Doing Philanthropy Indigenously

Research shows what we have long known, that when Indigenous peoples are connected to our cultures, values, and languages, we have transformative wellness outcomes that ripple through circles of family and community. But major philanthropy continues to undervalue the relational sharing of knowledge that makes cultural healing possible. Major foundations rarely make direct microgrants to Native individuals or families; they focus on Native nonprofit organizations, and even in those spaces, direct less than 0.4% of their spending to Native communities.  

To effect transformative change, philanthropy must learn to trust and invest in Indigenous knowledge and practices. Indigenous philanthropy demonstrates the impact of investing directly in Native people and reciprocal community relationships, not just nonprofit organizations. 

Cultural healing transcends individual and community boundaries; it requires a holistic approach that centers both our relationality and individual experiences. This is our approach to Indigenous philanthropy. We invest in Native changemakers leading creative solutions for rebuilding cultural and linguistic ties within our communities. For instance, our Program Manager Tony Drews launched Nashke Games with support from an AIFEP grant. Nashke has exploded in popularity, revealing demand for joyous ways to connect with Anishinaabe culture and language through traditional games.  

We also uniquely invest in individuals and families taking the first steps toward healing from spiritual oppression and cultural erasure, whether it’s buying a sewing machine to learn how to make ribbon skirts or covering expenses to learn about plant medicine.  

We view the leaders of these personal and community initiatives as equally important, and our programs provide social infrastructure for relationships that allow knowledge and questions to flow between them. This way, we resource the Native changemakers of today and tomorrow, honor their interconnection, and restore the traditional pathways of knowledge transmission and community care through reciprocal relationships.  

Native cultures and lifeways are heavily reliant on person-to-person transmission of knowledge which was violently disrupted by the boarding school era. Dakota and Anishinaabe ways of being teach us that knowledge is inseparable from the people, places, and beings who hold it. Traditional knowledge is a continuous, shared experience, not a transactional commodity.  

Our Oyate Leadership Network facilitates relationships that reveal how cultural teachings show up in our own individual lives, moving cultural knowledge from “what we know” to how we live. This allows our people to heal and thrive by uplifting relational ways of being as we help each other build unique identities as Indigenous leaders, connected, supported, and continually learning as cultural knowledge is built and shared over time through community care. We all have a role in the transmission of culture and Indigenous philanthropy shows us how and why. 

Indigenous leadership is the bridge from healing to self-determination.

Sharing traditional and healing knowledge is a practice of building person-to-person relationships and reciprocal community that empowers us all to answer the question, “What changes can we make now that disrupt the current trajectory of addiction, violence, and pain for future generations?” By connecting  people through Indigenous leadership learning communities and directly resourcing their goals, Indigenous philanthropy creates action immediately and change intergenerationally. 

We know that Indigenous leadership competencies can be learned and developed. The public benefit of modeling ways to build relational leadership cannot be understated as we live through an epidemic of social isolation that disproportionally impacts BIPOC people. With partners, we are already building social infrastructure for solidarity work that uplifts the healing effects of relational ways of being with our BIPOC relatives and beyond—including major philanthropy, which undervalues this work by not investing directly in individuals. 

We are redefining what philanthropy can be but we cannot do it alone. Our vision is only achievable through a collective effort of allies who understand and value our relational and holistic approach to philanthropy.

We invite you to join us by learning more, connecting with us, or donating to uplift Indigenous leadership.

Gathering with our Circle of Generosity

Celebrating Indigenous leadership at our 2022 Circle of Generosity

Centering Indigenous lifeways in all our gatherings and decisions