Centering Native Voices: Lessons from Philanthropy and Community

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The ECFC/Native American’s in Philanthropy (NAP) Indigenous Early Childhood Workgroup engaged Roanhorse Consulting, LLC, an indigenous and woman owned firm, to help facilitate and strategize how we move forward as a group in joint and aligned funding for indigenous early childhood.

Roanhorse Consulting, LLC and their partner, Community Connects Consulting, LLC, worked with us in two phases:

Phase 1 included a survey with workgroup members, and organizational interviews with 14 people in the philanthropic sector to help us better understand: governance, staffing, and decision-making in philanthropy; how members are navigating partnerships with Native communities; and where there are opportunities to share knowledge, reflections, and most importantly grow investment in Native communities.

The interviews revealed that while there are many challenges in building relationships with Native communities (the need to learn more historical and contemporary context), and addressing the fear of creating harm, there are some opportunities to ground shared learning with members who have had some positive personal and professional experiences in working with Native communities. There are current strategies led by ECFC members that can be shared among this group. These strategies are grounded in centering Native communities’ culture and languages, building on a Trust-Based Philanthropies approach to grant making, creating a funders community of practice, and regularly reflecting on how white dominant culture characteristics are harmful to building relationships.

Phase 2 of this work included conversational interviews with indigenous leaders in early childhood, to learn from those working directly for and with Native communities about what they need from philanthropy. The participants shared both their challenges and frustrations working with philanthropy while balancing their input with hopes, ideas, and recommendations.

Several strong and distinct themes emerged, including:

  • The Importance of Promoting Language and Culture
  • Self-determination Cannot be Compromised
  • Consensual Boundaries and Ethics Create Healthier Relationship-Based Practices
  • Strengths-based Approaches Honor Native Communities
  • Exploring and Practicing Healthier Funding Models
  • Transparency and Mutual Accountability Build Trust and Repair Harm

Two reports provide an analysis of findings from these interviews focused on centering what we heard from individuals and lifting up the key themes and reflections, while also reflecting on lived experiences. The reports are rich in detailed feedback, especially the recommendations for action beginning on page 22 in both reports:

Learn more:

If you are interested in learning more about Indigenous Early Childhood initiatives and how funders can support this work, ECFC would love to hear about your interests.  The ECFC/NAP Indigenous workgroup is open to all interested foundations.  Contact ECFC for more information about the workgroup.

Photo credit: Photo by Austin Wade on Unsplash

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