What would true reparative giving in the philanthropic sector look like?

In this first episode of the Reimagining Philanthropy podcast, host Senator Ratna Omidvar asks guests Kris Archie and Edgar Villanueva a big question that looms over the philanthropic sector: “If accumulated wealth comes from years of oppression, exploitation, and colonization, then is philanthropy simply an expression of atonement at best or a cover-up at worst?”

In this first episode of the Reimagining Philanthropy podcast, host Senator Ratna Omidvar asks guests Kris Archie and Edgar Villanueva a big question that looms over the philanthropic sector: “If accumulated wealth comes from years of oppression, exploitation, and colonization, then is philanthropy simply an expression of atonement at best or a cover-up at worst?”

What is possible when we make space for the conversations we need to be having, grapple with the tensions we need to be holding, and ask the questions we need to be asking?

The Reimagining Philanthropy podcast goes beyond the written word to explore the issues and questions the philanthropic sector needs to reflect and act on. The series is produced in collaboration with Senator Ratna Omidvar and brings together Canadian and international colleagues to tackle these questions.

In this first episode, the panellists explore what reparative change in the sector should look like. Kris Archie offers an expansive view of philanthropy, grounded in stewardship and ethical redistribution, and asks individuals working in settler philanthropy to examine how they are complicit in white supremacy. Edgar Villanueva asks listeners to “begin with a place of truth around the origins of wealth and how wealth has been accumulated.” Both guests offer tangible steps for how organizations can take part in real wealth redistribution, shift power directly back to communities, and move “reconciliation rhetoric” forward into these actions of reciprocity.

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Senator Ratna Omidvar: Hello, and welcome to Reimagining Philanthropy, a series produced in collaboration with The Philanthropist Journal. In this series, we explore the difficult issues and questions that philanthropy is faced with and the difficult issues and questions that the sector the philanthropic sector needs to be reflecting and acting on. And one of the bigger questions under discussion relates to the history and sources of wealth that are the foundation of philanthropy: if accumulated wealth comes from years of oppression, exploitation, and colonization, then is philanthropy simply an expression of atonement at best, or a cover-up at worst?

This is a big-question conversation, and I’m joined by two very big personalities in this space who will have lots to say about this and other matters. I’m Senator Omidvar, your host for this podcast, and I’m joined today by Kris Archie and Edgar Villanueva. Kris is the chief executive officer of The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. She is a mother and Auntie, which I love, and an engaged community member.

Edgar Villanueva is an award-winning author, activist, and expert on issues of race, wealth, and philanthropy. Most of the people listening in to the podcast would recognize his name from his work and writing. He is the principal of the Decolonizing Wealth Project and Liberated Capital and author of the bestselling book Decolonizing Wealth, both very much on point.

So, my first question is to both of you, and then we’ll go back and forth. And you know, you’re free to ask yourselves or even me some questions, although really the focus is on you. So let’s start with you, Kris, and then with you, Edgar: tell us about your introduction to philanthropy. How is it that you find yourself in this space?

Kris Archie: Well, I will preface by saying my introduction to what we call settler philanthropy was certainly working with the community foundation – Vancouver Foundation – and supporting them to do a systems-change piece of work related to child welfare, ensuring that when foster kids exit foster care they have the same supports as their parented peers. And that was a very unique introduction to the settler philanthropic space for a few reasons. One, community foundations are a unique kind of entity in the Canadian space. But also, Vancouver Foundation is the largest community foundation in Canada. So there is an excess of resources available to do systems-change work. And I was able to work in a very small team that was focused specifically in that space, which was not a usual space and continues to not be a usual space for community foundations in lots of ways.

But I think the thing that keeps me really connected and engaged to the philanthropic sector writ large is that I have cultural teachings around giving and sharing. And so my first lessons in the kind of philanthropic behaviour of my community would be learning about how to prepare salmon, so after the community has gone fishing and focused to drop off fish, you know, there’s a whole community experience of cleaning those fish and making do with all of the various pieces. And once you’re completed cleaning the fish, there’s a whole level of preparation that happens in order to redistribute the wealth of salmon in our communities. And so, my introduction to philanthropy is firmly grounded in these cultural worldviews of long stewardship and the ethical redistribution of our wealth that is about more than just financial wealth. And so I bring that lens to the work and settler philanthropy, which I consider to be quite in its infancy. It is like a baby in its practice. And so there’s a lot of opportunity for learning and change and practice and policy for them.

RO: Terrific. Settler philanthropy is a whole new way of thinking about philanthropy, and I certainly hope we can strengthen and mature it as time goes. But Edgar, over to you. So you, you just haven’t worked in philanthropy – you’ve actually written books on philanthropy. How did you come to be in this space?

Edgar Villanueva: I’ve been working in the industry for about 20 years. Like Kris, I come from a cultural perspective around giving and taking care and being in a community that is very much a part of the way I was raised and brought up. I talk about my mother a lot in my writing and speaking because she really modelled for me all of those principles. We didn’t have a lot of money, right? And I say that she was the first philanthropist that I knew, because she was just so generous, and we were always taking care of everyone around us. And so I was oriented towards work in service. Out of high school, I actually thought I wanted to be a minister. That’s a whole nother podcast that we can have sometime. And because at the time, that’s really the only space that I knew of where I could be like a service or in ministry, helping people. When that didn’t work out, I stumbled into the non-profit sector and was doing a lot of work and got politicized – an organization that was doing health justice work. And it was there and after grad school that I got recruited to work at a foundation, and it was a whole new world for me. I didn’t even know about the philanthropic sector. I didn’t know what a foundation was. I didn’t know that there were billions and billions of dollars in this system that supported the work.

And so yeah, I was fairly young. I was 28 when I got recruited to be a foundation program officer at a large health-focused foundation. And I will say, you know, what has kept me here – because there are lots of challenges, lots and lots of challenges, especially being an Indigenous person in this settler, you know, philanthropy space – I have, you know, really connected to the parts of this work that are good. And whereas the opportunity to move resources to communities – like Indigenous communities, like Black communities – that desperately need the resources and where our wealth has been extracted from those communities, and I am optimistic about the change and the conversations we’re having. Although philanthropy as an industry is much, sort of a, almost a contradiction, in a way, you know, there are resources that are available, and there are ways that we can deploy those resources that are grounded in a culture of repair and respect, that can have really significant impacts. And I know for people like me who come from a community that has not been represented in this space, it’s been really important to have a voice and to make sure our communities are visible and benefiting from resources that are flowing through this industry.

RO: So I’m really happy to hear you both strike a common theme. And let me take a little bit from what you’ve said. You’ve both sort of alluded to the fact that even though the philanthropic industry, as you’ve called it, the institutional philanthropy, is a pillar, a construct of some challenge, I will say, but in its essence, you both believe philanthropy is good in its essence. Because, you know, there’s a lot of pushback on the very idea of philanthropy. And you, Edgar, have talked about money as medicine and giving as healing. And those are very soothing words, a very soothing idea, but what does that look like in practice? And I’d like to ask you the same question. But let’s start with you, Edgar. What does that look like in practice?

EV: I love that question. I will say that you caught me on a day where I’m feeling hopeful about philanthropy – who at times questions the net value of philanthropy as an industry. Because I think, you know, in getting to your question about money as medicine, I think that money can be deployed and used in a sacred way. If we begin with a place of truth around the origins of wealth and how wealth has been accumulated, both in Canada and the US, and how the philanthropic industry is a by-product of that. And so while we are able to do good and we do good as an industry, our origin story is one that is really dark, honestly. And while there may be some good intentions in there, we exist, as an industry, as a by-product of a system, an industry that has been very unfair, that has been rigged in the favour of those who hold wealth, mostly white people, and has been an industry that historically has marginalized and not invested in our communities.

And so it has, in many ways, repeated the colonial dynamics that we’ve experienced over time. Where there’s an opportunity to change that is to acknowledge that truth and to pull back the curtain and say, Okay, you know, as an industry or as a foundation or as an individual donor, I am privileged in these ways because of a history of policy that has created opportunities for me that were not available for others, and also from extraction from literally taking land, money, and resources from people and from the planet. And so when we can be honest about that truth, then we’re able to begin that paradigm shift to say, Okay, well, what responsibility do I owe this history? Right? To what respect do I owe people on the planet who have been extracted from to deploy these resources in the form of repair?

And when we bring that spirit of repair and that spirit of reparations as to how we’re deploying resources, privileging communities that have been harmed the most, then I believe that we can use money toward a sacred purpose. And it’s not about the tangible money, right? It’s not like the paper coins or the zeros and ones or whatever we’re calling money these days, Bitcoin, whatever that is. It is really about us as human beings and how we created this thing, and how historically, we’ve allowed this thing called money to control us by hoarding the resources, by having the fear and scarcity mindsets.

So it’s not just about moving money to Indigenous and people of colour. It’s also about liberating ourselves from the mindsets and the trauma of colonization that are attached to the hoarding of resources. And so it is a very spiritual thing to me. So I’m not literally saying that a dollar bill is like this sacred thing, right? But it is like the mind shift of thinking of how we return resources back to people and back to the land, for me, is a very spiritual thing. And it is where I find – found – my medicine as an Indigenous person, in a moment of feeling super disconnected from the work that I do and wondering if I had a place for leadership in this work. So that’s what I’m bringing.

RO: So Kris, just building off that. Edgar is American, of course, and I’m sure understands the Canadian context very well. But you and I, and many of the listeners, are in Canada. And, you know, Edgar has talked about searching for the truth and proceeding from the truth. There is an ugly underbelly to our truth here in Canada, and let’s just talk about the evidence: less than 1% of charitable dollars go to Indigenous causes or organizations. Can you just reflect on that and what Edgar has said, and tell us why that is so and why that must change.

KA: Well, I think I first just want to begin by saying I agree with Edgar, that I feel like it’s early enough in the day that I have some hopefulness in my energy about what’s possible. But I have to say that largely, my sense of what’s possible comes from, you know, the opportunities that I have to connect with Indigenous-led organizations, their leaders, and those that are, you know, raising funds that are by Indigenous folks for Indigenous folks in their communities. The reality that less than 1% – it’s actually far less than that, I think, if we had actual proper data from the T3010 – can tell a better…

That being the case, that reality is one that The Circle knows quite well and actually commissioned the first two reports to demonstrate that in the Canadian context, and it’s since been undertaken by other folks, in the more previous years. The reason that I haven’t, you know, decided to focus research and undertake it again is I don’t know what value it has to tell that story again and again. We know that it’s the truth, we know that it hasn’t changed. And so our focus has been much more on who is willing to show up and do the work to make the change. And largely that hasn’t been the CRA, that hasn’t been changes to the Income Tax Act or changes to the T3010, or a recognition for the requirement of increased diversity at board levels and management levels. But what it has meant is we have a growing membership of settler philanthropic organizations in this country that are very serious about shifting the practices and policies that are actually under their purview to change to align mission and investment and practice and behaviour to really be in fuller service to folks.

And so, one of the sad realities that I think is both part of the US and the Canadian context is that largely folks consider the Indigenous people the problem of government and therefore in many ways secondary citizens, and also wards of the state. And so what I know about the work I’ve done in the child welfare space is that when the public audience believes that there’s something or a group or people that are believed to be wards of the state, it pushes away our sense of responsibility. It means someone else is taking care of it and the work and the labour belongs elsewhere, and in fact, those people, they get enough as it is. They’re just standing around asking for handouts yet again. What’s really difficult is that broadly, Canadians, they believe that they are fair, they want to behave in ways that demonstrate fairness. However, I think what’s painful about the reality about where philanthropic dollars go in this country, is that reality – it enables cognitive dissonance, and it means that we’re more likely to turn away, like, Oh, I don’t want to know that actually, my philanthropic dollars could be more assistive. I don’t want to recognize that I’m part of the problem. So I’ll look over here or I’ll donate over there.

That being said, I do think we’re in a moment – and I think that this moment is one that crosses the medicine line, it is one that is without borders in the North American space – and it is that there is a growing awareness of the realities and the atrocities experienced by Indigenous Peoples that were enabled by government, enabled by church and other religious communities. And that has become so undeniable, so in your face, that I think it’s giving families and communities more freedom, more permission to be in the conversations about how they might choose to spend their money, how they might choose to give up their time and their talent to support and assist Indigenous communities.

I think related – I just want to come back to this piece around “giving is healing.” So in much of the work at The Circle, whether we’re in Zoom-land here or whether we’re in person, our focus first when we’re planning or designing an event is what is the experience we want people to have, what is the felt-body experience. And we do that because it can be very difficult to imagine a future if we can’t get a sense of what it might feel like, and so we’re stuck in the world of what we know how it feels. So the invitation is often: what is the felt experience we can provide to others so that when they turn and they go back to their organizations, and then they start having a grant adjudication conversation or they’re talking about how to diversify their board, they can come back to a place of grounded connection and say, Wait a second, there’s a way that I can feel in this conversation. There’s a way that I can behave that puts me in alignment with my values. And I know what that feels like, I can summon it, and therefore have the courage to bring forward conversations that require us to be in healing. And really considering how it is that we can show up differently. And so I think giving as an aspect of healing is integral to this conversation. But it does require that people are showing up and they are being physically moved, moved in their body, in their heart, in order to get their minds on board.

RO: So I sense from both of you today, and maybe as you say, Edgar, it was just the day and you got up on the right side of the bed. I think you’re both hopeful. You both see points of light on the horizon. Let me flip the question. Where are you not hopeful? Let me start with you, Edgar. Where are you not hopeful?

EV: I love how hopeful we are. You know, I think that where there still is a stronghold to break is really around ownership. We use the word “equity” a lot in the sector nowadays, right? Everyone’s talking about equity. And equity is very different from equality, right? Equity actually is about ownership and power. When you have a loan from a bank for your house and how much equity you have in your houses. How much do you own versus a bank. And so what I see happening in the sector, which I’m pleased to see, is a lot more sort of progressive thinking and funding shifting towards Indigenous, Black, and communities of colour. I see grantmaking practices being shifted, but what I’m still not seeing is sort of the releasing of ownership.

I want to go beyond sort of the charity, like, that making grants because it’s the right thing to do, to more redistribution. I think that is ultimately when we redistribute wealth, we’re literally handing wealth over back to communities in a way that requires those who have had the privilege and the power to step back. And I invite the funders to think about, at the end of the day, who is signing the cheques and who has the power. You can have participatory grantmaking, trust-based grantmaking – like all the things and those are good things, right? But at the end of the day, if there’s still a white person, and it’s typically a man, who is still deciding the final call, who is writing those cheques and is keeping the lights on, then you’re ultimately still in power. So that’s why I think it’s really hard, because really giving up that ownership, even for the most progressive folks among us, is a really challenging thing for people to do.

RO: Kris, do you agree? Are you also worried about, even though there are progressive gestures, good gestures, good-faith gestures – but in the end, if the institutional power rests in the hands of a few chosen people, then we haven’t shifted the paradigm.

KA: That’s right. I mean, there’s so – similarly, everyone is really stoked on DEI right now, when I’ve been saying for a long time it will DIE if not for some true analysis and some shifting of power. And that is not where the sector is ready to move yet. So yes, we can talk about practices like trust-based philanthropy, which is just, like, the newest sexiest umbrella that people want to align to. And meanwhile, we’re over here saying, You know, there are generations-old models of reparative giving; there are generations-old models and laws around the distribution of wealth that actually have a lot more to offer than this new sexy umbrella term or practice.

And so I do think that we need to see more redistribution of wealth that is actually true redistribution. I’ve been calling for and inviting community foundations, in particular, across this country to think about where the origin of their wealth comes from and to consider how it is that they actually give reparations to the Nations who were initially impacted by their endowment building. That is something we know community foundations have the history for. So Toronto Foundation, Winnipeg Foundation, Vancouver Foundation – you know who builds your endowments. So let’s have a conversation about how they built that wealth, on whose land, and if you’re giving an annual amount of money every year, there should be an in-perpetuity gift to these Nations. That’s not a typical thing. I invite folks to consider it and to make it happen all the time.

RO: And how is that conversation going, Kris?

KA: Oh, people are just like, Isn’t that so nice? What a neat idea. No one’s taking me up on it. I’ll keep sharing the idea. Here’s one of the things that actually was a very interesting thing that happened just a couple of years ago now. We got a phone call from Lululemon, who said that they wanted to do some giving and grantmaking in Canada, and they were very, you know – it was evident that they didn’t have the relationships or the analysis and knowledge to do that well, and they found us and we entered into a conversation that said, Hey, everyone knows Lululemon is a Vancouver brand. What is your relationship to the three Nations that are here in this area known as Vancouver? They were like, Well, we don’t really have one. Okay, well, why don’t we start there? So in the end, we supported them to give unrestricted cash, which was not a ton, but it was definitely helpful in the midst of COVID: $250,000 to each of the three Nations. No strings attached – they called it reparative dollars. Most importantly, delegates from each of those Nations now have a direct relationship to the folks in positions of power at Lululemon. So that their new stores have local art, that their staff are learning from the wisdom of those host Nations about where their origin story at the business kind of started and developed. We’re going to start seeing more Indigenous ambassadors for the brand in addition to a whole range of other opportunities. So that put the power and the relationship in the hands where it belongs, which is directly to the Nations, and Lululemon was able to just step back. So lots of people don’t know about the story because we also coached and supported Lululemon to recognize this was not a consumer and loyalty marketing event. This was how do you quietly, quickly move money where it belongs and develop a relationship that is an ongoing relationship?

So it’s possible, and interestingly, I think corporations are going to be first at bat to help make this happen, and all of the hate that they get in some instances – you know, they’re leading the pack, and community foundations and private family foundations are going to need to catch up, and I’m all for it right now. I think that if corporations are ready to move money and support Nations directly and support Indigenous-led efforts, innovations, and movements directly, we’re more than happy to work directly with them too.

RO: That is certainly a hopeful story. And I find it interesting that the corporate sector is going ahead. The philanthropic sector likes to invest itself as, you know, in the personality of a certain kind of angel. I won’t belabour that metaphor, but there it is. Having been part of that sector for a very long time, I admit trendily that there are ongoing issues.

So Edgar, today I’ve heard different language to describe philanthropy. You’ve talked about healing, Kris has talked about repairing. We talked about reciprocity, you know, as those are the terms at play here. So if you were a philanthropist – and it’s hard to do what you’re doing – but I want to know if it’s harder to put that into practice. What are the questions philanthropists should be asking themselves with the lens of decolonization in mind? What are the questions that they should be putting on the table before deciding on a purpose or a strategy or an imagined impact?

EV: Yeah, I think the first question is where did the money come from, which we chatted about briefly, and really understanding and interrogating that history, and that’s where we start. To Kris’s point about DEI, a lot of that, a lot of the work around racial equity and DEI, is very future-oriented, right? Like, from now on, we will do these things better, but we have to begin with where we have messed up and where we’ve done wrong by community and bring that honesty and truth into our work.

The second is – some of the other sort of quick, top-of-the-line questions – is who decides, right? So again, I’m giving the power to decide back to community. This is where you can literally just redistribute wealth to Indigenous-led funds, back to tribal giving programs so that our folks can actually decide how to deploy those resources. COVID demonstrated in a whole new way that Indigenous-led funds across North America, or Turtle Island, had the capacity, the trust, the networks – all the things that are needed to quickly respond to our communities. We set up a fund at DWP and deployed around $4 million in support. And we’re able to do that quickly because we know the folks in these communities are able to really connect with them and not put them through all the hoops and things that typical funders might put folks through, especially not wanting to do that in a moment of crisis.

So it’s about where the money came from, who decides, and it’s also interrogating your practice. So beyond writing the cheque, what are the colonial dynamics that might be showing up and how you are moving your money. You know, what are you asking of folks? What are the forced-assimilation types of ways you might be imposing on communities to adopt a way of thinking, a theory of change that may not be their own. Right? And this is the problem that a lot of funders have who are obsessed with impact, right? They think they have a solution. And so they are looking to invest in organizations to carry out their ideas versus really trusting communities and understanding that those of us closest to the problems have exactly the expertise needed to solve those problems.

So those are just a couple of ways, I think – if you’re interrogating the origins of your wealth, who decides, and how you’re doing your practice, you’re on a good start. There’s a lot more I can say, but that’s enough to get folks started.

RO: That’s terrific advice for funders and philanthropists. Kris, you talked about settler philanthropy, but settler colonialism is also very much part of our everyday life. Can you tell me how settler colonialism gets in the way of settler philanthropy and obstructs the kind of work and impact that you’ve been talking about?

KA: Absolutely. So we have a program right now called Partners in Reciprocity. And I just want to come back to this piece of language for a second: we don’t use the language of “reconciliation.” We call it the rhetoric of reconciliation. It had been co-opted by government and by corporations very quickly and has been harmful to the broader movement that should be led by Indigenous people for Indigenous people for their healing and well-being. Many years ago, our members said, you know, the notion of reconciliation was impossible. I’m specifically wearing a pair of earrings today, and the name for these earrings are “reconciliation is dead.” That came out of a movement many years ago by young people saying, This is not possible – under the conditions that we currently live in, the notion of reconciliation is not possible. We’ve overlooked truth.

So The Circle uses the language of reciprocity, and we know that it’s getting picked up a lot. It’s gaining a lot of steam in this space, but I want to be very clear about why and how we use it. Our members said to us, Reconciliation is not possible, reciprocity could be possible. And that is because reciprocity requires an understanding and analysis of power. It understands and acknowledges that there are behaviours that belong to different people who are involved to do things differently, to change behaviours. It doesn’t allow for the power to sit totally equal. It acknowledges that there may always be power asymmetry, but there’s an opportunity to name power asymmetry and to still do the work within a reciprocal sense of behaviour for giving, grantmaking, et cetera. So we use “reciprocity” because it is more possible, and it is for us guided by the wisdom of Indigenous organizations and individuals who say, We’re willing to work with settler philanthropy, but they need to show up in a very particular way.

Fast forward to Partners in Reciprocity: this is a year-long learning experience, that settler philanthropic organizations must submit a team who go through this learning experience, where they’re learning personal skills and characteristics about who they are and how they uphold and maintain white supremacy, among other harms, of systemic oppression. They’re also doing team building and organizational-change work within their small teams and thinking strategically about how to shift practice and practise power and policy inside of their organizations. In addition to collecting and sharing data that The Circle actually will hold the pen on, how we make the story of the data that they share with us.

How does this relate to settler colonialism? One of the very first exercises we ask them to do is to identify the top three ways that they’re complicit in white supremacy in their organizations. Right, so this is Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun’s – you know, built on their work around dismantling racism. And so there’s about a dozen or so characteristics and behaviours, and we asked this audience how they’re complicit. And we’ve done this for two cohorts now.

Perfectionism is almost always on that top list of three, in which they feel that they have to be perfect. They have to get it right before taking action is one of the ways that we’re held back from changing what’s happening.

The other is comprehension: I must understand deeply before I can fund it. Let me tell you, no one is going to understand deeply the Secwepemc connection to salmon. I don’t need you to understand it. I need you to know that I understand it and you can trust me to do good work because I have the lived experience, the worldviews, and the knowledge to act in accordance to these teachings. So comprehensiveness is another way in which it gets very problematic.

And here’s one that showed up on both years’ lists, top three: fear of conflict. So we exist in a sector that wants to be nicey-nice all the time. We can’t disagree. We can’t say, That’s harmful or problematic without being seen as rude or unruly, and in a donor-centric space. You know, folks are very, very conflict-averse. Well, conflict is actually really helpful. It is incredibly creative. And in fact, it’s necessary for innovation. It’s necessary for relationship building. And we have a sector that says, We want innovation, we want creativity, we want relationships. Well, you must be willing to be in spaces of conflict. And so those are just a couple of ways in which settler colonialism and white supremacy show up in the space and harm settler philanthropy’s ability to be in a different-quality relationship to Indigenous communities and nations.

RO: That is just fascinating. I would love to know what all the other indicators are, too, and I’ll get to that, but this has been, you know, entirely – both of you are sort of zeroing in on the foundations of what is wrong, but you’re also giving us some solutions. That’s what I like about this conversation. You’re not just complaining or telling me what is wrong; you’re showing me, and others hopefully, the path forward.

So to you, Edgar, I want to ask you this question. And, you know, interviews with two marvellous guests like you will open up avenues of conversation that I hadn’t thought of before. And so this is kind of off the cuff, but we’ve talked about language. We’ve talked about changing ideas – and language also, we all know language shifts hearts and minds. So should we still call it the philanthropic sector? Or should we call it the healing sector, the repairing sector, the giving sector, the reciprocal sector – coming from reciprocity? These are the words I’ve heard. Is it time to do away with that mothballed, old way of thinking by using new language?

EV: Yeah, that is such a fascinating question. The tax-evasion sector?

RO: That could also be.

EV: You know, I love the word “philanthropy”: it means “love of humankind.” I think it is such a beautiful word. I wouldn’t want to lose that word. I would want to inspire us to really lean into that, to then serve people in the planet truly, in the middle of what we’re doing, and letting the love for people supersede our love for self or love for wealth or money or all the things that get in the way because of our mindsets around white dominant culture, white supremacy culture, and just sort of those dynamics of colonization. So I would say we should just, actually – you know that the motto of my home state where I’m from in North Carolina, the Lumbee Tribe, is to be rather than to seem. And I just remember as a kid my mom saying this to me all the time: You’d better be about it. If you’re about it, be about it. And so that’s my ask, is that we just are really about seeming.

RO: Keep the language but change its spirit. So my last question to both of you, and I’m sorry, Kris, I’m going to use terminology that everybody understands around truth and reconciliation. Because that’s the language that is used. So where are there opportunities for fulfilling the promises or the pledges of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission through philanthropy? I read an article today that of the 94 recommendations, only four have really been actualized, and the four that have been actualized are not high-hanging fruit in terms of justice or children’s welfare. It’s softer stuff that’s easier to do. That’s human nature – you do what’s easier to do. But where can philanthropy situate itself, Edgar, in the United States, and Kris, in Canada, to further reconciliation with truth.

KA: I’m happy to jump in here to begin, which is first to just say that, you know, there’s this mouse pad that I have on my desk, which has the language of the philanthropic community’s declaration for action. This was a document created by philanthropic folks here in the Canadian sector in 2015 and then presented during the closing ceremony of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission final gathering. It says that we must learn and remember, understand and acknowledge, and participate and act. There was an acknowledgment that the philanthropic sector was not named in the Truth and Reconciliation declaration’s call to action. There’s 90-some-odd calls to action. There are many sectors named: business, health, education, criminal justice system, child welfare, et cetera. Philanthropy wasn’t named. So I think it was a very aspirational demonstration of faith to say, We know we were not named, but we’re going to do something about this. So they signed the pledge and walked away. In today’s language, we would call that performative ally-ship. We have a different language now than we did then.

That being said, there’s still an opportunity and the opportunity is connected to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. If you care about truth and reconciliation in the context of what’s happening here in this country, you can not purport to care if you are not aware of how you can help uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples. So, the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action were built on these 10 principles for reconciliation, and many people just flip right by them. They don’t even know them. They go straight to the calls to action and there’s 94 of them – we’ll go there. They flip past the principles for reconciliation. Those must be known, considered, and activated upon.

And they also don’t understand how to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. So where there’s an opportunity – and we’ve been saying this to our members, and many of them are taking up the call: you can support land protectors, you can support water protectors, you can support Indigenous-led child welfare organizations, you can support criminal-justice reform led by Indigenous people. If we look at the first five sets of sectors that were called for change in the TRC, what you’ll see are that there are basically a list of five sectors or organizations that the philanthropic sector should be deeply and abundantly funding. And so I think that’s where we could see some real change. And so what we’ve said many times is that organizations should be funding Indigenous-led child welfare practices, however it looks like. They need to be supporting education change. They need to be investing deeply and abundantly in language and culture. And then finally, as well, in health, so a few pieces there that they can focus in on.

RO: Again, both aspirational and very, very concrete. That’s what I like about this conversation. It’s not remaining in an atmosphere that you still have to struggle through. You’re both giving the listeners real hard stuff to deal with, to think about, and to do. So Edgar, over to you. I don’t know what terminology you use in the United States. It’s likely different. But transposing the conversation: can philanthropy, is philanthropy, an essential part of reconciling, through truth?

EV: I think there’s an important opportunity for philanthropy. And we’ve been so inspired by the work of The Circle in Canada, because in the US we have not yet had a process of truth and reconciliation at all. We’re supporting the first-ever statewide process in California right now, a truth and healing council that we’ve launched a fund to coincide, and are organizing philanthropy around that process, learning from the work of The Circle so that we can be ready to really push for investment from philanthropy. When Native people tell you what they need to heal, like there you go, there’s your funding strategy, like we’re making it really easy for funders.

In the US, for folks who are here, you know, we are really just up against a major fight here, where we’re banning books, erasing history. The invisibility of Native folks is really on the line. And we’re just so far from what feels like a truth and reconciliation process because folks here are not wanting to come to terms with that truth at all. So we are definitely working to advocate especially around this heightened new awareness around residential boarding schools to have a process of truth and reconciliation in this country. HR5444 is some new legislation moving here that is being sponsored by Native leaders in Congress to call for a federal response to a new report that has come out that has investigated the impact of residential boarding schools in America, in the United States, of course, being prompted by the discovery of thousands of remains of Indigenous children.

So we’re at a moment maybe where Canada was before, and we know that it wasn’t a perfect process. We hope to learn lessons, and we continue to want to follow the lead of how philanthropy is being organized by The Circle to really try to replicate some of that work here. You know, to get us there to have this federal process, we need to be investing in Native leaders that are pushing and advocating for this. The Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, for example, is a group that we support. And so in addition to taking political action and making the phone calls to advocate for this, you can invest in the groups that are doing this work and pushing for a truth and reconciliation process.

And I just want to say this is not just about for me, Indigenous folks having our moment and getting our healing. It is, but colonization has hurt white people. It has harmed all of us. Like our country right now – if you’ve read, if you’ve seen the headlines in the past couple of weeks, it’s just in chaos. And the only way for us all to move forward, to get out of this mess, is to ground ourselves in truth, grieve this, and find some way to begin a reparative process. And so I just wanted to underscore that it is about all of us and really getting to a place where we can all live and thrive in our cultures.

RO: I’m going to throw the last word to Kris, who wants to weigh in before we absolutely must sign off, although I would love to carry this conversation on for another hour. Kris, you had a final comment you wanted to make?

KA: Yes, I just wanted to say that, you know, what we’ve offered here are some very practical and pragmatic approaches. And what I wanted to say is that they actually aren’t that difficult. They are not as complex as organizations believe them to be. And in fact, I would advise organizations that if you have these ideas, and you go, Oh, that’s too hard, that’s too difficult, I think you need to be asking yourself who’s telling you that and for what purpose. Who do they serve and how might you actually reorient to serve Indigenous and other equity-seeking communities instead? And so the moment that you believe that things, think that things are too complex, I invite you to figure out how to make it simple. And in fact, it is in the simplicity that the most of this work can happen. And in the simplicity, I think people will also find opportunity for healing and liberation. And so that’s just a final word I wanted to share.

RO: That’s a wonderful word, “simplicity,” to use your language, Kris. A wonderful word to end what we started off with, which is a fairly complex conversation. So in 50 minutes, we’ve gone from complexity to complications to simplicity, if that’s possible in 50 minutes. Let’s hope that philanthropy, too, can shift itself. Thank you to both of you, very, very much. This has been – Edgar and Kris – an absolutely marvellous conversation. And I’m certainly hoping that it will reach the ears of many, many listeners, who need to listen to this in order to start their own transformation. So thank you so much on the behalf of The Philanthropist, and we hope to see you in this space on philanthropy somewhere else soon. Goodbye.

EV: Thank you.

KA: Goodbye.

RO: Thank you.


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