Atlantic Canada’s First Nations communities have established a new foundation to help gain better access to hundreds of millions of charitable dollars that currently only trickle into reserves across the country.
At a news conference Thursday, organizers said the goal of the Ulnooweg Indigenous Communities Foundation is to pursue opportunities for donations, grants and investments.
Chris Googoo, chief operating officer of Ulnooweg Development Group, said a 2017 analysis by The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada found that approximately one per cent of registered charities are Indigenous focused.
“Consistent with the significant efforts around reconciliation, there is a need to build new relationships, understanding, co-operation and infrastructure, and for the philanthropic sector and Indigenous communities to work together more constructively,” said Googoo. “The new foundation will work to fill this gap.”
Googoo said the foundation plans to work with Mi’kmaq and Maliseet communities in the Atlantic region to establish philanthropic plans and goals and to create and manage new endowment funds.
It is a federally incorporated registered charity and qualified donees are to include registered charities and public bodies such as First Nations bands registered with the Canada Revenue Agency.
Endowment funds will direct monies to “fields of interest” including health and education, environmental initiatives, economic development, and scholarships.
Kris Archie, executive director of The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, said the initiative is in keeping with the values of Indigenous communities.
“The first acts of philanthropy in what we now know as Canada actually were by Indigenous communities to the first settlers,” said Archie. “Without Indigenous communities here the first settlers wouldn’t have survived even their first winter.”
WATCH: Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre to move into new building
Archie said the Atlantic-based foundation is exciting for her because it is led by an established Indigenous-led organization with an Indigenous board of directors made up of eight regional chiefs.
Ulnooweg Development Group is a non-profit organization that has provided loans and business services to Aboriginal entrepreneurs since 1986.
“They will insert their Indigenous values and world views into philanthropic giving that will benefit their communities unlike we’ve seen in other places,” Archie said.
Googoo said the foundation will act as a portal for Indigenous communities and corporate donors. He said anyone can donate and the money will go where communities feel it is needed.
Googoo said the time is right for the initiative given the current emphasis on the relationship between First Nations and the rest of Canada.
When asked where he sees the foundation’s impact over the next decade, Googoo said it has ambitions to be a significant contributor although there is currently no fundraising goal.
“I’d like to have $100 million in the bank, maybe,” he said with a smile. “Ten years from now I’d like to say our children are achieving their goals in terms of health and education.”
Andrea Dicks, of the Community Foundations of Canada, applauded the regional First Nations initiative, adding that there are currently 191 community foundations in Canada
“We are part of a global movement . . . who are taking the values of their community and building community change through philanthropy,” she said.
Dicks said the foundations manage over $5 billion in assets and generate about $250 million in grants each year to charitable organizations and other qualified groups.