‘Invisible No More’ is the first collection of essays written by social sector leaders in Indian Country. What led to the creation of this book? Why is it the first such book?
Fundamentally, this book has originated from the movement for Native justice in different realms—including land, language, culture, and more. Content for the book came out of a partnership between the First Nations Development Institute and The Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ). The inspiration for what was at first multiple series of articles, and later this book, came out of the knowledge that Native American voices were rarely represented in the nonprofit sector or philanthropy, and that it was important to publish voices from Indian Country doing amazing work with little recognition. The chapters in this book are fundamentally rooted in calls for decolonization and justice for Native American communities. These chapters offer critical community-based perspectives on what reparative philanthropic practices and public policies that center Indigenous worldviews, sovereignty, lands, and values look like.
As to why this is the first such book, it is hard to speak to counterfactuals, but the title of the book “Invisible No More” offers a clue. By and large, Native communities are not seen in mainstream (read predominately white) America. This book is an effort to change that.
How does ‘Invisible No More’ challenge narratives of Native Americans that have been central to dehumanizing them and place Native leaders and organizations at the center of social change?
The first thing to note is perhaps obvious, but worth pointing out: Each of the chapters are written by Native leaders and organizations at the center of social change. If the first rule of writing is “show, don’t tell,” then this book succeeds in showing that Native leaders are leading social change, whether that be in the fields of economic justice, environmental justice, language justice, gender justice, and more. Because Native leaders are the authors of every chapter, this book provides a platform for Native Americans to speak for themselves to a broad, national audience. In other words, this is not just a book about Native Americans; it is a book written by Native Americans. Moreover, the multiplicity of authors from many different Native nations also offers readers a window into the diversity of Native voices that together form a greater whole.
There is also a widespread belief that Native people do not have solutions to offer the world or their own communities. This belief is rooted in racism and paternalism that has dominated policy and philanthropic work in Native communities. In philanthropy, that is one reason we see so few dollars flowing to Native-led nonprofits. This book speaks back to racist and paternalistic policy and philanthropy frameworks still used to justify the exclusion of Native people.
What are the sources of ongoing tensions between Native people and the philanthropic sector?
Philanthropy, as a whole, is a system rooted in settler colonialism built on the theft of Native lands and assets; indeed, the theft of land is a major source of foundation endowment assets. In its practices, philanthropy also often perpetuates colonial values, ideologies, and practices that seek to erase and exclude Native people. For example, focusing on a lack of “capacity” as a reason not to invest in valuable and transformative Native community work, a catch-22 given that capacity is tied to funding. Even when philanthropy does support Native Americans, it tends to require applicants to focus on problems and deficits, rather than on assets and strengths. Authors in this book address solutions, including power-sharing and instilling norms of reciprocity.
Native peoples offer valuable knowledge to meet climate and environmental challenges. What are some approaches presented in the book?
There are many approaches presented in this book of ways that Native communities are addressing environmental challenges. Two chapters discuss Native practices of using controlled fires to manage fire risk and prevent overgrowth, a strategy increasingly used by not just Native communities, but also, the federal government. Another chapter explains how Native Hawaiians are rebuilding sophisticated systems of aquaculture management. A number of chapters lift up Indigenous leadership on issues of environmental policy, whether it be the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline or state climate policy. More broadly, the contributors highlight the connections between land and food, food and people, and health and environmental balance.
Why is Native economic justice inextricably tied to land reclamation and sovereignty? How is this highlighted throughout the book?
The final section of the book speaks to this issue directly. Editor Ray Foxworth frames the struggle for economic justice in Indian Country within the broader movements for Native land reclamation and sovereignty. The chapters that follow build on these themes: Lakota Vogel (Cheyenne River Sioux) explains how the community development financial institution (CDFI) she directs regularly finances housing on trust lands, even though banks say that’s not possible. Fern Orie (Oneida) describes how a CDFI she directed for 14 years in Wisconsin performed similar miracles. The remaining chapters all center on building different strategies (business incubation, trust-based lending) to enhance Indigenous economic sovereignty. The book closes with a chapter on the principles that might guide an Indigenous economics rooted in dignity, agency, and self-determination.