Black, Indigenous, people of color-led organizations have been at the forefront of social change for decades, but we haven’t been listening to their ideas, experiences, and solutions. Instead, we have chronically underfunded their work, limiting our ability to bring about meaningful social change in our country. In this moment of nationwide reckoning, I talked to leaders who shared their guidance for giving with impact.
Tell me about the Return to the Heart Foundation and the work you’re funding.
Return to the Heart was created because we saw a huge gap in the funding streams for Indigenous women-led initiatives. There is a way to make a powerful concrete impact by focusing our funding on these women and their visionary ideas around critical issues facing all of us today, including climate justice, civic engagement, narrative change, and restorative and regenerative development.
What are Indigenous-led organizations telling you they need at this moment?
We created a fellowship called The Society with nine Indigenous women leaders organizing on these critical issues. Most leaders in our Society tell us how important it is for America to understand Indigenous cultures, our rights and our issues, as that knowledge directly leads to systems change. That’s why we have to focus our energy on storytelling and also amplifying our own stories. These are the stories yet to be heard.
If philanthropy could make one change right now, what should it be?
Fund proven solutions by and for Indigenous women leaders with unrestricted funding and for at least a decade. When funders constantly switch their priorities, it’s incredibly difficult on organizations. Organizations constantly have to spend time bending into different focus areas to meet funders’ changing interests. Many times funders don't have specific expertise but create these lateral decisions to change the way they fund based on a handful of stakeholders that usually don’t include the voices of grassroots leaders whose expertise and wisdom we need, along with their proven ability to get things done.
What would happen if philanthropy listened to BIPOC leaders?
Indigenous women think holistically and collectively as a rule and since birth, and so many of the solutions are innovative. They are strategizing on how to think about how they can create the most impact in the shortest amount of time as we have been left out or left behind for long enough. If philanthropy listens to Indigenous women and properly resources them, this would lead to differences in stereotypical representations of Indigenous women. Currently, they are highly sexualized and ridiculed which needs to end. Changing their representation would directly lead to less statistics of our women being raped or murdered and would lead to our voices being listened to on a national scale and positive role modeling for Indigenous youth. I believe our suicide rates would go down as well.
As a country we have so much to learn and so much healing is needed. We need to support those who can bring it, we need to Return to the Heart.