Philanthropy must learn from the practices of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Women demand the international community put an end to paternalistic approaches in cooperation and view it as a reciprocal relationship. In addition, they propose working to require allied states cease funding transnational corporations that steal Indigenous territories.

Guadalupe Ríos, Juchitán, Oaxaca

Reciprocity and impartial collaboration are common practices amongst Indigenous Peoples in the Americas and on other continents. Women organise spaces, help hosts and prepare food for events: participation itself becomes a celebration. The principle of reciprocity keeps the identity and strength of Indigenous Peoples alive, as clearly expressed in the ‘Transforming Philanthropy’ session at the Second World Conference of Indigenous Women. The session took an in-depth look at how philanthropy is perceived in the Global North and amongst Indigenous Peoples and Women.

The participants shared their knowledge and personal and community experiences. Women from Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific discussed the different meanings of philanthropy whilst lamenting that it often arrives ‘as an act of charity from certain countries with economic power’. The session participants showcased that ancient practices of Indigenous reciprocity continue to be used, mentioning concepts known as Guendalizaa and Guelaguetza in Zapotec in Oaxaca, Mexico, or in Bolivia as q’imi in Quechuan. For them, this knowledge and ancient wisdom are just some of the contributions from Indigenous Peoples to the international community of donors. ‘Giving should be a celebration, not a business,’ stated Nidia Bustillos from the Pawanka Indigenous Fund. In her view, philanthropy should be a tool to preserve the earth, since we are all part of it. ‘It is not charity but sharing as human beings.’

The speakers mapped out valuable initiatives from their organisations to share knowledge and ideas that can be used in designing long-term projects. They agreed that governments and other international cooperation stakeholders need to realise how Indigenous Peoples experience philanthropy and how they view it as a ‘collective process of reciprocity, sharing and giving back from the collective, despite this not aligning with the Western approach that is still prevalent in some areas of the sector’.


Short- and long-term proposals

One of the most positive short-term changes would be donors adapting the organisational methods and governance systems that prevail in communities. In turn, they stated the need for all types of impositions and conditions to be eliminated. For them, donors need to move away from paternalistic approaches and see that Indigenous Peoples have helped in the historical enrichment of development nations.

In the long-term, the speakers proposed a review of the mechanisms used by international cooperation. They underlined the need for greater coherence between philanthropic activities that nation states support internationally and the transnational projects they back through public and private investments. Many of the corporations that receive funds or contracts from these cooperating nation states lie behind the seizure of Indigenous territories.

In turn, the moderator Lourdes Inga, a Quechua woman and representative from the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP), explained that there is little support for Indigenous Women’s leaderships. This is why the IFIP is seeking to close the gender gap and accompany projects that come out of the communities themselves. IFIP is currently the sole global network of funders that deals exclusively with accompanying projects amongst Indigenous Peoples in different parts of the world.

Margarita Antonio from FIMI stated that ‘Indigenous Women continue to see ourselves as a duality—as women and as part of the community’, and donors should understand this collectively-based concept of gender.

The session participants concluded that a horizontal, reciprocal relationship needs to be established with the community of donors, highlighting the values and inherent wealth of Indigenous Peoples as a fundamental asset in projects.