First Nations-to-Nations Building 

First Nations-to-Nations Building

By Alison Guzman

June 20, 2019

Edited by 

Teodora C. Hasegan, PhD

Sociocultural Anthropologist

Para versión en Español haz click aquí

Nowadays, suddenly everyone loves the “indigenous cause.” When we began this work with the Mapuche communities in Chile 6 years ago, indigenous issues were unprioritized and to a great extent, invisible in the mainstream media. Thanks to the #NODAPL today, it has grown to a hot topic, along with #decolonization — terms and social media hashtags that have increased in popularity only recently in North America. 


Edgar Villanueva, from the Lumbee Nation, brings to our attention the links between the philanthropy world and why Native Americans are receiving less funding. His recent book, Decolonizing Wealth, “provides a provocative analysis of the dysfunctional colonial dynamics at play in philanthropy and finance” and makes references to “The New Colonialists” which, according to Foreign Policy, are Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Corps, not to mention the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to name a few.


According to Inside Philanthropy, Native Americans make up about 5.4 million people, which represents almost 2 percent of the U.S. population, but philanthropic support remains low, at less than 0.5 percent of annual foundation grant dollars in the United States. Despite this, according to a report by First Nations Development Institute in 2018, Growing Inequity: Large Foundation Giving to Native American Organizations and Causes, philanthropists in the United States are giving less to Native American organizations, as the number of causes and groups has increased. From 2006 to 2014, annual giving by large foundations declined by 29%, or a $35 million reduction in funding, and most of it was awarded to non-Native nonprofits supporting Native American causes. 


The same could be said for the situation in Chile, where important philanthropic development is ironically made by the extractive industries themselves, support for Mapuche causes and investments is inadequate and minimal. That said, most initiatives coming from Mapuche communities rely almost entirely on small government subsidies for “entrepreneurship” opportunities. Indigenous communities in general in South America, including Chile, are considered by governments as part of the problem, and not the solution. Let’s just support more empredimientos (small businesses), they say. Oh wait, for how many communities? Nevermind, let´s just divide it into small grants. 




MAPLE Chile collaborates with Mapuche communities upon invitation only. To date, we have been invited by four communities of Lake Budi ancestral coastal territories, and are working there with local Mapuche communications groups such as the Mapuche film school and radio network, Werken Kurruf. MAPLE also brings in a broad network of Chile-based and outside collaborators, including the Municipality of Teodoro Schmidt, CONAF (Forest Service), Experimental Center for Agroforestry Huelemu (Chile), Kennedy Foundation (WWT Chile), Fundacion Nucleo Nativo (Chile), and A2Delante (Canada). 


MAPLE Chile Hub (or Experiential Lab) for Indigenous Economies of Good-Living (Kume Mongeleal) will serve the communities in the Budi area, and new networks near the Villarrica region, where it will be based. To this end, multiple local and global partners are being assembled through a fully participatory consent process involving our community partners and relevant Mapuche traditional authorities who are the stewards of the lands on which we will be operating. 


Since 2012, we at MAPLE Microdevelopment  Chile have been working as an embedded field team, while serving as connectors to our mission with Mapuche communities in southern Chile and gathering support for holistic indigenous asset building—that is, taking the strengths of a community and  creating ways for sustainable growth of community assets managed by indigenous people themselves. A very challenging task to take upon, I must say. Yet, proudly, and thanks to The Bay and Paul Foundations who have endlessly believed in our work, we continue to focus on what communities have, and not what they don´t have. We understand that with what they have, communities can start to strategically provide a better future for their families and their region through indigenous asset-building. 


Since 2017, MAPLE and the Budi communities are linking into networks of organic agriculture (quinoa= kinwa Mapuche) with the community of Epucura, one of the neighboring communities of Villarrica. MAPLE Chile´s vision is to strengthen these community links in the region, by strategically diffusing a toolkit and methodologies that build indigenous community wealth and traditional assets, of which we have also began dialogues with Corporacion Newen, a historical Mapuche Nonprofit lead by Mapuche practitioners. International allies and support go hand in hand with this vision. Currently, we are in conversations with the University of Oregon, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and in early March with the T´souke Nation in Canada (Vancouver Island, British Columbia), as we prepare to launch a collaborative Hub based in Villarrica, a medium-sized beautiful city in the heart of Mapuche country. 


Our transition to the Hub will enable us to create collaborative networks with more Mapuche allies and partners, and link to the university centers based in this city. This will lead to a stronger dissemination and wider impact of tools for economic empowerment and decolonization. We have established a partnership with Fundación Kennedy, a domestic NGO with staff based in Villarrica, which supports a wetland conservation project nearby. The Mapuche-descent ecologist Lorena Ojeda has visited the community of Llaguepulli to assess indicators for a joint program for wetland restoration in the Lake Budi basin, through the community native nurseries co-developed by MAPLE.


MAPLE Chile Philanthropy


In the past, in our expectations to grow, consolidate our teams, and formalize as a branch in Chile, we have come across philanthropic barriers. Today, our mission can only become more impactful if we transition to the next level in collaboration and resources to consolidate our staff and create an actual physical space for network-building and connections with philanthropists, universities, First Nations throughout the Americas, and individuals like yourselves. 


A beautiful challenge, indeed. How do we present ourselves as a non-Native group authentically supporting causes we feel are relevant for Native communities and the planet? (addressing Climate Change, of course). How do we gather networks, as a US nonprofit with 501c3 status, to North American philanthropists for causes in South America? What can our role be here in Mapuche ancestral lands, after 6 years as a field team embedded in Mapuche-asset building? 


There are some encouraging signs that we are not alone in these efforts. Let´s talk about Nation-to-Nation (in the context of first nations- indigenous peoples) building for generative economies.


Native community initiatives throughout the American hemispheres are very similar. Take, for instance, the Pueblo Peoples´ Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute of New Mexico, in the southwest of the United States, or that of our very own Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo here co-designed with the Mapuche Llaguepulli Community, keeping up ways of traditional lives to connect to healthy foods and living. Or look at the indigenous communities across North America who are rejecting non-indigenous energy projects in favor of community-led sustainable energy in their own lands. 


Jump back to March 13, 2019, where we went to pick up from the airport here in the Araucania Region, Chief Gordon Planes, his son Ryan Planes, and delegation member Andres Ibañes of Canadian-based A2Delante (an external team also working with Native communities based in Montreal). Chief Gordon comes from the T´souke Nation, Straits Salishans, of about 260 registered members from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. If you are in the Pacific Northwest (hello my fellow Oregonians!), they receive visitors from all over the world to see their community-led projects. 


He flew from one side of the Pacific Ocean to meet with First Nations on the other side of the Pacific: the Lafkenche-Mapuche First Nations of Lago Budi. In fact, one of our first exchanges dealt just with that: Who’s to say that their ancestors, from either region of the Pacific, did not travel miles to exchange and share knowledge with one another? After all, indigenous water cultures linked to canoes, fishing, and seamen traveled expansively throughout their territory looking for game, exploring flora and fauna, and to quench their thirst for the unknown. It is no surprise, for example, that the water Polynesian cultures ended up in southern Chile thousands and thousands of years ago.  Who’s to say that this isn’t true for the  coastal Salish Peoples? Scientists, genealogists, and archeologists are still catching up to the possibility that sea-exchange was actually a lot more expansive than evidence shows. We must wait patiently for updates to confirm what First Nations already knew about each other.


T´Sou-ke Nation is famous for community-managed development projects. Thanks to Chief Gordon, who has been chief of the T’Sou-ke First Nation since 2007, his community has embarked on a 100-year process to build a new community vision that focuses on autonomy, food security, cultural renaissance and economic development.


Under his leadership, the T’Sou-ke First Nation has emerged as a leader in renewable and green energy as they have launched a solar micro-grid model project. The community has generated electricity through the project for more than a decade and has attracted international attention for the initiative. You can find more information on their website, where you will discover a First Nations that are organized and have their priorities straight as a community. In fact, creating their own community wealth, in all that this encompasses— whether it be fisheries or energy—is what builds community culture and resilience. 


Jump to 2019, now they have extensive greenhouses not only to grow their own food but to enter into the international markets of natural cultivation and management of oysters, prawns, shrimp, clams, and salmon. All this because their philosophy is to have minimal impact on Mother Earth, coexisting with Her, and ensuring a future for the next generations. Not to mention that their environment is still intact and abundant. 


I would like to quote Chief Gordon from a gathering we had with him and the families of the Mapuche community Malalwe-Chanko:


"But maybe one day that could happen: bring our youth here, to gather with the Youth of the Mapuche, that will send that positive light to the world in how our people have lived since time immemorial, and a light footprint on Mother Earth. The words that I convey at home, are the words that I say now. And the words that I will also say to governments, that there is good work to do in the future. And this we knew for a long time."


"The responsibility is handed down to our children at the guidance of our elders to keep that journey alive. I think there is a lot of work we can do together, and I think we will because what I personally think, is that the world has to change, and they are coming forward to indigenous peoples for advice on how to live a proper way. So I think this is just the beginning. And I don´t think we have a word in our culture that refers to the concept of never seeing each other again. Our elders told me one time, that indigenous peoples know how to communicate with one another and it doesn´t matter how far apart you are. And we have been doing this for a very long time. I see the opportunity that is coming forward now."


See? I couldn´t have said it better.


He mentions the fact that indigenous peoples can work together. The importance of linking Native youth to each other. He said that many are coming forward to indigenous communities for their advice (of course, the state of our Planet Earth is very concerning!). And he said that communication between Peoples is important, no matter the distance. First Nations-to-Nations building.


So where are we in all this? We are the connectors. Organizations like A2Delante and MAPLE Microdevelopment Chile can be vessels of connections between First Nations. Communities need each other to build themselves up. And for what the term "communities"  it’s worth in today’s ever-more globalized world, I am referring to traditional communities who have lived in their lands for thousands and thousands of years. They are still there! And the Youth today are more active than ever.


Native Americans in Philanthropy are working towards bringing more and better-informed philanthropic support and services to Native people. According to their article When Eagles Hatch: Native Americans in Philanthropy and Native Youth Activism published on March 19, 2019, they are working to build: "a network of Native and non-Native nonprofits, tribal communities, foundations and community leaders who are committed to engaging, learning and sharing resources and best practices grounded in Native values and traditions.”  


Each community, like community garden beds, is pushing forward with their ideas of community wealth, coexisting with the Earth, while dealing with Climate Change. But due to knowledge and wisdom passed down for hundreds of generations, they contain precious inputs very relevant for our Western societies. We can work with them to transition their communities to become the new community wealth hubs of a future, to coexist with them in a post-colonial context.


As Marjorie Kelly, Executive Vice President and a Senior Fellow with The Democracy Collaborative puts it, we really need to own our future through Generative Economies. We resonate with her work in that they are leading The Learning/Action Lab for Community Wealth Building, a five-year project working with Native American organizations to build wealth in Indigenous communities, as connectors. 


We are eager to delve into a new stage as external allies and supporters. Much like Marjorie Kelly´s vision of creating community-generated economies, or Katherine Gibson (who we had the pleasure to meet in 2018), a feminist economic geographer and co-founder of The Community Economies Research Network (CERN) and the Community Economies Collective (CEC), MAPLE Microdevelopment Chile, as external collaborators to Native communities, can be connectors and philanthropists for communities searching for their path to environmental resilience, economic decolonization, and self-sustainability. There is so much we can build together through creating and potentiating collaborative institutional spaces for sharing inter-indigenous learnings, co-designing methods, initiating global community-to-community support, and most importantly, hope. 


The calling we are wanting to abide by goes two ways, to work and learn from traditional land-based communities and their ways of coexisting with nature; while at the same time, take the opportunity to create a beacon for hope—that it is possible to live in a world where traditional societies can confront the challenges of globalization, pollution, and deforestation, by disseminating best-practices and knowledge and survive as healthy communities. Co-existing with our planet is Resilience.


Idealistic you say? Nope. Hope today is considered practical. Look around you. Are you in a world of solutions? If we don ́t change the way things are, we are foolishly leading our societies and future generations off a cliff of unsustainable abyss. And yet, I do believe change is happening and a transition is happening, because we believe in First Nations communities and their visionary leaders.


Perhaps a step in inter-Nation building is sharing each other's experiences. Experiences where they can mutually learn from each other and share results. Through mutual learning and establishing collaboration, such as the T´Souke Nation has done with the Mapuche-Lafkenche Nation, where youth can travel to each other's communities and participate and learn what is nation-building and preparing the community for future generations. We see this happening throughout the Americas—Pueblo youth in Mapuche lands, Mapuche youth in Salish lands, Native organizations speaking directly with Mapuche ones… Collaborators and supporters such as MAPLE can be a valuable connection for Nations working together.


The Vision 


MAPLE Chile program co-directors Alison and Ignacio are already in the process of moving to Villarrica, a small city located in the heart of the Mapuche country, 90 km from Budi and 80 km from Temuco. Villarrica (estimated 50,000 population according to 2012 census), the last area to be conquered by the Spanish during colonization, is a tourist destination, university town, surrounded by the Villarrica National Park and numerous Mapuche communities, and several nonprofits dedicated to conservation, fair trade, plus a strong tourism sector, ever more permeated by ideas of triple bottom line sustainability, and participation of numerous and once completely excluded Mapuche communities living in this mountainous area. MAPLE Chile will fill a specific niche in the emerging Villarrica institutional ecosystem, in between academic research, a few mainstream local development programs run by churches and local government, and environmentalism, providing a unique approach to indigenous self-development, connections between this dynamic center to Lake Budi as a stronghold of Mapuche culture and language, and a 5-year trajectory as embedded field-team, currently preparing publications in written and audiovisual formats for delivering our toolkits and processes for replication and adaptive mutual learning (to be soon launched in a seminar we are organizing for later this year). We hope that two years from now, the Hub initiated by MAPLE Chile and our partners will become an anchor institution for dialogues around indigenous economic decolonization and for installing flexible self-management capacities in the territories where we work through: evaluate and potentiate long-term outcomes, peer-to-peer extension through mutual learning, retreat-like workshops, seminars, internships, academic and technological collaboration, social investment, fair trade, and cultural enterprise incubation. 

As an invitation to consider the full potential of indigenous interconnection, we also want to share with you a video on this encounter co-facilitated by A2Delante and MAPLE Chile earlier this year 2019. Video: Standing with Each Other     

Will you be a part of it? 


For more information on MAPLE´s work with Mapuche communities please visit our website at . We are also interested in hearing directly from you!