Honouring Indigenous experience to fund meaningful change
Written by Fiona Higgins
The groundswell of action around Black Lives Matter and, in Australia, Indigenous Lives Matter, is prompting us to consider the role we can play in standing with Indigenous community members to challenge systemic racism and oppression.
The CAGES Foundation is a PAF dedicated to an Australia where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People have the opportunity to reach their full potential. We spoke with Rachel Kerry, Executive Officer of CAGES, on how they approach funding organisations working with Indigenous communities.
“Support organisations that are Indigenous-owned, controlled and led”
Systemic failure has resulted in alarming statistics around the out of home care system, the justice system, family violence, health. We need to empower Aboriginal people to lead their own change around those systems. For CAGES, this means supporting organisations that have an Indigenous board, with clear Indigenous inspiration, leadership and participation within the executive. Where a partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations is involved, it’s critical to ascertain that the Indigenous organisation has agency and influence over ongoing activities, funding and reporting.
“Connect with your passion, listen to community, then collaborate”
Most funders will have an area or passion that resonates more. But once you’ve determined what that is, it’s important to listen to First Nations people about what success looks like for them in each area. Often this means adopting a whole-of-community lens, rather than supporting initiatives in isolation.
At CAGES, we’ve also found that great value lies in reaching out respectfully to other funders and working alongside them to co-fund, as well as to facilitate introductions to organisations and communities. This is a great way to build trust with Indigenous communities and reduce the administrative burden through collaboration.
"We’ve also found that great value lies in reaching out respectfully to other funders and working alongside them to co-fund, as well as to facilitate introductions to organisations and communities."
Maari Ma Playgroup in Broken Hill is being funded by CAGES and an APS donor, among others
“Short-term, long-term and capacity-building: it’s all necessary”
Given the damaging history of well-meaning agencies moving into Indigenous community then leaving and withdrawing funding, there is an even greater need for long-term committed funding. At the same time, many Indigenous organisations still don’t have access to basic infrastructure or technology, training and professional development.
There is a real opportunity for philanthropy to play a role in injecting short-term or one-off capacity-building funds to support organisations with immediate operational needs. Irrespective of the type of funding offered, however, it’s very important to be transparent from the beginning about what your funding capacity is, and to ensure that your reporting expectations are commensurate with that.
“Acknowledge history and respond with genuine humility”
The power imbalance that is always felt between funder and grantee is even more profound in the Indigenous space. Our nation’s funding structures, whether they be philanthropic or government, are very much colonised and tend to offer top-down responses. Be prepared to sit with the discomfort that comes with truth-telling; acknowledging the real truth of what has happened in Australia over the last 200+ years, and why this means that Indigenous people are best placed to lead change for their community.
When it comes to partnering with Indigenous organisations, CAGES actively challenges our own assumptions about the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to do things, or what success or excellence might look like. The way to success won’t necessarily be a path we are used to walking; we need to be prepared to listen and learn, rather than immediately jumping in with a proposed ‘solution’.
“Recognise existing strengths and prepare to learn”
The assets that exist in Aboriginal communities – the culture, the people, the language, the initiative, the resilience, the history, the survival, the generosity – these are the things that philanthropy can build on. Environmental funders figured that out via the bushfires – we’re silly not to learn from 60,000 years of knowledge. A great place to start learning is the Coalition of Peaks, representing 50 Aboriginal Community Controlled Services across the country, convened by the DGR Item 1 National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).
If you are interested in finding out more about Indigenous-led, controlled or owned organisations doing great work in Community, we can connect you with organisations listed on our charity database or other funders in the space. Please reach out to us.