Celebrating Our Strengths: Authentic Partnerships for Nation Building
by Valerie Segrest and Lisa Wilson
This article is the seventh in a series that Nonprofit Quarterly, in partnership with the First Nations Development Institute, is publishing this fall. It features Native American nonprofit leaders who highlight the practices of community building in Indian Country and identify ways that philanthropy might more effectively support this work.
Philanthropy can often reinforce socially constructed negative assumptions of Indian Country through using deficit-based approaches. Conversely, an asset-based approach focuses on strengths, honors and builds upon the rich traditional knowledge tribal communities carry, and nurtures holistic interventions. When guided by an asset-based approach, partnerships can better address tribal communities’ complex problems.
There are many ways to instigate and support meaningful and positive change in Indian Country. It begins with Native communities and funders developing and sustaining strong, respectful, safe, collaborative partnerships rooted in promoting cultural continuity that encourage innovative thinking.
Unfortunately, too much philanthropic work with Native communities is rooted in and driven by deficit-based frameworks that are needs-driven, problem-focused, and centered on what is missing. This approach employs a Western perspective that defines what are considered credible research frameworks, interventions, evaluation methods, and legitimate impacts. These factors dictate the allocation, or lack of, philanthropic investment and effort with Native-led organizations.
By contrast, when partnerships are grounded in an asset-based perspective, they nurture respectful, authentic, and collaborative partnerships rooted in promoting cultural continuity which encourages innovative thinking. Such partnerships use evaluation as a tool to support tribal sovereignty, amplify community strengths, and contribute to tribal nation-building efforts for the citizens they represent.