This article is the third installment in NPQ’s series on community philanthropy. In this series, movement leaders explore what is possible if philanthropy adopts a restorative model, in which it supports the leadership of BIPOC communities, not only by writing grants, but by transferring assets and control of resources to communities. front line.


Imagine a painting. Now imagine a group of people who have gathered at this table to talk. As at any table around which people gather, the hierarchy will shape the ensuing conversation, whether participants recognize it or not: Whose table is this? Whose room?

Now imagine that activists, organizers and supporters of justice movements have gathered at this table to discuss what needs to change and how, what actions they can take and what resources are needed. These conversations, which regularly take place between movement organizers and builders and the philanthropists who fund their work, are also subject to power dynamics. Our conversations are shaped from the outset by the fact that, because they have the resources our communities need, funders set the table and often determine the allocation of seats.

Change the dynamic

Dismantling oppressive systems at the structural level requires rewriting standard philanthropic dynamics. The way people think about, organize and discuss change, and ultimately the legal and political contexts in which movements work to bring about change, are prescribed by who holds the money and other resources. This “who” must change.

Community solutions to persistent racial injustice, environmental degradation, and lack of housing, food security, health care, etc. can only happen when communities themselves have the time, space and resources to have a direct impact on their people. A philanthropic model based on the reallocation of assets would make such a change possible. Indeed, the impact of such a reallocation could be monumental, fundamentally changing land conservation in the United States and enabling a bold new vision for ecological preservation and climate change mitigation. The Land Back and resource redistribution movements understand that these issues, and our communities, are interconnected.

What is “Returning Earth”?

When the NDN Collective Talk about Earth Backwere not just talk about the literal repatriation of stolen land. We are talking about dismantling the systems that made land theft possible in the first place. Public lands across the United States are mismanaged, whether by the federal government or private interests, in ways that reflect the relationship these powers have had with Indigenous peoples for centuries.

Placing philanthropic resources under the control of Indigenous communities would help Indigenous peoples challenge the centers of public and private power, which perpetuated subjugation through displacement, and the legal and economic systems of colonialism, which made this theft possible and supported him. This would help Indigenous peoples reclaim Indigenous lands and reassert tribal sovereignty, benefiting Indigenous peoples while strengthening their efforts to mitigate climate change, which benefits everyone. Extractive industries and big business strive to compartmentalize the issues we all face, from economic inequality to climate disasters.

Traditional white-led conservation efforts too often treat land protection as a real estate business. Conservation in this context often functions as colonization, white settler conservationists and their organizations claiming de facto ownership of lands stolen from Indigenous peoples. The stewardship of millions of acres of land by Indigenous peoples, supported by new capital resources, would allow Indigenous cultures and languages ​​to flourish again.

Understand the power dynamics of resourcing

Indigenous peoples often look back to the halcyon days of the past, and with good reason. What if our best days weren’t behind us, but ahead?

We must allow ourselves to imagine the possibilities of a transformative future. The Land Back movement is a path to liberation and justice for all. It encourages us to rethink some of the fundamental problems with philanthropy – its enforced scarcity, its groupthink, and its refusal to cede power. If his call is heard, he can allow us to address systemic issues in a truly systematic way.

By changing the power dynamics of resourcing, those closest to the pain and problems created by theft and extraction can finally have the resources to lead the development of solutions. Such leadership is lost in our existing trickle-down philanthropic model, reflecting a failure of the entire philanthropic engine. Dismantling white supremacy requires moving money – and decision-making power – from institutions rooted in extraction into the hands of Black, Brown and Indigenous-led groups.

Some good steps are being taken. Mackenzie Scott’s practice of awarding large unrestricted grants to nonprofits is a major advancement for the field, while the Bush Foundation entrusted NDN with managing $50 million to support community development in Indian Country. But while these steps are important, as we noticed after receiving funds from the Bush Foundation, “In the larger scheme of things, are these reparations? No. But it is a step in the right direction that all institutional philanthropy must take into account and must begin to move in this direction.

In short, as with any trip, there are still steps to be taken. They include extinguishing foundations and calling on the very wealthy not just to give here and there, but to redistribute their wealth and assets.

Imagining a transformative future

The benefits of empowering indigenous communities are already evident in efforts across the country. And increasingly, indigenous communities are reclaiming land.

For example, in Mendocino County, California, 523 acres of the Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ the redwood forest was returned to the Sinkyone Council, a consortium of 10 federally recognized tribal nations in northern California. The grounds include 200 acres of old-growth forest and are home to many endangered animals, such as the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. Only five percent old-growth forest that existed before colonization. Now that the land is in indigenous hands, the consortium for to “apply a blend of Indigenous principles and approaches to land stewardship, conservation science, climate adaptation and fire resilience to help ensure lasting protection and long-term healing for Tc’ih -Léh-Dûñ and its diverse flora and fauna. ”

In Utah, the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition manage the land. This much larger effort comprises 1.9 million acres (nearly 3,000 square miles). The coalition, formed by leaders from five indigenous nations – Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni and the Ute Indian Tribe – met in 2015. His Goals include: 1) protection of archaeological and cultural resources; 2) the preservation of historical sites, objects of spiritual significance and ongoing cultural activities; 3) protection of native fish, wildlife and plants; 4) access for hunting, ceremonies, firewood and herb gathering; and 5) preservation of wilderness and scenic values.

To this list we could also add the return of 1,200 acres in the Black Hills at Oceti Sakowin (approved by the Rapid City, SD City Council), on 2019 return of 270 acres from Tulawat Island in Humboldt, California, to the Wiyot Nation, and raising the largest tribe-run bison herd in RosebudSouth Dakota.

In short, reclamation works are already underway, with huge benefits for both the environment and local communities. These efforts not only strengthen the ability of Indigenous peoples to care for these lands; they also support the creation of regenerative systems and economic resilience.

The resources to develop this work exist. The question is: are those in power ready to give them up?

It’s time for those who are already at the table to give up their place to someone else. Indigenous peoples are ready for this power shift. We have interacted with virtually every type of funding organization that exists. We are experts in navigating multiple jurisdictions and the complexity of a colonial system imposed on us. Indigenous peoples continue to be the most underinvested community in North America. It is high time to transfer resources – and decision-making authority over those resources – to Indigenous peoples.

The restitution of indigenous lands to indigenous peoples is an act of social justice and liberation. Philanthropy can support such acts, but only if the assets are actually transferred, which means a transfer of power. And it takes both power and resources to bring about transformative change. Subsidies, although welcome, are not enough.

Of course, moving this work forward requires courage and radical solidarity. We believe our people’s best days are ahead of us, not behind us. The Land Back movement is one of the ways that Aboriginal people can build the just future that so many people seek.