Edgar outlines with compassion and clarity thoughtful and practical steps toward aligning our money with our values. There are important lessons here for anyone working in finance or philanthropy.”
—Keith Mestrich, President and CEO, Amalgamated Bank
“Decolonizing Wealth is a must-read for philanthropists and donors looking to achieve the change we want to see in the world. Compelling, honest, and kind, Edgar is clear that we must free funding resources and the philanthropic sector itself from frameworks that further exacerbate the problems rather than bring us closer to identifying and activating the solutions.”
—Alicia Garza, cocreator of Black Lives Matter Global Network, and Principal, Black Futures Lab
“Edgar has broken through the tired jargon of philanthropy-speak and written a fresh, honest, painful, and hopeful book, grounded in his own truths and Native traditions. He offers some radical thinking about what it would take to bring about a world where power and accountability shifted and communities controlled the resources vital to their strength and futures.”
—Gara LaMarche, President, Democracy Alliance; former President, Atlantic Philanthropies; and former Vice President and Director of US Programs, Open Society Foundations
“Due to years of detrimental federal Indian policy and discriminatory economic systems, Native American communities have been marginalized and left out of the economic opportunity experienced by other Americans. Edgar offers a new vision and an Indigenous perspective that can put us on a better path. Everyone should read Decolonizing Wealth, especially those who control the flow of resources in government, philanthropy, and finance.”
—LaDonna Harris (Comanche), politician, activist, and founder of Americans for Indian Opportunity
“Edgar’s sojourn into the soul and depths of philanthropy is equal parts thoughtful, discomforting, and illuminating . . . It challenges the reader to confront matters of race, oppression, privilege, and arrogance in the pursuit of humanity and social justice.”
—Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO, The California Endowment
“By anchoring the solutions to America’s ills in the wisdom and knowledge of its original people, Edgar challenges all of us to analyze how our nation’s history of racism and disenfranchisement has infected its financial and giving institutions.”
—Heather McGhee, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Demos
“Decolonizing Wealth offers a refreshing and inspired look at how wealth can better serve the needs of communities of color and atone for the ways in which it has traditionally been used to inflict harm and division. Using a solutions-oriented framing, Edgar makes a solid case for how Indigenous wisdom can be used as a guiding light to achieve greater equity in the funding and philanthropic world.”
—Kevin Jennings, President, Tenement Museum
“Edgar has gone out on a limb to help lead us to a place of healing. He bravely calls out the power dynamics within the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, particularly the white supremacy institutionally embedded into the system of nonprofit supplicant and philanthropic largesse.”
—Kathy Ko Chin, President and CEO, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum
“Finally, a Native perspective on how to heal internal systemic challenges. Decolonizing Wealth not only is an unflinching examination of today’s philanthropic institutions and the foundations upon which they were built but also offers critical wisdom applicable to many sectors.”
—Sarah Eagle Heart (Lakota), CEO, Native Americans in Philanthropy
“Edgar reinserts purpose and humanity into a philanthropic industry that has too often been driven by wealth accumulation, grant cycles, portfolios, and metrics. Inspired by an Indigenous worldview, the book pushes philanthropy back toward its original meaning, ‘love for humanity.’”
—John H. Jackson, President and CEO, Schott Foundation for Public Education
“If you want to know how funders can redeem our souls, this book is a critical step in the right direction. Edgar is a courageous voice shaping a new era of activist grantmaking, one centered on achieving, not just studying opportunity and racial equity.”
—Eric K. Ward, philanthropist and Executive Director, Western States Center
“Finally! A book that tackles a topic previously only discussed in the hallways and lobbies of conference spaces. Until we acknowledge that the wealth of this country is built on this legacy, we can’t be deliberate in our efforts to decolonize and heal our communities.”
—Dana Arviso (Diné), philanthropist and former Executive Director, Potlatch Fund
“Edgar’s raw examination of the funder world acknowledges the imbalanced power dynamics that exist but puts forward innovative thinking to challenge the status quo and identify solutions that benefit us all. Decolonizing Wealth is a book that will leave you hopeful and inspired for the future.”
—Mayra Alvarez, President, The Children’s Partnership
“Edgar’s voice will help shape the future of a philanthropy that systemically reverses the toxic inequalities that threaten the very fabric of our human existence. It gives me hope for the soul of our sector.”
—Pia Infante, Co–Executive Director, The Whitman Institute
“We should all be grateful to Edgar Villanueva for helping us understand, by sharing Indigenous wisdom, that there is a path toward a more transformative approach to wealth, to investment, and to giving. We cannot truly call ourselves ethical, progressive, or mission-aligned investors until we have wrestled honestly with the fundamental issues raised in this book.”
—Andrea Armeni, cofounder and Executive Director, Transform Finance
“With Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar offers a much-needed and timely gift to help funders listen, learn, and act in a different and better way by thinking and giving indigenously.”
—Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), President and CEO, First Nations Development Institute
“Charity and philanthropy rarely offer meaningful challenges to systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. Decolonizing Wealth is an important contribution to the grassroots struggles to transform society and shift the way we think about our relationship with money.”
—Jordan Flaherty, author of No More Heroes
“For charities and donors trying to shift the giving paradigm and channel resources in ways that are truly equitable, Edgar’s ideas for solutions—based on Indigenous culture and traditions—couldn’t come at a better time.”
—Nan Aron, President, Alliance for Justice
“Decolonizing Wealth offers an arrow to pierce the status quo. While the heart of the revolution for justice is not dependent on philanthropic support, there can be a powerfully effective role for mindful philanthropy to respectfully contribute to the reimagining and actualization of a more just world for future generations.”
—Tia Oros Peters (Shiwi), Executive Director, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples
Having been both grantseeker and grankmaker, I welcome any wisdom that can release us from a relationship of paternalism and enable true partnership. Nothing is more important to decolonize than money without it, change is slower and harder, and comes too late for too many people. Edgar Villanueva is a fresh voice in the money scene, one we should all heed.
—Rinku Sen, author and strategist
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Though it seems counterintuitive, the philanthropic industry has evolved to mirror colonial structures and reproduces hierarchy, ultimately doing more harm than good. After 14 years in philanthropy, Edgar Villanueva has seen past the field's glamorous, altruistic façade, and into its shadows: the old boy networks, the savior complexes, and the internalized oppression among the “house slaves,” and those select few people of color who gain access. All these funders reflect and perpetuate the same underlying dynamics that divide Us from Them and the haves from have-nots. In equal measure, he denounces the reproduction of systems of oppression while also advocating for an orientation towards justice to open the floodgates for a rising tide that lifts all boats. In the third and final section, Villanueva offers radical provocations to funders and outlines his Seven Steps for Healing.
With great compassion-because the Native way is to bring the oppressor into the circle of healing-Villanueva is able to both diagnose the fatal flaws in philanthropy and provide thoughtful solutions to these systemic imbalances. Decolonizing Wealth is a timely and critical book that preaches for mutually assured liberation in which we are all inter-connected.
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Edgar outlines with compassion and clarity thoughtful and practical steps toward aligning our money with our values. There are important lessons here for anyone working in finance or philanthropy.”
Read an Excerpt
Stolen and Sold
How notions of separation and race resulted in colonization and trauma
Who's your people? That's the first question Lumbee Indians ask when we meet someone new, as if we're working out a massive imaginary family tree for humanity in our heads and need to place you on the appropriate limb, branch, or twig. We even sell a T-shirt that has that printed on it: "Who's your people?"
I throw people off with my Latino-sounding last name, which came from my non-biological father, who was in fact Filipino. He was in my mom's life, and therefore in my life, for a brief moment between the ages of zero and two. When I'm with other Lumbees I have to mention the last names of my grandfather and grandmother, Jacobs and Bryant, so they know where to place me in the Lumbee family tree. A Lumbee will keep an ear out for our most common surnames, like Brooks, Chavis, Lowry, Locklear. As soon as you say you're related to these families, the stories unfold: I knew your great-grandfather. I knew your auntie. There's always a connection.
If you've never met a Native American in person before, you might be saddled with some common misconceptions about me. I have never lived in a teepee. I've never even lived on a reservation. I can't survive in the wilderness on my own. I can't kill or skin a deer. Shoot, I can't even build a fire. No, I didn't get a free education (still paying off those loans!), and yes, I pay taxes.
It wasn't until my late twenties that I really began the process of deeply connecting with my Native heritage. There were three main reasons for this: One, I'm an urban Indian. At least half to three-quarters of us are. Note, "urban" doesn't necessarily mean we live in cities; it's a term that refers to all Indians who do not live on reservations. And yes, I use the terms "Native American" and "(American) Indian" interchangeably. Unless you're an Indian too, you're probably better off sticking with "Native American" just to keep things simple.
Two: I've spent the majority of my adult life working in philanthropy, basically the whitest, most elite sector ever.
Three: I'm Lumbee.
The people known today as Lumbee are the survivors of several tribes who lived along the coast of what is now North Carolina. Those ancestors were the first point of contact for the Europeans, in the late 1500s. So we have had nearly 500 years of interaction with the settlers. Contrast this with some of the West Coast tribes, for many of whom the experience of colonization has been going on for just 200-some years, less than half the time. My people have been penetrated by and exposed to whiteness for a long, long time — longer than any other North American Native community. We assimilated to survive. The fact that any shred of anything remotely appearing to be Native exists among us is really a miracle. "Resilience" has become a trendy word in conversations about business, insurance, and climate: let me tell you, my people really have a corner on resilience.
Originally Sioux-, Algonquin-, and Iroquois-speaking people, today Lumbees have no language to call our own, although we have a distinctive dialect on top of the southern North Carolina accent. We have so fully embraced Christianity that when you go to apply for or renew your tribal membership card, you are asked which church you attend. While we maintain our notion of tribal sovereignty, we are pretty thoroughly colonized.
There are people who deny that Lumbees are Native at all, as if a group of opportunists just came together to make this tribe up because they wanted to get some government money. Honestly, that's ridiculous. All you have to do is go to Robeson County, North Carolina, where there are 60,000 people concentrated who definitely are not quite white or Black. Some of them look as stereotypically Indian as Sitting Bull, like my maternal grandfather did. Lumbee physical characteristics are on a spectrum of presenting white to presenting Black because the area historically has been a third, a third, a third — Lumbee, Black, and white — and there has been some intermingling over the last half millennium. In fact, the most probable fate of the famous Lost Colony of Roanoke — the group of English settlers led by Sir Walter Raleigh who arrived in 1584 — is that they didn't disappear at all. They just got hungry and needed help, and the Native coastal Indians, my ancestors, took them in and integrated them. There have been linguistic studies on the British influences within the Lumbee dialect that further support that theory.
Other Native tribes give Lumbees a hard time because of anti-Black racism. Indians elsewhere in the Where It Hurts / 20 country have said things to me like, "Oh, you guys are not really Indian. You play hip-hop at your pow wows" (which is not true!). Or they've said we're not Indian because we're not fully recognized by the federal government. There's such a scarcity mentality — part of the legacy of the colonizers' competitive mindset — that there are Indians who fear there will be fewer federal resources paid out to them if more unrecognized Indians receive federal recognition.
It was only in 1956 that the U.S. Congress recognized Lumbees as Indians by passing the Lumbee Act, but the full benefits of federal recognition were not ensured in the act, and to this day we are still fighting for the federal legislation that would do so. There are six tribes in North Carolina, and only one, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, is federally recognized. Any of us could be unrecognized tomorrow. Federal recognition is given and taken away by the stroke of a pen. There have been tribes who were granted federal recognition by one administration until the next president who came in took it away — this happened to the Duwamish Tribe in Seattle. We're all subject to someone who is not an Indian himself (it's usually a him) calling those shots.
When I was a child growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the 1980s, official forms had boxes for white, Black, and Other. Until the migration of Latinos into the state in the 1990s, and later the Asians who came when Research Triangle Park really took off, Natives were usually the only people in the Other box. I always had to check the Other box. For the most part, that was the extent of my Native identity, because no one was stirring up Native pride or celebrating Lumbee heritage in my school. My family was more focused on survival.
Being Native American inherently involves an identity crisis. We're the only race or ethnicity that is only acknowledged if the government says we are. Here we are, we exist, but we still have to prove it. Anyone else can say they are what they are. No one has to prove that they're Black or prove that they're Latino. There are deep implications to this. The rates of alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide are linked to this fundamental questioning of our identity. We exist in the Other box. To try and feel safe inside that box, and then be told you've got to prove your right to be in that box, that the box itself is under threat, is deeply demoralizing.
My identity as a Native American is complicated. It's been a long journey to decolonize myself and connect more deeply with my Indigenous heritage. Still, it's the bedrock foundation of my identity. If I were a tree, my Native identity would be my core, the very first ring.
Colonization seems totally normal because the history books are full of it — and because to this day many colonizing powers talk about colonization not with shame but with pride in their accomplishments — it's so strange. Conquering is one thing: you travel to another place and take its resources, kill the people who get in your way, and then go home with your spoils. But in colonization, you stick around, occupy the land, and force the existing Indigenous people to become you. It's like a zombie invasion: colonizers insist on taking over the bodies, minds, and souls of the colonized.
Who came up with this, and why?
Without going too deep into the details of humanity's evolution (there are other great books for that), the concept of colonization followed the trend that seems to have begun when humans first became farmers and began managing, controlling, and "owning" other forms of life — plant and animal (this horrifying word, "livestock").
Conceptually, this required that humans think of themselves as separate from the rest of the natural world.
This was the beginning of a divergence from the Indigenous worldview, which fundamentally seeks not to own or control, but to coexist with and steward the land and nonhuman forms of life. As the philosopher Derek Rasmussen put it: "What makes a people indigenous?
Indigenous people believe they belong to the land, and non-indigenous people believe the land belongs to them." It's not that Indigenous people were or are without strife or violence, but their fundamental worldview emphasizes connection, reciprocity, a circular dynamic.
It's important to remember that a worldview is a human creation. It's not our destiny. It's not inevitable.
Even though it came close to disappearing entirely as the separation worldview took hold and became dominant over several centuries, the Indigenous worldview persisted.
The separation worldview goes like this, on an individual level but also at every level of complexity: The boundaries of my body separate me from the rest of the universe. I'm on my own against the world. This terrifies me, and so I try to control everything outside myself, also known as the Other.
I fear the Other, I must compete with the Other in order to meet my needs. I always need to act in my self-interest, and I blame the Other for everything that goes wrong.
Separation correlates with fear, scarcity, and blame, all of which arise when we think we're not together in this thing called life. In the separation worldview, humans are divided from and set above nature, mind is separated from and elevated above body, and some humans are considered distinct from and valued above others — us vs. them — as opposed to seeing ourselves as part of a greater whole.
This fundamentally divisive mindset led to an endless number of categories by which to further divide up the world and then rank them, assigning to one side the lower rank, the lesser power. So the rational took its place and lorded over the emotional, male over female, expert over amateur, and so on. In every sector, the very structure and approach of organizations also reflected a divisive, pigeonholing, and ranking mindset.
The separation-based economy exploits natural resources and most of the planet's inhabitants for the profit of a few. It considers the earth an object, separate from us, with its resources existing solely for human use, rather than understanding the earth as a living biosphere of which we are just one part. Money, of course, has been used and is still constantly used to separate people — most fundamentally, into Haves vs. Have Nots.
Separation-based political systems create arbitrary nation-states with imaginary boundaries. Their laws and institutions oppress some groups and privilege others. Leaders and experts are considered a special breed, set apart from the common person; all the important choices are up to them. The separation-based political conversation revolves around the questions: Whom should we fear? and Whom should we blame?
Most damaging of all, a long line of mostly white male bullies and sociopaths took the concept of separation and used it to justify oppression, slavery, and colonization by "scientifically" claiming the inferiority of Africans and Indigenous people, among other Others. And so we got to white supremacy.
* * *
I use the term "white supremacy" instead of "racism" because it explicitly names who in the system benefits and — implicitly — who bears the burden. One of the tactics of domination is to control the language around the perpetrator's bad behavior. To call the phenomenon "racism" makes it abstract and erases explicit mention of the one who profits from the dynamic. So when I say "white supremacy" it doesn't just mean the KKK and Identity Evropa and other hate groups.
White supremacy is a bizarre mythology created by people with pale skin. It asserts that paler people deserve more — more respect, more resources, more opportunity — for no reason beyond the utterly arbitrary and ultimately meaningless pigmentation of their skin. It says that pale people make the important decisions, while people of color pay the price. Pale people define what is normal; they make the rules. Whiteness is the default, the standard, the norm: when it goes without saying what someone's ethnic background is, it's because they are pale. Pale people fill the airwaves, screens, and history books with their stories, until it is hard to find heroes and role models who are not pale.
"This system rests on the historical and current accumulation of structural power that privileges, centralizes, and elevates white people as a group," writes Robin DiAngelo, the whiteness studies professor who also coined the term "white fragility," which refers to the discomfort and resistance white people often express when these issues are raised. Fragile or not, the not just historical but present-day evidence is hard to dispute. DiAngelo again: "If, for example, we look at the racial breakdown of the people who control our institutions, we see that in 2016–2017:
Congress: 90% white Governors: 96% white Top military advisers: 100% white President and vice president: 100% white Current POTUS cabinet: 91% white People who decide which TV shows we see: 93%
Given that white people currently constitute only 60 percent of American citizens, you can see how far out of proportion those statistics are. Since the Trump election, the "whitelash" (per CNN commentator Van Jones) that followed our first Black president, and the resurrection of emboldened racism across the country, many of us feel this imbalance is only going to get worse.
Vanessa Daniel, executive director of the Groundswell Fund, calls the dynamic "the hubris of white supremacist conquest and imperialism and its insatiable thirst for total dominance over nature, over people of color, over anyone who is not white, Christian, cisgender, male, and rich. It has been a termite-like force that throughout history has eviscerated all in its path...."
Only recently has white supremacy begun to be called out. Its invisibility and taken-for-grantedness has been part of its enduring power. "If we can't identify it, we can't interrupt it," says DiAngelo. In a world of white supremacy, white people are considered credible, the experts and authorities, while non-white people are often dismissed as untrustworthy and unreliable. When over decades the police, courts, banks, schools, and other parts of society regularly ignore, exploit, and harm non-white people, yet these incidents are largely denied, excused, or blamed on the victims, without being properly investigated, before disappearing from the accounts of history or the evening news or the general discourse: this is white supremacy. The humanity of certain people is made invisible.
At its height in the early 1920s (not very long ago!), the British Empire governed close to a fifth of the world's population and a quarter of the world's total land. When in 2014 a poll among British citizens finds that 59 percent feel that their colonial activities are a source of pride, outnumbering those who feel colonization was a source of shame by three to one, that is white supremacy. When half of those polled state they believe the countries that were colonized were better off for being colonized, that's white supremacy, alive and kicking, in the twenty-first century.
That there is widespread ambivalence today among the citizens of colonizing powers about whether or not colonization was a good thing is deeply offensive. Make no mistake: colonization is an atrocity, a close relative of genocide.
Divide, Control, Exploit
As far back as the 1400s, white supremacy, often in the name of Christianity, was employed to justify colonization — the conquest and exploitation of non-European lands — by claiming the inferiority of Africans and Indigenous people. The Christian Doctrine of Discovery specified that the entire world was under the jurisdiction of the pope, as God's representative on earth. Any land not under the sovereignty of a Christian ruler could be possessed on behalf of God. European colonizers sailed around the world taking stuff that didn't belong to them, asserting it was their God-given right to do so.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Decolonizing Wealth"
Copyright © 2018 Edgar Villanueva.
Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
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