Tim Fox and Justin Wiebe are both actively working to build a more relational, reciprocal, and decolonial philanthropic landscape through their roles with The Circle on Philanthropy’s Governing Circle, and through their work at different foundations. The following captures a conversation between Tim and Justin on the topic of Indigenous philanthropy, and how they relate to each other, their work in the sector, and the communities they act in service of.
Justin: tansi, Oki, hello Tim. As always, the best place to probably start is with who are you, what’s your role in philanthropy, and how did you end up in philanthropy of all places?
Tim: Oki, niisto niitaniiko, Natoyi’sokasiim. Hello my name is Tim Fox and I am a proud member of the Siksikaitsitapi, The Blackfoot Confederacy. My family comes from the Akaipohkaaks (Many Children’s) Clan. I’m a father to an 11-year-old daughter and son of residential school survivors.
Where I come from plays a huge role in my work as Vice President of Indigenous Relations and Equity Strategy with the settler created Calgary Foundation. A big part of the mandate includes exploring and finding ways to mobilize the work of reconciliation, decolonization and now racial equity from a systems change perspective and approach.
Justin, would you mind sharing a bit about who you are as well?
J: Thanks Tim, I really appreciate you kicking us off. Justin nitisiyihkâson michif napew niya sâskwatôn ohci niya. My name is Justin and I am a citizen of the Métis Nation Saskatchewan. I was born and raised in my shared territories in what is now called Saskatchewan.
I’ve been working in philanthropy for the last 6 years or so, I started at the Ontario Trillium Foundation in the Youth Opportunities Fund supporting grassroots and systems change initiatives and am now at the Mastercard Foundation as the Lead, Innovation and Strategic Growth working in service of Indigenous youth and communities. My work is focused on transforming systems to support the well-being of Indigenous youth and Indigenous self-determination primarily in the areas of education and training, entrepreneurship and employment, digital equity, and language and cultural revitalization.
T: Both of us are working towards systems change through our work. I believe that gone are the days when systems, institutions and society should expect Indigenous and racialized individuals to assimilate, adapt or fit in to the dominant culture and organizations. The time has come to challenge the current structure of these systems, institutions, and society overall.
J: I totally agree. So many of the underlying assumptions that shape and govern philanthropy are in opposition to how I hope to do this work. I remember when I first started in the sector, and was still figuring out what exactly this whole philanthropy thing was, I was pleasantly surprised to hear people talk about generosity, giving, and sharing. I soon realized though that despite using the same English words, we actually weren’t talking about the same thing. Many folks in the sector were actually talking about charity and about giving back only after they’d, or the organizations they work for, had accumulated so much. What I was talking about was justice and responsibility, and that as a Métis person I had a responsibility to take care of others, to gift and to share, and to use my skills for the collective good.
T: Yes, that really resonates with me. In our sector, there are a lot of common beliefs, some very harmful, without any substantiated, common knowledge. From a western perspective and a dominant narrative, we are conditioned to act and react in a certain way. But this isn’t the only way.
From a Blackfoot way, and likely true for other Indigenous nations and communities, we’ve always functioned from a holistic perspective. Our relationship to land and spirituality is embedded in our values and ways of life. Historically in my community, women played a significant role in how we functioned. Everyone was involved with decision-making and we took care of each other, with children in the center of our community structure. I paralleled this way of life to the philanthropic efforts I was now tasked to help lead and then began to try incorporating elements of Indigenous paradigm and ways into how we do our work.
J: Our knowledge systems, laws, ways of being and doing are so rich. Similarly, I am always trying to find ways to better reflect Indigenous approaches in my work. I think this will not only benefit the Indigenous organizations and communities I work with, but I believe that our knowledge systems offer wisdom useful for many others in our world today. Both conceptually and for very practical things. I also think when we bring our values to the work, values like respect, reciprocity, truth, and trust it will shift how we do things. For me this has looked like some really practical things in my work like interrogating our proposal and reporting process and templates. Asking myself and my colleagues questions like: “do we really need this piece of information?” and “what are we going to do with it once we have it?” The goal in renewing our processes was to minimize burden on our partners and make sure we have a clear approach to how we’re going to use the information we request. This work isn’t easy, both the work of investing in partners to lead transformation and deliver impactful programs as well as the internal work within our organizations to shift our approaches and practices. It’s fortunate that I’m not alone in this, I have a great team at the Foundation, but also have found an amazing network of Indigenous folks in philanthropy, like you Tim, Kris from the Circle, and many others. That said, there’s still a need for more Indigenous folks within our sector to keep leading positive change.
T: I totally agree. I’ve learned so much from many colleagues across these lands called canada. The majority of these teachers have been the incredible Indigenous women I have come to know and grow from. The truth is, our communities have experienced harmful disruption to our cultural ways. The way we view and prioritize Indigenous women is evident in all the MMIWG work that has been surfaced in the last decade. By reflecting on my Indigenous values and ways of life, mobilizing the wisdom and knowledge of Indigenous women, we are experiencing transformative results in how we support community. Change that is creating balance in scales that have been historically, and today, very unbalanced. I’ve benefited from my community of kin and others who are also using this inspiration to guide how they support community, like you Justin.
J: Awwww, thanks Tim. That means a lot, I’ve learned so much from you and many others over the years, as well. You’re right, so many are mobilizing, organizing, building, and transforming. At times the change feels way to slow, but at other times I take a step back and am amazed at how far we’ve come. I remember when I first started in philanthropy, things like trust-based philanthropy and Indigenous evaluation were never mentioned, but now they’re mainstream topics.
Don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go, but the sector is more openly talking about these things. There is still tons of work to go from conversation to actual practice, but I think we’re headed in the right direction. Where practices like giving unrestricted grants and gifts to Indigenous communities, movements, organizations, and foundations to lead change on our terms and in our own ways is common. We’re not there yet, but as more foundations do it, others will follow.
Anyways, thanks so much for the conversation, Tim.
T: Thank you as well Justin, I look forward to many more!