A Call To Edgewalk: Insights And Reflections From PFC Webinar: “COVID-19, Indigenous Perspectives & Solutions”
I am sure over the last couple of months you have heard the phrase “unprecedented times” used many, many times. It seems that overnight we have all been called to adjust our ways of thinking and working to adapt to this “new normal”. There is no denying that the experiences and impacts of this pandemic have challenged us all, foundations, and philanthropic partners included, to be nimble and respond with urgency to the rapidly evolving needs of our communities.
However, I also feel it is important to acknowledge some deeper truths to that statement and recognize that calling the time we are in as unprecedented would be to ignore First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Peoples’ historical (and contemporary) experiences of other pandemics. I would also like to acknowledge that we [philanthropic institutions] have been called to change our approach of stewarding this work for some time and that these seeds of change that we planted are only now being given the attention and care they need to root and grow.
So, why has it taken us the COVID-19 pandemic to more diligently nurture these seeds of change? Perhaps we were not anticipating such a disruption to occur and threaten our collective. Or, perhaps we were not truly focusing on the collective. As hard as philanthropy worked to uplift the community in the pre-pandemic reality, many people were left behind.
These are some of the thoughts and questions I was left with when listening (and re-listening) to a moderated discussion that centered the voices and wisdom of Indigenous matriarchs that are leading their communities and organizations through this work, especially during this crisis.
PFC’s May 20 webinar COVID-19, Indigenous Perspectives & Solutions, is hosted by Kris Archie, a Secwepemec and Seme7 woman from the Ts’qescen First Nation. As the CEO of The Circle, Kris is well known for space she holds for the philanthropic community, always inviting us to think and do differently to increase the flow of philanthropic resources to Indigenous-led and Indigenous informed solutions for change.
In this time of change and urgency, it is important for settler-created philanthropy to lean into invitations like this. This webinar is a generous gift of knowledge and wisdom to the philanthropic community from these Indigenous matriarchs. As we begin to reshape and reframe how we will serve the community so that no one is left behind, we must ensure that the voices guiding us forward are centered on the experiences and values of the communities we seek to serve.
Jocelyn Formsma is a member of the Moose Cree First Nation of Ontario, a community builder and connector, and the executive director of the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC). Jocelyn brings the experience and perspective of what it means to mobilize resources for an urban Indigenous-led charitable organization. I greatly appreciate the context Jocelyn provides for why it is often so difficult for philanthropic and government resources to get to the communities and organizations of urban Indigenous Peoples (including First Nations, Metis, and Inuit). She speaks of jurisdictional gaps between governments, misperceptions about the fiduciary role of the Federal government, and the complex intersectional identities of urban Indigenous peoples that are sometimes overlooked.
Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, a Dënesųłiné woman (ts’ékui), member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (Treaty 8), mother of two, and executive director/co-founder of Indigenous Climate Action (ICA), discusses the relationship between philanthropy, resource extraction and wealth generation. I was inspired by her depiction of the Indigenous-led climate solution work underway, which is in alignment with purpose, values, and relationships. As the only Indigenous-led climate justice organization, ICA ensures Indigenous solutions are at the forefront of their work and recognizes that Indigenous knowledge holds the ability to find sustainable solutions that center Indigenous rights for generations to come. I continue to think about the stories and prophecies that Eriel shares in the webinar, and her call for a shift from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance. This is a shift that requires us to amplify Indigenous-informed solutions to become embedded and balanced into the relationship between Indigenous philanthropy and settler created philanthropy.
Jessica Bolduc is an Anishinaabe-French woman from Baawating (Sault Ste. Marie, ON), a community member of Batchewana First Nation, an aunty and cat mom, and the executive director with 4Rs Youth Movement (4Rs), and through these experiences, Jessica is cultivating practices of self-determination, kinship, and lateral love. These practices are also deeply rooted in the work at 4Rs and have been vital practices to nurture through this pandemic.
4Rs is doing the heavy heart work of shifting prescribed and confining narratives imposed on Indigenous youth, and Jessica shares what she is witnessing and experiencing during this time of crisis through the relationships she has with Indigenous young people. I found it important to hear how people remember that during the 2009 H1N1 crisis, the government sent body bags to Indigenous communities instead of the needed health care supplies. Experiences like that cast long shadows of mistrust over contemporary pandemic responses. Jessica also speaks about how it feels for young people when so little of the pandemic health information (and even misinformation) is non-reflective of their lived experiences. And how quickly the virus exacerbated Indigenous communities’ risk level due to the ongoing impacts of colonialism.
I am grateful that the panelists ask us not to sit with purely deficit defining narratives. Each shares a similar trend of resilience in how Indigenous communities are responding and leading their solutions with bravery, creativity, and transformation, and where the needs of their community are always at the center.
Their gift of deep context and knowledge setting is not simply an invitation for us to listen, but also to activate. We are invited to be in a relationship and re-center our purpose for the collective wellbeing. We are called to ask ourselves whether we want to be the gatekeepers of the status quo, or if we want to be Edgewalkers. Kris Archie helps us see that the benefits of collective wellbeing are for all of us: “The bigger risk is to not invest in Indigenous-led organizations. The bigger risk is to not invest in Indigenous-led solutions for climate justice. The bigger risk is to not invest in the innovations of Indigenous young people… what do we have to lose if we choose to invest in generations and generations of knowledge related to adaptation, related to being in deep quality relationships with one another and in kinship with the land.”
What I offer in this blog post is simply a reflection. There are no answers or solutions here. Those sit within the voices and matriarchal wisdom that is shared through this webinar, and the generational knowledge that is within these communities. I would encourage anyone who has ever asked the questions “What now? What am I supposed to do?” to go and listen to this webinar and remember it is okay to have more questions than answers at the end of it. The important part is that we are listening and activating resources toward the communities that have the solutions. We are not the gatekeepers of the answers or solutions when we sit in this mindset, we are the gatekeepers of the status quo.
The panelists share an abundance of ways that funders can be in relationship with Indigenous-led organizations, and the short- and long-term solutions for change that are ready for our partnerships. Philanthropy must also lead with abundance. This pandemic has taught us that we are able to shift and change, and the wisdom that is shared through this panel discussion is guidance toward the edges where we can shift and expand.
“It’s about reharmonizing and reparations and not just investing. This moment in time is a demonstration on how quickly the philanthropic sector can invest in Indigenous-led projects for great justice”.
– Kris Archie