Blog by Evelyn Arce, Executive Director of International Funders for Indigenous Peoples
As Executive Director of International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP), I am honored everyday to be a part of the important conversation on the role of philanthropy in sustaining Indigenous movements and efforts globally. I am often asked how such a unique organization like IFIP got started. The story of IFIP emerged from a 1999 conference, where a group of donors realized and woke up to the fact that no one was paying attention to how critical it was to understand the importance of Indigenous traditional knowledge and wisdom as solutions for our most pressing problems.
An awakening had started.
Ten donors– all of them visionaries – attended our first conference in 2001. Since then, an invigorating momentum was created that led to more than 200 people, half of them foundations, attending our conference in May this year in San Francisco. Indigenous representatives from every corner of the world spoke about their time-tested solutions to the most critical issues of our times. And I am thrilled that we are already planning our next conference in Europe in 2013.
We recognize that Indigenous peoples (IP) are neglected in philanthropy – to the world’s peril. Less than one quarter of one percent was given to international Indigenous causes by US Foundations. IFIP works to fix this gross imbalance by encouraging partnerships with Indigenous Peoples through direct engagement, seminars, conferences, webinars and publications. Two of our most popular publications are the A Grantmakers Guide: Strengthening International Indigenous Philanthropy and the Indigenous Peoples Funding and Resource Guide. The first educates funders with case studies about why and how to work with IP, and the second guide is for IP on how to build partnerships with donors.
Although we are proud of our accomplishments, we know we have a long way to go to sustain Indigenous consciousness and communities, and bring Indigenous wisdom in the mainstream. 85% of the earth’s remaining biodiversity are located on Indigenous territories — a testament to the intrinsic link between IP and the survival of the planet as we know it. Indigenous Peoples represent about 4 percent of the world’s population in 90 countries. And there are over 8,000 different tribes across the world, 400 in Brazil alone. Of the nearly 7,000 languages spoken today, over 4,000 are Indigenous. But it is predicted that by the end of the century, 90% will be extinct or in danger of extinction.
So how do we stop bio and cultural extinction that some so-called experts think is simply inevitable? A couple of years ago, we realized that we had to learn new ways to work with each other. 400 Indigenous representatives and donors came together and created the 4 Rs, or the Principles of Funding Indigenous Communities. First is Reciprocity to affirm that giving and receiving connects people, beliefs and actions. It is not always about money, and we need to be open to receiving. Giving and receiving from the Earth’s endowments is also part of a virtuous circle of healing.
The second principle is Respect to recognize that it is important to honor traditions and respect different world views. Third principle is Responsibility, which is guided by the knowledge that Indigenous Peoples are responsible for their own voice in meetings, negotiations and on issues. And the last principle is Relationships – understanding the nature of relationships among ancestral cultures, natural resources and spirituality.
These values guide IFIP’s work and provide a framework for collaboration between Indigenous Peoples and philanthropists. It is critical that Indigenous Peoples are part of the design, implementation and evaluation of any kind of support. Nothing for us without us, is a common phrase that I often hear. It is important that Indigenous Peoples, who embody this traditional knowledge are at the table at key global conferences and summits. Recognizing their emergence as important voices is key to integrate their sustainable cosmology into our own.