By Art Holbrook
Why are we writing about a winter gathering in Northern Sweden when the focus of Pacific Peoples’ Partnership is the people of Oceania, mainly the tropical island nations of the Pacific?
We’re writing because April Ingham, executive director of PPP, received an unusual invitation. She was invited to observe the guiding committee meeting of Pawanka Fund, to witness this relatively new global Indigenous led fund in action. April formed part of their 20-person
delegation, which included respected Indigenous leaders’ representative of the seven geographic regions of the world, plus many of their funding partners. The meetings were held in Jokkmokk located in the Swedish province of Lapland. Jokkmokk is just north of the Arctic Circle and is a center for the Sami people.
The Pawanka Fund was established six years ago as a direct outcome of a UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues meeting. That forum put forward a UN resolution which urged government, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations to continue to contribute to Indigenous led funds, as well as to entrust funds for Indigenous issues and the United Nations voluntary fund for Indigenous peoples.
The Pawanka Fund is Chaired by Dr. Myrna Cunningham-Kain, who also sits with April on an Indigenous led fund working group hosted by the United States-based International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP). It was expected that April’s learning experiences at this meeting would contribute to the working group’s knowledge sharing principles and PPP’s own Pacific Resilience Fund’s transformation. April has attended IFIP meetings in Canada and the United States, but this is the first time she has traveled to an international gathering of these funders outside of North America.
The Pawanka gathering brought together representatives from around the globe including Hawaii, Asia, Kenya, South America, the US and Russia, along with US based global funders committed to Indigenous led philanthropy including the Tamalpais Trust, the NoVo Foundation, the Christensen Fund, the Swift Foundation, the NiaTero Fund, and the Tenure Faculty. A UN Special Rapporteur also participated. The protocols, logistics and hosting of the meetings was organized by Gunn-Britt Retter, a Pawanka guiding committee member and a Sami Arctic Council leader.
April was invited to the Jokkmokk gathering to learn about the processes for administering an Indigenous led fund, and about the methodologies that ensure the fund’s founding principles uphold Indigenous worldviews and self-determined processes. She was also there to learn and prepare, as PPP will soon undertake the transformation of our Pacific Resilience Fund (PRF) into one led by and for Pacific peoples, this is part of a major new initiative we will be launching later this spring.
April will be traveling to a number of South Pacific nations to meet with former and current partners, development experts and community leaders, as part of our Pacific Wayfinding 2020 Learning Mission. The findings from that mission, sponsored by Tamalpais Trust, will contribute to PPP’s strategic plan for 2020-2025, and will guide the development of our programs, operations and lead to a transformed PRF.
April arrived in the regional center of Luleå before a number of the other participants. Since prior to joining PPP April lived in Fort St. John, B.C., she is no stranger to cold weather and had time to enjoy the snow and -12 Celsius weather, exploring the small city and kick sledding across the ice in Luleå’s Gulf of Bothnia harbour.
As the delegation joined her in Luleå, they took a four-hour bus trip to Jokkmokk. Outfitted with winter gear provided by the gathering’s
host coordinators, the delegates from warmer climes had the new experience of traveling in a blizzard in Arctic darkness. Arriving at the lodge where the meetings were to take place, April was able to introduce her tropical colleagues to kick sleds and tobogganing and the all-important winter skill of making snow angels.
Gunn-Brit gave the group a warm welcome to the Sápmi Territories and provided a brief introduction to the Sami people and Jokkmokk, a training center for Sami artists. Dr. Myrna Cunningham-Kain provided an orientation to the work of the Pawanka Fund. She explained the importance Pawanka places on meeting in remote regional locations, which helps to remind participants about the diversity of Indigenous peoples. She emphasized how Pawanka is building a process that utilizes Indigenous world views and processes to transform philanthropy. Pawanka is defining the ways and means outside of traditional grant making, while also documenting and generating knowledge, strengthening itself as an Indigenous led fund and advocating in philanthropy.
Over the next six days the participants shared their knowledge and experiences as they compared their successes and challenges in supporting Indigenous led projects. As participants reported on the projects they championed, they explored ways to improve on their collective successes and about how to make projects self-sustaining after the grants that have helped them to begin have expired.
Funders spoke about the lessons they have learned and areas where they might improve including systemization of communications, strengthening monitoring and evaluation and following up activities. There was a recognition that there is growing interest in Indigenous led funds that presents both opportunities and challenges. Meanwhile, sharing carefully verified stories at the UN and other venues ensures that the funds fulfill their responsibility and benefit future generations.
On another day, a panel discussion emphasized the importance of developing strategies that are complimentary, based in reciprocity, holistic in approach and that further the values of Pawanka. Indigenous understanding of how strategies might work was highlighted by Dr. Hussein Isack, the Kenyan representative of the Global Indigenous Advisory Committee, who spoke of the importance of developing grassroots
connections by using the metaphor of the acacia tree. He hoped that Pawanka will develop deep roots and a wide trunk and that it will grow strong as the organization flowers. He emphasized that organizations must stay grounded by their roots even as their leaves synthesize and grow. Another participant emphasized the need for cultural due diligence even as organizations must recognize that “due diligence” can be interpreted in different ways in different cultures.
In another panel discussion, Danil Mamyev, an Altai Russian delegate, emphasized through his interpreter that Indigenous peoples, cultures and languages are like natural biodiversity and cannot be separated. He shared how elders in his community spoke of how their feelings and perceptions were contained in songs and actions from the past. But now his own children have lost that understanding. Where previously one word could contain an epic poem, now words have narrowed in meaning.
After an agenda-packed few days, the participants got to relax and enjoy the Sami National Day, wandering amongst the 415-year-old Sami outdoor market that Jokkmokk is famous for. While some of the delegates were leaving, April had the opportunity to join an outdoor gathering of Sami youth where she met Greta Thunberg, who had been spending time with the Sami youth. Greta gave a brief speech in which she said,
“We have a lot to learn from those that live by and with nature, and some have done so for hundreds of thousands of years. We have to listen to and give space to Indigenous peoples of the world because we are largely dependent on them, as they are protecting and taking care of nature and its biodiversity, which is necessary for our future survival. By protecting nature, forest and oceans we can take ourselves out of the situation we find ourselves in. And we must understand that nature is something we cannot continue to exploit, rather something to depend on and something we have to take care of.”
A Sami Political Leader at the climate action event gave a message of solidarity with for the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en, a message April found especially heartwarming to hear so far from home.
As April summarized her experiences after returning home, “I arrived home exhausted and full to the brim with inspiration and new learnings. I am excited to apply this new knowledge in our Wayfinding 2020 Deep Listening Mission which will guide PPP’s work beyond our 45th anniversary.”
Prepared by Art Holbrook, PPP Board Member and Chair of the Communications Committee. Art has been a board member at PPP for the last two and half years. He has traveled to Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu and has developed an affinity for the people of the South Pacific island nations.