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Indigenous People and the Environment, Still…

May 22, 2012

Melina Selverston, a program officer at the Goldman Prize, recently attended the 11th Annual Conference of International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP) in San Francisco. In the entry below, Selverston reflects on the theme of the conference, “strengthening indigenous sustainability.”

The international Funders for Indigenous People’s conference is one of the few places I can count on to jump directly into a piercingly honest discussion about philanthropy. Since this year’s meeting began last night I have not been disappointed.

This morning I listened to donors explain how IFIP influences their work. I enjoyed hearing Tracy Austin of Mitsubishi Foundation say that she came to IFIP because she works for an environmental funder. At her first meeting she learned how (big international environmental NGOs (BINGOS) were violating the rights of indigenous peoples. This completely changed her frame of grant making. She also clarified that this is improving. Now many of those large enviro groups have policies regulating their work with indigenous peoples, have hired indigenous staff, and even have fellowships for indigenous peoples.

Why? Because the indigenous people have made it clear that they are not leaving, that kicking indigenous people off from their land is not a sustainable environmental policy. Refugees are not good for the environment. Building fences locking people out of nature is not improving our relationship with mother earth. As the IFIP board chair stated, we are not going to be able to solve the world’s problems without the vision and energy of indigenous peoples.

Environmental funders are just one of the funding sectors here, but it is a fundamental one. If you know me at all you know it is a conversation I have been involved with for a long time, yet it has just begun. Indigenous peoples will continue to defend their homelands. IFIP is bringing these conversations out into the larger world of donors.

Let the conversation continue!

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