Blog entry by Jennifer Astone, who is an applied anthropologist and philanthropic consultant who has been involved in international grantmaking for over 15 years. She currently serves as Managing Director of the Swift Foundation. Contact her: www.jenniferastone.com
Winona LaDuke in conversation with Chip Conley and IFIP board chair, Ken Wilson.
Just outside the front door of the hotel in San Francisco, people in cars and taxis zoomed by on the gritty asphalt unaware of a remarkable greeting the 200 participants of the International Funders for Indigenous Philanthropy (IFIP) 2012 Annual Conference had received.
Inside we sat around round tables with white tablecloths looking toward the dais and Valentin Lopez, Chair of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of the Ohlone. He welcomed us to his territories and sang a prayer to fill the room with his spirit. This was the first time I had been welcomed to the central coast of California, my home, by a member of the original inhabitants of this territory. What a long overdue experience.
Val prayed to our creator. Val recalled the four inland lakes that once fed the mighty rivers and fisheries of the coast. Val reminded us of how the destruction of the past 160 years decimated the native peoples, animals and landscape of central California. He called on us to help him restore the land. His warm welcome opened my mind to new ways of thinking and learning about California and other places and peoples as well.
What Did I Learn? The IFIP Conference brought together a record number of 200 participants, with a mix of 50% donors, 27% NGO partners and 23% Indigenous Peoples. What started as a conference transformed into a community over the four days together. How did this happen? The speakers and participants embraced IFIP’s four “R”s of Indigenous philanthropy: Reciprocity, Respect, Responsibility and Relationships. These values guided our conversations.
I heard foundation trustees and presidents listen with respect as Larry Merculieff, Aleut Elder explained how he learned to let go of prepared remarks and fear in order to talk from the heart. His elders exhorted him to: “Show up, be present, tell your truth, and let it go.” His powerful words speared our hearts and I heard attendees echoing his message afterwards: “Larry’s right, I need to learn how to drop my papers.”
Che Wilson, Maori, of the J R McKenzie Trust asked questions at every session requesting collaboration and suggestions to improve his work, naturally exhibiting reciprocity in his way of being. He set a tone for all of us, the humility of the lifelong student. Mphatheleni Makaululu VhaVenda of The Mupo Foundation shared her views on the sacred relationship of their people with seeds, water and the earth. She asked us whether water that comes from a plastic bottle can be sacred?
Embedded in the discussions was a sense of responsibility. Winona LaDuke of White Earth Land Recovery Program and Honor the Earth affirmed our connections to those with “fins and wings” with her focus on the importance of interspecies equity and intergenerational economics, counter to quarterly short-term corporate reporting. Chip Conley, businessman and former CEO of Joie de Vivre Hotels, mused on the importance of measuring what is meaningful and focusing on happiness as a way of transforming economic systems.
As someone who spends her days helping donors, civil society and Indigenous Peoples work together for social justice, I deeply valued the opportunity to build relationships at IFIP through the four “R”s of Indigenous philanthropy: Reciprocity, Respect, Responsibility and Relationships.