A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Indigenizing Philanthropy for Housing Justice

Funders Together staff attended the 2024 Native Americans in Philanthropy conference. Here’s a recap of what we experienced:

Co-authored by:

Michael Durham, Director of Networks
Stephanie Chan, Chief Strategy Officer

Funders Together’s vision statement includes the aspiration to become Pro-Black and Pro-Indigenous, which is a posture toward a culture that actively embraces the complexity of Black and Indigenous people and values. Homelessness exists due to the economic system derived from colonization and genocide of Native people in addition to chattel slavery. And, Indigenous people are the most drastically overrepresented among populations experiencing homelessness along with Black Americans.  

Funders Together staff members, Michael Durham and Stephanie Chan, attended the 2024 Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) conference with open hearts to learn, build community with Native organizers and philanthropy professionals, and step into accountability for our vision statement. NAP’s conference’s goal was to indigenize philanthropy. To connect this to our work, we asked ourselves:  

  1. How does the housing and homelessness field need to evolve to achieve housing justice with and for Native people? 
  1. What does it mean for philanthropy to embrace Indigenous ways of being, and how does that affect our work for housing justice?  

As we reflected on the following themes from our experience, we saw housing justice and other Funders Together values represented throughout. 

Unforgetting the Past  

No other learning environment we have participated in so consciously and explicitly connected the realities of the present and the prospects of the future to the wisdom and devastation of the past. History lessons proliferated in nearly every session, not just the recollections of settler colonialism and genocide but the vibrance of ancestors’ ways of being. It reminds us of recent efforts in some corners of philanthropy to embrace both
reparations and a culture of racial repair 

We invite funders to consider if: A Foundation for Radical Possibility’s leadership with the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) to research the origins of their foundation’s wealth and their complicity in harm, which informs their grantmaking strategy and role in their community. Most foundations would discover histories of damage related to segregation and displacement if they were to undergo such an investigation. What, then, is philanthropy’s responsibility to mend this harm? 

Liberation Ventures emphasizes that to build a culture of racial repair, redress, reckoning, accountability, and acknowledgement is needed. (Source: The Bridgespan group)

The Long View 

Multiple Native traditions embrace the notion of “seven generations,” that our policies and actions should be sustainable and benefit our descendants seven generations in the future. Within this principle is the assumption that structural change often takes that long – we are unlikely to see the fruit of our labor for multiple generations to come. 

This wisdom around generational change is one that Funders Together has been pushing in the movement for housing justice. Even as we defend against near-term threats, such as the pending Supreme Court decision surrounding the criminalization of homelessness, our strategies and movement culture must recognize that truly ending homelessness coincides with a fundamental and structural reorganization of our economy and our humanity. It is a project much bigger than any of us alive today.  

Tiwahe Foundation Executive Director Nikki Pieratos and other Native leaders discussed how we can build bridges across different generations during the plenary.

Relationality and Kinship  

A central tenet of indigenized philanthropy, from our observation, is that relationships are not just central, they encompass all of it. Those who espouse principles of trust-based philanthropy already tout relationships as virtuous, but Native funders take this much further. One presenter advised their listeners to treat every so-called grantee partner like they would their own mother. Indigenous wisdom disrupts Western understandings of family in the first place, taking a broader and cross-generational understanding of

Housing justice philanthropy can learn from this. We can step into the messiness of familial relationships of accountability and love, supporting nonprofits like kin, and in doing so inch closer to the world we envision. 

Hundreds of Native Americans gather during a rally near the White House, on the Indigenous Peoples Day in Washington, D.C. (Source: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Housing Justice Means Land Back

Housing justice for Native people cannot be distinguished from land sovereignty. We learned how challenging even incremental land back efforts appear to be. One panel described an effort in Maine to rematriate state-owned land to the Penobscot nation in which they described the nearly prohibitive red tape, not to mention that the Tribal Government’s only option was to buy the land. The presenter likened this reality to stealing your neighbor’s car, then requiring them to buy it back from you with the stipulation that you can still use it at any time and there will be punitive consequences if they fail to maintain it. Our laws and systems actively inhibit land-back movements. The treachery of the route, however, ought not alter the destination to which it leads.   

Funders Together hosted a webinar on indigenous self-determination, decolonization, and housing justice with leaders from the NDN Collective in March.

It Begins and Ends with Self-Determination  

NAP’s opening panel began with our concluding reflection: Indigenous people have and deserve the right to self-determination. This grounds our understanding of what housing justice means for Native communities. While we do hope for future programming that more explicitly explores how the Funders Together community can prevent and end houselessness for Indigenous communities, including at our Funders Institute July 8-9, we recognize that self-determination includes a mandate not to superimpose our non-Native priorities. Ending homelessness for Native people must mean they get to set the course. 

Showing 1 reaction

  • Michael Durham
    published this page in Blog 2024-06-17 15:07:48 -0400

We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or email.