The Art of Reciprocity—philanthropy through an Indigenous lens

Art of ReciprocityTwo years of research, partnership and hard work culminate in a custom approach to fundraising rooted in Indigenous values and practices.

“I was vibrating…it was like the clouds had parted.”

That’s how United Way Winnipeg’s 2014 Aboriginal Relations Manager Bruce W.J. Miller felt when he left a workshop led by Minneapolis-based Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP).

A growing circle of non-profits, Indigenous communities and foundations committed to the beliefs, traditions and gifts of Indigenous people, they’d developed a culturally-based framework for philanthropy.

Miller knew there were grounds for a partnership and an opportunity to adapt their model to work in a Winnipeg context. He shared his vision with colleagues on United Way’s Aboriginal Relations Council (now renamed Council for Indigenous Relations).

“At its root, mainstream philanthropy is altruistic, but linear,” said Christine Cyr, Chair of the Council. “We recognized there was an opportunity here for us to blend that view with the Indigenous value of reciprocity. That it’s not transactional, but transformational. It’s a cycle, a ceremony that’s really important to us to and important to honour.”

After two years, NAP and the Council believed they had successfully incorporated and reflected the stories, history and traditions of groups Indigenous to Winnipeg and surrounding area.  The ultimate test would be how groups working within those communities responded.

Over the course of three days, approximately 25 guests participated in the inaugural Art of Reciprocity workshop held in United Way Winnipeg’s main floor Learning Centre.

Applying traditional Indigenous knowledge

Joe Thompson works in Recruitment and Diversity at Manitoba Hydro and was among the first to receive the training.

“I’ve always tried to apply traditional knowledge in anything I do, whether it’s a business plan or other things,” he said. “This being an Aboriginal perspective shows how we can achieve the same goals, but using our way of doing things. I will remember this for a long, long time.”

The Council was encouraged by the response and hopes to spread word to other groups who might be interested in participating.

“We know that there isn’t a model like this anywhere else in Canada,” said Cyr. “I really feel like we’re making history here, both in United Way and in Canada. I think it’s going to have far-reaching effects.”

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