Cultural Gives from Indigenous and Native American Cultures
With a long and rich history of cultural gives and giving rooted in indigenous cultures around the globe. Indigenous ways of being offer powerful lessons to inspire your daily giving practice.
There are roughly 475 million Indigenous people belonging to 5,000 different groups in 90 countries across the globe. Indigenous peoples live in every region of the world and speak more than 4,000 unique languages. Examples of Indigenous Peoples include the White Mountain Apache of Arizona, the Inuit of the Arctic, the Sami People of Finland, the Tikuna People of the Amazon, traditional pastoralists like the Samburu of East Africa, and tribal peoples like the Bontoc people of the Philippines. Despite the vast array of distinctive cultural and ethnic diversity amongst Indigenous groups, a common thread found throughout is giving and reciprocity.
Indigenous giving practices are rooted in a cultural ethos of reciprocity. At the center of their culture is an inherent mutual responsibility towards others and the environment – a way of caring and sharing that maintains and nurtures a peaceful balance and spiritual interconnectedness to the Earth and all living things.
In Native American culture, giving is cyclical. It is referred to as the circle of giving. Participating in this circle – both giving and receiving – is regarded as an honor, with the circle acting as a bonding experience within communities. Giving bonds one to the group because the giver provides gifts that enable the group to prosper, and the group provides gifts that enable the individual to prosper. When one gift is given to another, in turn, the recipient then gifts to a third person, and so on, with each gesture growing in interest and the cycle of giving evolving with an ever-increasing spirit of sharing and reciprocity. It is the giving ripple we refer to at 365give.
Indigenous cultures use this ripple effect to balance wealth and deconstruct hierarchies in a spirit of protecting the future of Indigenous cultures and communities and maintaining a harmonious balance within and between Indigenous communities.
Much can be learned from Indigenous giving circles when it comes to giving to and within our communities.
In recent years this model of giving has slowly been adopted and adapted worldwide. Collective giving groups also referred to as giving circles, have tripled in number since 2007. Collective giving is being used as a way for donors from diverse backgrounds and economic circumstances to amplify the impact of their giving. Giving circles challenge convention, as most are created around specific identities – such as gender, race, age, and religion. It is this type of focused community-driven giving that can disrupt the long-established power dynamics of philanthropy. Starting a giving circle in your community can help dismantle funding imbalances by effectively shifting donations towards underrepresented leaders and underserved communities. It also ‘levels the giving field,’ having each participant give what they can, yet still have a significant impact. Indigenous traditions like this are worth adopting, replicating, and implementing to positively affect our communities and highlight the importance of reciprocity.
Looking to Indigenous Cultural Gives to Combat Climate Change Through Planet Gives
Many of the world’s Indigenous groups have centered their giving practices on the Earth to ensure land preservation and be stewards of natural resources. Respecting our environment through the giving of gifts, showing gratitude for the food it provides, and living harmoniously with nature is the very core of Indigenous traditions of reciprocity. When we use the giving culture of Indigenous peoples as our guide and apply it to our planet gives, our gives become more meaningful and have greater impact.
Supporting and adopting Indigenous giving practices and traditional ecological knowledge is a way to continue the circle of giving.
A respected Sahtu Dene elder of the Dene Nations of Canada’s Northwest Territories nicely highlights Indigenous ethics of reciprocity in this story:
‘Edward was hunting near a small river when he heard a raven croaking, far off to his left. Ravens can’t kill animals themselves, so they depend on hunters and wolves to kill food for them. Flying high in the sky, they spot animals too far away for hunters or wolves to see. They then fly to the hunter and attract his attention by croaking loudly, then fly back to where the animals are. Edward stopped and watched the raven carefully. It made two trips back and forth in the same direction. Edward made a sharp turn and walked to where the raven was flying. There were no moose tracks, but he kept following the raven. When he got to the riverbank and looked down, Edward saw two big moose feeding on the bank. He shot them, skinned them, and covered the meat with their hides. Before he left, Edward put some fat meat out on the snow for the raven. He knew that without the bird, he wouldn’t have killed any meat that day.’
How can we draw from this lesson for our planet gives? While our personal experiences are not likely that of the hunter and raven, each of us can find ways to thank the Earth for all it gives us and, with compassion, intention and respect, give back to it. We can live more balanced and sustainably with small lifestyle choices like buying locally, eliminating single-use plastics, taking shorter showers, carpooling, and ensuring the products we buy are marked with ecolabels that state they are environmentally friendly. We can nurture a more harmonious balance with the land by planting trees, supporting habitat restoration projects and nature reserves, and having our voices counted to ensure government legislation protects natural habitats by outlawing development, the harvesting of natural resources, and other exploitation. In these ways, we respect our relationship with the Earth, as the hunter respected his with the bird – as mutually interdependent. These ideas are all planet gives that can be implemented by each of us, one day at a time.
An Investment in Indigenous Cultures is an Investment in the Planet and Our Futures.
Plan your people gives to support Indigenous peoples and ways of being. Donate to Indigenous charities to support biodiversity conservation and climate action using Indigenous practices of reciprocity. Champion the inclusion of Indigenous views and values by directly including Indigenous peoples in working groups, discussions, and high-level decision-making processes. Amplify the voices of Indigenous leaders, peoples, and communities by continuing this discussion of giving circles, reciprocity, and environmental stewardship with your friends and family. Keep the giving ripple going.
For even more ways to give and make a difference, check out The 365give Challenge and see how easy and fulfilling it is to give.
 Glen Coulthard, “Place Against Empire: Understanding Indigenous Anti-Colonialism,” Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, Volume 4, Number 2, Fall 2010, pp. 79-83.