Can We Clean Money?

By Theo Lamb. Posted on March 2, 2018 in Social Justice

Late last year, Indigenous Climate Action (ICA)  rejected a $150,000 grant from Aviva Canada. The decision, in my change agent eyes, was bold, precise and sparked all kinds of questions.

ICA is an Indigenous-led climate justice project, spearheaded by SCI alumni keynote speaker Eriel Deranger. This is a newly formed organization that choose to forgo grant support from a business where mission, vision, and values did not align.

The move sparked these questions for me:

  • How did Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) make this decision?
  • How do they structure their governance and decision-making process so that a decision of this magnitude can find consensus?
  • How did the granting organization respond?
  • What has it meant for ICA’s funding in 2018?
  • How are other social change communities and organizations responding to the news?
  • What can we learn as social change communities from this bold move?

Valine Crist, Funding Coordinator with ICA, is working to steward the outcomes of this decision as well as forward-thinking development strategy work for 2018. I was lucky enough to connect with Valine to learn more about the decision, Indigenous Climate Action, and her own perspective on the economic realities social change organizations face today.

Seriously. I could listen and engage Valine for hours on social change. Go ahead and dive into what she has to say in the interview, below.

The conversation around social change, clean capital, and the daily labour, governance and thinking that funding requires is a significant one. We are planning on speaking to this conversation directly throughout the SCI 2018 agenda. Valine herself, will be attending SCI this June and helping to shape this conversation. You can join us here.


March, 2018: Social Change Institute producer Theo Lamb interviews Indigenous Climate Action Funding Coordinator, Valine Crist.

Why was Indigenous Climate Action first formed?

For Indigenous Peoples, climate change is having significant impacts on our rights as sovereign and self-determining nations. It is impacting our food security, water and energy systems, on our ways of life, and our health and cultures. Yet, climate change as a discourse has not included Indigenous values, knowledge and voices. There is a startling disconnect between the development of climate solutions and the real-life experiences of communities who live with the impacts of climate change and practice the solutions that we need to see in the time of climate instability.

Even in the era of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and with broad recognition of the current and future impacts of climate change, there remains a lack of sustained resources for the efforts of Indigenous climate leaders to build capacity within our communities to engage in the climate justice movement.  ICA was created to help address this.

Co-founded by Eriel Deranger, Jesse Cardinal, Melina Laboucan Massimo & Crystal Lameman, ICA formed in 2015 in Amiskwaciwâskahikan, Treaty No. 6 (Edmonton, Alberta), ICA strives to fill the gaps between the lived experiences of Indigenous Peoples and the actions and strategies being developed to address climate change. We work to insert Indigenous knowledge and worldviews into the climate discourse. ICA has become the premier Indigenous climate justice organization in Canada that is prioritizing Indigenous peoples and communities as agents of change for climate change solutions.

What’s it like working with a team from coast to coast to coast?

The women of Indigenous Climate Action, including myself and our inaugural Executive Director, Eriel Deranger, are all of Indigenous ancestry. Our team includes Ana Collins as the Toolkit Research Team; Maryel Sparks-Cardinal as the ICA Communications Coordinator; and Andrea Bastien as the ICA Operations Manager. As a new organization with a national mandate, we have been strategic about ensuring ICA staff are not restricted by geography and we chose to have remote staff. We are located in Edmonton, Toronto, Haida Gwaii, Ottawa and Vancouver and we use online platforms to have regular video conferences and check ins that have allowed us to build strong alliances and supports for each other over great distances.

As an Indigenous-led organization, we are practicing a de-colonial approach to our organizational culture, as well as our work in communities. ICA is making a concerted effort to model a non-hierarchical structure, which means we all have agency and leadership responsibilities within the team.

Working with ICA has been absolutely seamless, and in my short time with these fierce women, I have found immense inspiration, comradery, and support. It’s been transformative working with Indigenous peoples whose values align so beautifully with mine. The ICA team brings great righteousness and integrity to the world, and it is truly a pleasure working with our staff team, steering committee, starting to reach out to Indigenous communities.

Last year, ICA – in its very early days – made a bold decision regarding its funding. How has this decision gone on to inform your movement work and governance?

Indeed, we made a very bold decision to reject $150,000 cash prize from Aviva Canada due to a moral conflict, a decision that is described in more detail in our press release. As a developing organization working to achieve climate justice for Indigenous peoples, this decision was not made lightly and was an incredible exercise for us as a new initiative (read more in our blog post). We approached this challenging situation by consulting with our people, and the decision was unanimous, which helped us be definite and confident, despite this being a very difficult for our growing organization.

ICA does not belong to an individual, but rather it is a collective of people who believe in the power of transformative change. Our founders did a phenomenal job developing and engaging with a National Steering Committee to help guide us and this work. The ICA Executive and Steering Committees are comprised of Indigenous colleagues who volunteer their time for the vision of this project. In terms of the Aviva decision, the core ICA staff met first to ensure we had the most accurate and up to date information and then brought it all to our steering committee for advice. We had very honest and real conversations with them about the situation we were in – ICA was transparent, inclusive, and respectful at every level of this decision.

As we move forward, the ICA National Steering Committee will continue to guide our work with their vast knowledge and expertise to help us ensure we are upholding our Indigenous ways and laws. ICA is committed to upholding our principles in all of our work – when we go out into communities, when we communicate with and for our people, and when we seek support to help build this movement.

What keeps you up at night?

I’m responsible for the financial wellness of a badass burgeoning organization that rejected $150K due to a moral conflict. Hahahaha…

Given all of your experience Valine, and of all the things you could do in this world and in your life, why organize?

I don’t identify as an activist or organizer, but I do believe in the power of people who care deeply about their neighbours and have a sense of belonging to place.

I have a profound and inherent responsibility to stand up for my rights as a Haida person and to defend my ancestral lands and waters. This is a responsibility that all Indigenous peoples are born with, and so many are called to and actively committed to this duty. We do this by working with and in our communities, or getting out on the land and exercising our rights, or taking on leadership roles in our nations. I come from a place where I’ve seen the ability of local communities to contribute to positive change. My work in my community and with ICA aims to inspire people to take action and build bridges so people can become agents of change.

Keeping in mind opportunity to be in community with over 100 organizers this June working across sectors (Social Change Institute June 20 – 24), is there a question you as an organizer or ICA as an organization is sitting in right now?

In our early days, ICA was forced to make a decision about who we see as allies and supporters and who we respectfully opt not to associate with. It would have directly conflicted with our mandate and purpose – our very existence as an organization – to accept funds from an organization that is tied to the industries that violate Indigenous rights and threaten the climate. We also recognize that no money is “clean” – capitalism is just one of the colonial systems that has oppressed Indigenous peoples while (mainly settler) folks rose to “success” within this new and foreign Western world. We need to be much more robust strategies to shift away from these systems to address social, environmental and climate justice. ICA sees real respect for Indigenous Rights at the forefront of this shift.

So, a couple questions I sit with are: How do we fundraise from an Indigenous perspective? What are the ethics of fundraising and how do we continue to uphold our principles while sustaining our organization and this important work?

If folks want to learn more about Indigenous Climate Action, where can we send them?

Indigenous Climate Action online | Twitter | Youtube | Facebook

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