In Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance, Edgar Villanueva says, “What we can focus on with decolonization is stopping the cycles of abuse and healing ourselves from trauma.” He speaks to how finance, philanthropy, and the ways we “do charity” have been set up to uphold colonialism, systemic racism, and discriminatory outcomes.
Philanthropy, giving, and charity work is often seen as neutrally “worthy”. To ask questions about it can seem like an attack on something inherently good. But the way charity and philanthropy are done in Canada has a long history. There are structures and rules and practices in place that have led to troubling trends today. These trends include very few philanthropic dollars in Canada going to Indigenous, Black, and other racialized communities doing things by and for their own communities. It connects to the reality that diverse women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans and non-binary people have barely benefitted from philanthropic and charity dollars over the years.
Like so many other ways of doing things, the way we do charity and philanthropy in Canada needs challenging and decolonizing, too.
For National Philanthropy Week this week, our guest is Kris Archie (@WeyktKris on Twitter), Chief Executive Officer of The Circle on Philanthropy (The Circle). Kris is a Secwepemc and Seme7 woman from Ts’qescen, a mother, aunty, and engaged community member. She is passionate about heart-based community work and facilitating positive change. In all of her roles, Kris works to transform philanthropy and contribute to positive change by creating spaces of shared learning, relationship-building and centering Indigenous wisdom. She is a PLACES Fellow Alum of 2015 with The Funders Network, a board member with Environment Funders Canada and JUMP! Canada and a newly appointed Dialogue Fellow with Simon Fraser University focused on Indigenous ways of knowing and Philanthropy.
At a time of calls for accountability, when many of us are reexamining the way we live and work, what does it mean to decolonize giving?
I’m Andrea Gunraj, at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Welcome to Alright, Now What?, a podcast from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder “Why is this still happening?” We explore systemic roots and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
The work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and our partners takes place on traditional First Nations, Métis, and Inuit territories. We are grateful for the opportunity to meet and work on this land. However, we recognize that land acknowledgements are not enough. We need to pursue truth, reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship in an ongoing effort to make right with all our relations.
In Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance, Edgar Villanueva says “What we can focus on with decolonization is stopping cycles of abuse and healing ourselves from trauma.” He speaks to how finance, philanthropy, and the ways we do charity has been set up to uphold colonialism, systemic racism, and discriminatory outcomes. When it’s left unquestioned, it can do more harm than good.
Philanthropy, giving, and charity work is often seen as neutrally worthy. To ask questions about it can seem like an attack on something inherently good. People can get pretty antsy when you start to ask questions about things like racism, colonialism and sexism in charitable organizations and giving circles.
But the way charity and philanthropy are done in Canada has a long history behind it. There are structures and rules and practices in place, ways of thinking and acting that have led to troubling trends today. Among other things, these trends include very few philanthropic dollars in Canada going to Indigenous, Black, and other racialized communities, doing things by and for their own communities. It connects to the reality that diverse women, girls and Two-Spirit . trans and non-binary people have barely benefited from philanthropic and charity dollars over the years. The very reason the Canadian Women’s Foundation was started in the first place was because only about 2% of giving in Canada went to women.
Like so many other ways of doing things, the way we do charity and philanthropy in Canada needs challenging and decolonizing too. It might beg for an entire overhaul.
It’s National Philanthropy Week, and I’m contemplating the insights I’ve learned about what it means to take a decolonizing stance in giving and philanthropy from our guest, Kris Archie. Kris is the Chief Executive Officer of The Circle on Philanthropy, and she joins us now.
Hello, thank you for inviting me to be in this conversation with you. My name is Kris Archie, I’m Secwepemc and Seme7 from Ts’qescen. My home community is one of 17 communities that make up the Samahquam Nation which is located in what is currently called British Columbia, in the central interior of British Columbia.
I am really fortunate to have an unbroken connection to my home community through my mother, and recognize that as a deep privilege for there are all kinds of reasons that Indigenous folks and other racialized and Black folks don’t have that unbroken connection because of violence and colonization.
My father is a fourth-generation settler Canadian whose family benefited from stolen land and settled the southern Saskatchewan prairies, Run Raven Crag and Maple’s Creek. This story about who I am and who my parents are really connect to this question about my passion. I feel like I’m a walking, living, breathing demonstration of reconciliation, a notion of what it means to find some sense of balance, some right in places where harm has been done.
For all of my life I think I’ve been a very naturally curious person, which means that I happen to be quite dialogic in my nature. I love to be in good conversation with folks. I believe that being in conversation about juicy questions that we can’t answer by ourselves is actually such an important part of the process to create change in the world that we live in. And so ultimately that connection for being alongside people connected to questions that I can’t possibly answer by myself is really some of what I get to do with The Circle.
The Circle on Philanthropy is a national member-based organization. We serve two primary member audiences. The settler philanthropic sector; made-up of community foundations, family foundations, private corporate groups. Our other primary member audience are Indigenous organizations; grassroots movements, First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities specifically, as well as Indigenous charitable organizations and non-qualified donees.
Our work is really about mobilizing wealth from settler philanthropic coffers into the hands of the decision-making authority and into the brilliant solutions and ideas that Indigenous-led efforts have for the world that we live in. Our work is primarily focused on doing some really fantastic convening work to bring multiple audiences together for shared learning and to mobilize action, that while also activating a range of research projects to mobilize knowledge for shifting behavior specific to practice and policy inside of settler philanthropic institutions.
And another little thing, that’s not such a little thing, it’s actually one of the things that brings me the most excitement, is we try and amplify the beautiful, ongoing demonstration of laws and teachings, practices that Indigenous communities activate currently- to demonstrate their longstanding, ethical stewardship of resources and the redistribution of said resources. So, we hope that by amplifying these beautiful practices and this wisdom could actually give the settler philanthropic sector a little bit more to think about in terms of what could be possible. When you think about and do your philanthropy in relationship to people that you would be accountable to, that is in relationship to place and that, really, of course, always, has some analysis of power and how we share it and redistribute it.
What does it mean to decolonize wealth and charity? Why is this effort so essential to reconciliation and real change?
For a long time, I felt like this was a big question that was too abstract and I didn’t have an answer for it and it was too difficult or complicated and I’ve really been dismissing that notion. that initial resistance. I recognize, I think, that initial resistance serves the status quo. It serves the dominant culture that tells us oh, this is, this is too hard, it can’t possibly be done, we need more time, we need more understanding, we need more comprehensiveness, we need to do more research, we need some more, you know, demonstration of proof that these organizations are worth investing in et cetera, et cetera. So, I’ve tried to take a bit of a frame that is very much informed by Bina Patel’s wisdom about my labor is my joy and that that’s an essential part of resistance, is like how do I actually invite and bring joy into this consideration of what it means to do this work?
How might I enter into, envision, and collaborate with people differently if I consider that this could be a joyful reclamation of the wisdom we already have at hand? So, what does it mean to decolonize wealth? I mean, first of all, we have an amazing project that’s launched called The Feast House and it’s our commitment to showcasing the amazing efforts of Indigenous-led organizations and movements and projects that exist from coast to coast to coast. So that folks can understand that we’re not talking about trying to do something new, we’re just trying to amplify these age-old intergenerational practices of wealth redistribution and being in deep accountability and relationship to land, to language, to community.
This idea that decolonizing wealth is hard, serves folks who benefit from the way it is now. If we talk to folks, you know, more and more foundations who are doing a lot to bring in really fantastic screening to their investment portfolios, what I’ve heard from them is, oh, we just realized we had to start asking investment managers a certain kind of questions and then they came with the right answers and we could make very different choices and damn, it feels really good to be doing things differently. And now that we know how easy it is and how necessary it is, we just, like, can’t wait to spread the word. An essential part of decolonizing any behaviors is to first understand, kind of, who is served by the behavior at hand and how we might actually, center Black and Indigenous and racialized worldviews, perspectives and teachings to advance the issue at hand.
So, how do we think differently about charity? Well, first of all, The Feast House is really focused on amplifying the efforts of Indigenous-led organizations. And rather than talk about, you know some broad social issue that they are concerned with, we highlight and amplify the ways in which they are upholding and asserting their UN Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous peoples have a right to develop their own institutions, to create their own economies, to maintain connection to land, to culture, to medicine.
We think that’s a more important focus of these organizations than to talk about the social inequities that they are trying to move against. Because there’s something more invitational and there is also a very unique and a distinct relationship to rights that Indigenous peoples have in this country that we need to amplify, to recognize, and to ensure an increased knowledge and awareness of.
Do I think that Indigenous folks who are acting in response to a desire or a need that their community has in relationship to community and to land, and to culture, and language-do I think that’s charity? Hell no. I think by all means that is them asserting their rights. They’re demonstrating their sovereignty to take care of their people, to protect their waters and their lands, and in many ways, when we support the actualization of rights, it supports us all.
Day-to-day, what can we do to support the efforts to decolonize wealth in our own lives and communities?
First and foremost, you can give land back. If you are a homeowner or if you stand to inherit real estate or land. Consider how it is that you identify the origin of the wealth that purchased that land. And give compensation and land back for that benefit that you’ve received.
Additionally, you can give money, give money freely, directly, abundantly to local communities where you live, where you work, where you and your family spend time.
There are a few organizations that we could also recommend that encourage people to pay your rent, which is similar to a property tax assessment. They invite folks to give a contribution monthly or annually, which goes to support Indigenous organizations and their communities in their kind of general health and well-being.
You know there are lots of reasons why folks will bristle at the idea of like just land, just cash and fair enough. I think it’s important to think about why we have that sensation. It’s like, well, but I feel really deeply connected to the land. Yeah, tell me about it. As an Indigenous person, you know, my deep connection to the land goes back multiple generations, and so if you have that sensation of how dear it is to you, I invite you to consider what that means for folks whose ancestors have walked the lands since the beginning of their origin stories.
Additionally, to support conversations around decolonizing wealth, I think it’s really important that families are interrogating their notion of wealth and abundance. If the conception of wealth is only around financial means, then I think the families that neighborhoods, communities, faith-based communities, they are leaving so much possibility and contribution unactivated in their local communities if they’re not thinking as well about their talent and their time and the ways in which they can activate that for the benefit of local communities.
Those are a couple of ways that it becomes really helpful to build a relationship to a concept of abundance and wealth and would certainly welcome that folks, again, take a look at The Feast House, which is a place that we talk about being, one that centers Indigenous power, strength, responsibility and generosity. But there are some really beautiful articles there that provide some conceptions of what abundance and wealth means and what it means to share and redistribute that in a good way. I hope that that could be food for thought for folks, but more importantly, food for action.
Alright, now what?
I love Kris’ insight about decolonizing wealth. That it’s not too big to do, it just takes being intentional about how you go about it. And there are things we can do right now towards it.
Do check out The Feast House at feast-house.ca, which features transformative Indigenous-led work connected to communities and territories.
And if you’re part of a philanthropic organization or group, The Circle on Philanthropy is offering a yearlong fellowship program called Partners and Reciprocity. It’s a fantastic peer-learning program dedicated to supporting philanthropic teams in a reorientation towards justice and equity. Learn more about it and apply at the-circle.ca.
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