty as a higher priority.
Partners in reciprocity
Since time immemorial, Indigenous communities have held and maintained our laws and authority to ethically steward resources and thus have a responsibility to equitably redistribute wealth. Our work is to support the relearning of knowledge that is in alignment with Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing, of caring for the land and future generations. The Circle works to maintain and amplify Indigenous forms of wealth redistribution and to radically transform how settler philanthropy supports Indigenous-led innovations, movements and Nations. One of those ways is through our Partners in Reciprocity (PiR), a peer learning fellowship programme.
This year, The Circle welcomed 11 teams to our second cohort. After almost half a decade of deep reflections and conversations, Circle CEO, Kris Archie and four other women set out to develop a space for co-creation and intentional learning.
PiR was not an overnight creation, but rather a deep response to decolonisation. The fellowship is a 12-month learning commitment. The Circle invites staff and board members from settler philanthropic organisations to join with a team from their organisation with different positional power. PiR is an experiential programme that expects participants to put into practice the learnings, impact strategy and policy. We also invite organisations to prioritise the participation of their Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) staff and board members.
On a deeper level, PiR is also a space to share participants’ journeys and to reflect on what went well and what the challenges are. In this learning, the undoing of white supremacy and its behaviours is also prioritised. PiR is committed to transforming the sector’s white supremacy characteristics and practices towards collaboration, power sharing, partnership and transformational relationships. We want to address the sector’s fear of conflict and invest in collective leadership to learn together and relate to each other in reciprocity.
PiR is a call for accountability while challenging and naming white supremacy that shows up in philanthropic work. An important conversation during PiR is ‘White Supremacy Culture and Pivots’ which is given as individual peer homework. The responses from the homework are analysed and disseminated to the cohort during the programme.
PiR is committed to transforming the sector’s white supremacy characteristics and practices towards collaboration, power sharing, partnership and transformational relationships.
As PiR faculty member Kelly Foxcroft-Poirier puts it, ‘white supremacy will have us believe the myth of the lone leader, in ways that are harmful to ourselves and to others – but reciprocity and this way of working in peer support helps us all understand and live into the truth of interconnection and interdependence… Complex systems work requires all of us, a whole system operating and giving its gifts openly and freely.’
Shifting power through leadership
We also seek to amplify the leadership of Indigenous and equity-seeking organisations in creating, transforming and finding innovative solutions to complex issues of our time. Our aim is to find them, fund them, and more importantly let them lead. This has been one of our biggest, and boldest dreams, to grow our community of practice to transform the sector, and shift power and leadership.
Through PiR, we offer questions, tools and space to invite a courageous practice of thinking and doing differently. Kris Archie shares, ‘The Circle does not set out to lead the decolonisation of philanthropy as it is the work of those who benefited from the violence of colonisation, but rather we are here to transform the sector so they [the people in it] take responsibility for their harmful behaviours that are limiting the settler philanthropic sector to change from within.’
We invite our members and the settler philanthropic sector to join us in listening and learning from Indigenous philanthropy, investing in Indigenous leaderships and Indigenous-led work towards Indigenous sovereignty and our collective liberation.
For more information, we invite you to also check out The Circle’s Partners in Reciprocity fellowship program.
Heather O’Watch is research coordinator at The Circle on Philanthropy.
Alejandra López Bravo is manager, Shared Learnings & Research at The Circle on Philanthropy.
Article originally published on the Alliance magazine website here.