Why I'm Excited About Local Matters: Alaska + Indigenous Communities

September 8, 2015

Lyn Hunter, Senior Program Manager

In my nine years at Philanthropy Northwest, I've never been more excited about a program than I am about Local Matters: Alaska + Indigenous Communities next month.

Ten years ago, Philanthropy Northwest began a journey to learn deeply about the indigenous cultures in our six-state region.  It has been and continues to be a journey of discovery — not just about the communities themselves, but about the power of generative philanthropy, reciprocity and the benefits of opening ourselves up to an authentic, continuous learning process. We have received gentle coaching and wise counsel from many, and we’ve continued to think of this journey not as a project or initiative, but rather as a core value and an extension to our commitment to place-based philanthropy.

Why am I excited about this?  

WIth "Philanthropy is... Indigenous Ways of Knowing" as our theme, we are stepping beyond our standard programs to offer an invitation that echoes our own journey: to listen and experience a very different way of thinking about philanthropy, community and impact.

Philanthropy Northwest values place-based philanthropy and supporting communities so they can thrive on their own terms. Local Matters: Alaska + Indigenous Communities is a way for all of us to step out from behind the grant reports, spreadsheets and other artifacts of our work to experience a learning process we neither control, drive or predict. We will come in as beginners, with a beginner’s mind. There will be time and space for philanthropic reflection with our peers. But we won’t be leading or filling you up with PowerPoint slide decks. Your learnings will be your own, and we think they will be as generative, reinvigorating and challenging as you could imagine.

Why are we doing it this way ?

Native communities are integral to Alaska and any philanthropy there benefits from a deeper understanding of their values. The community leaders are offering to lead us into this sacred space so that we can better understand each other as partners.

This convening offers you the flexibility to attend as few or as many sessions as they like; you will make your own experience. That’s different, but it’s also empowering and potentially transformative. And, let’s face it. That’s why we’re in the business of philanthropy.

What will we gain?

Building stronger relationships with indigenous communities is a defining principle for Philanthropy Northwest. We’ve learned that our standard, Western style way of working with plans, budgets, schedules and measurable outcomes can limit our potential effectiveness as funders and partners in these communities.

Through “Philanthropy Is… Indigenous Ways of Knowing,” we will gain a much better understanding of our region’s Native communities. We will develop insight about how we can do  more effective philanthropy. We’ll forge relationships with partners on the ground, and a cohort of funders to keep the discussion going. We might learn better questions to ask, or better ways of asking them. We will pause business-as-usual and learn, so that upon restarting, we can better lead.

As Sven Haakanson, First Alaskans Institute trustee, shared recently, "Don't teach me about my culture; let my culture teach me." Couldn't the same be said for making the time and space for communities to teach us, too? We hope you'll join us as our exciting journey continues.

Lyn Hunter produces Philanthropy Northwest conferences, including our Local Matters series and convenings of the Montana Wyoming and Idaho Funders Group, Alaska Funders Group and Pierce County Funders Group. She can be reached at lhunter@philanthropynw.org.


Thank you Lyn!! What a terrific program.

I really hope you are planning to do this in other states as well. The Puget Sound region alone has so many tribes that philanthropically support our communities that hearing their perspectives would be amazing. Thanks.

Thanks, Cora! We don't have another edition of this currently on our schedule, but folks from the Lower 48 are most enthusiastically invited to Anchorage next month, and if is as successful as expect it will be, we'll see what kind of energy there is to create a similar experience down here. We'd love to do that!