Linked with Rebecca Adamson – USA.

Published on, Vol 11/No 4, by Rebecca Adamson, December 2006.

Indigenous people will tell you time and again that they do not think in sectors, economic development, health, education, conservation. When indigenous organizations are funded under narrow programme guidelines, they often divert funds to meet other needs, and the donors object. Sometimes charges of corruption occur. These misunderstandings come from donors encountering a world view that sees the interrelatedness of problems and solutions. Indigenous peoples are inherently brilliant systems thinkers, seeing, analysing and constructing interrelated problem-solving strategies. At First Peoples Worldwide, for example, grants focus on indigenous assets. This allows the community to identify the primary asset, be it water, fish, forests, traditional knowledge, youth, etc, and to decide how they will build their capacity to increase their control and derive tangible benefits for the community from that asset …

… Adapting their culture, not sacrificing it

The Makah Nation at Neah Bay, Washington, for example, revived their traditional whale hunts, which led to 14 phone calls to my office from concerned environmental donors who wanted to stop the Makah from hunting. The essence of the Makah culture and their identity as a people lies in their relationship with the whale. This does not necessarily mean that their culture requires the whale hunt itself, but rather the spiritual relationship with the whale. So I proposed that the group of environmental donors endow a state-of-the-art whale research facility for the Makah to respect and honour their sacred relationship in a new way. It is hard to say what the outcome would have been. The donors said no.

So the Makah continue to make their culture live in a way that is objectionable to those who consider it a culture of the past. And certain foundations continue to work from a framework of ideas that have gained a fetishistic staying power.

But philanthropy cannot continue to operate under a self-image that sees too many others as exotic Others. Holistic philanthropy offers tremendous insight and hope for the kind of diverse grantmaking we need in today’s complex world, if only donors and indigenous people can craft the kind of non-categorical programme focus and grantmaking process in which holistic systems thinking is allowed and the envisaged solutions leave room for the unexpected adaptations that tribes have always survived by. As Raibon said (with my parenthesis added): Despite colonial claims to the contrary, the authenticity of Aboriginal life lay not (solely) in the mindless, mechanical reproduction of age-old rituals but in the fresh generation of meaningful ways to identify as (indigenous) within a changing and increasingly modern age … (full text).

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