IKhana Fund

Indigenous Knowledge protects human life and well-being because it preserves the health and vitality of ecosystems in which humans live as part of a dynamic whole. Now, as climate change and habitat degradation transform the Places we live — literally under our feet and at rates unseen since the end of the last Ice Age — the deep wisdom that is Indigenous Knowledge is being called upon for the world’s relief and even its restoration. Western scientists and political bodies, as well as Indigenous leaders realize that Indigenous Knowledge can help people understand and respond to environmental crises in ways that actually stabilize systems teetering at the edge of chaos. Yet, at this same time, many Indigenous people grieve the loss of a great deal of Indigenous Knowledge to genocide and acculturation. Seneca leader Oren Lyons summarizes the common concern: “When we lose an Elder who carries a great deal of traditional knowledge, people say it’s gone: ’When she died, we lost it.’” But, he continues with a smile, “It’s not lost. It’s still there. It’s not lost at all.”

This is true because Indigenous people have preserved not just the bodies of information known as Indigenous Knowledge, but also the ways of knowing that constitute IK: the systems of respectfully asking for and receiving Knowledge from a source that still exists, of coming to understand how to appropriately use and share that Knowledge, and of using it in the ways and by the rules that provide the context for its continued safe use. Indigenous Ways of Knowing are alive and gaining strength as hundreds of our young people and many of our Elders rise up to work together to reclaim them, Dreams and Visions guiding their steps. Our traditional ways of knowing can and will provide new Indigenous Knowledge about food plants and animals, diseases and medicines, potable water, and other factors essential for survival in dramatically changing environments. We have preserved traditional Knowledge systems in the face of tremendous pressure to acculturate and give up our ways, and now the time has come for us to mobilize that power for the good of all that exists, and for the sake of generations to come.

The IKhana Fund supports Indigenous Knowledge by providing financial support to people engaged in projects of reciprocal, relational knowing to acquire Indigenous Knowledge that can help communities adapt to changing environments and that can help preserve and protect environments threatened by catastrophic change. At this time, projects must be carried out in North America, though we plan to expand the scope of IKhana Fund projects worldwide in the future. We have not yet issued our first Call for Proposals so we can not yet accept project proposals. Therefore, please do not submit proposals or project ideas at this time. Do make notes for yourself if you have an idea, and watch this page for developments so you can submit a proposal when the time comes. Additional information is available in the Frequently Asked Questions section below.

Right now we are actively seeking two things as we prepare to launch this initiative: Indigenous collaborators for planning now and for reviewing proposals once we issue a Call for Proposals, and potential donors who want to support Indigenous solutions to the world’s environmental problems. The first funds we receive will be used to hold a major organizational meeting to establish protocols for reviewing proposals and evaluating project outcomes. We hope to hold that meeting in 2020. If you would like to help make this first meeting happen, please make an online donation or  by contact us for instructions on using a credit card or sending a check. Once the work of our first meeting has been done, then we will secure funding for the first round of awards. And once those funds are in hand, we’ll issue our first Call for Proposals.

For more information, please contact either of the two lead organizers: Shawn Wilson, Ph.D. (Opaskwayak Cree) or Dawn Hill Adams, Ph.D. (Choctaw).


What do you mean by Indigenous Knowledge?

Indigenous Knowledge may be any of three general types of things. First, it can be a body of information about how to live in a given environment: information about wild foods, traditional agriculture, and herbal medicinals, for example. It also includes the stories, songs, rituals and other types of knowledge that go with and are part of the environmental or ecological knowledge about things such as food and medicine. Second, Indigenous Knowledge (or IK) can be the processes by which people come to know about the natural world and themselves. IK uses many different ways of learning and knowing, and is contextual, relational, and community-based. Finally, Indigenous Knowledge can refer to the source of information, which has its own agency and chooses to reveal itself to humans who approach it in a respectful way.

Why do we need to support Indigenous Knowledge with grants? Aren’t there other ways for people to fund IK projects?

Indigenous Knowledge operates within Indigenous worldview. The two things are parts of a single whole. This does not mean people who work with IK are archaic or locked into historical ways of doing things. A worldview is a way of understanding Reality and relating to it productively, not a specific set of cultural traits or activities. Standard grant opportunities that might seem able to provide funds for IK projects operate within an entirely different worldview, that of the dominant modern culture. This makes sense because it was within this worldview that the system of supporting research with grants originated to begin with. But unfortunately, such grant programs don’t “match” the goals and methods inherent to IK work that’s carried out within Indigenous, rather than Western, worldview. As one small example of the difference, standard grants ask project leaders to identify the outcomes their work will achieve, and evaluation of the grant’s success is based on whether or not those outcomes are achieved. In Indigenous worldview, it’s actually presumptuous and arrogant for a project leader to think s/he can say precisely what will be learned in advance when working with IK. A goal can be envisioned, and a path to achieving that goal can be mapped out, but where that path ends up going is not up to the project leader but to Indigenous Knowledge itself. So there has to be a different set of criteria for evaluating the success of a project, especially if funding for subsequent work is solicited by the same project leader. The means of assessment must be within Indigenous worldview. Fortunately, there are a number of extraordinarily well-educated and experienced Indigenous scholars who specialize in assessment and evaluation who can help craft appropriate protocols for the new grant program. This is an example of the type of work that will be done in the Organizational Meeting held in 2020, for which we seek funding.

What kinds of projects can be supported by the IKhana Fund?

We can’t foresee the range of projects that will germinate, but we can at least identify projects that exist right now for which Indigenous people are having a hard time securing financial support from standard grant sources. Here are three brief examples of things that would be eligible to apply for IKhana Fund support. Many additional kinds of projects are possible.

  • Indigenous graduate students in mainstream universities who are using Indigenous Research Methods in their thesis and dissertation work, who are unable to get support for the parts of their studies that are specifically IK in either process or information, could apply for funding to support the IK portions of their thesis or dissertation work.
  • Elders from different cultures and places, as far apart as Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the Amazon Basin, who want to meet to share Knowledge and wisdom can apply for funds to cover travel and meeting costs.
  • Individuals who want to travel in order to study with an Elder who has agreed to teach them a certain type of IK can apply for funds to cover travel and a per diem that will support them while they work full-time with the Elder, and can also provide the Elder with an honorarium that supports them as they do this sort of work.

Why should I donate to support Indigenous Knowledge instead of to help an environmental organization?

Environmental organizations do important work. We are not claiming to be more important than they are — just different. Indigenous Knowledge provides truly innovative solutions that aren’t otherwise available to communities struggling with ecological and environmental change ranging from soil nutrient depletion to dramatic increases in seasonal rainfall. And IK solutions are themselves adaptable as conditions continue to change, through the continued use of Indigenous Knowledge. Further, IK provides ecological or scientific-type knowledge, but also other kinds of important knowledge as well. It gives humans the tools such as specific song and ritual that they need in order to care for and nurture the Land — the plants, animals, waters, and soils — to give back to them in a reciprocal way — which helps these things be healthier and more resilient again. The Earth has wisdom of its own, knowledge that humans do not know, and cannot know by cognitive process alone. Indigenous Knowledge provides access to a wisdom that is strikingly timely and also powerfully timeless.

Why are you holding an organizational meeting before issuing your first Call for Proposals?

It’s going to take serious planning to establish a grant system that operates within Indigenous worldview. The Call for Proposals, review criteria for proposals, and system of reporting results back to the IKhana Fund must permit proposal evaluation within Indigenous worldview so we can fund projects in as fair a way as possible. We seek community input from Indigenous scholars, teachers, Elders, artists, and others who can help us design criteria that will best serve our community. Informal discussions with colleagues have already allowed us to determine the feasibility of what we want to do, so we are ready to move ahead. The next step is to bring together a selected group to hammer out the details for the first funding go-round. We had planned to meet in 2020, on land of northwestern Nebraska’s Pine Ridge that is partnering with us to power this work. But clearly no meeting — especially ones that require travel — are happening in the year 2020. We will instead be using a new Indigenous online meeting software we are developing as a first step we didn’t even foresee. Then once the software is in place, we will meet to plan IKhana Fund protocols. Even without travel, we will still need a little funding as an honorarium for team members’ time, since many Indigenous people have much more limited financial reserves than do scholars in the dominant culture. If you feel moved to contribute to this meeting that will initiate everything to come, please contact Shawn Wilson, Ph.D. (Opaskwayak Cree) or Dawn Hill Adams, Ph.D. (Choctaw). All donations are tax-deductible and will be used only for the purposes outlined here. To support Tapestry’s staff in carrying out all the work necessary to implement the planning and organization work outlined here, please make your tax-deductible donation here instead, and accept our deepest thanks.

— All photographs on this page are copyright Tapestry Institute. The photograph of the rainbow at the top of the page was taken on the Pine Ridge of northwestern Nebraska. All other photos are from the conference “Stories from the Circle: Science and Native Wisdom”, organized and led by Tapestry Institute in 2002. The weaver shown from behind is the late Tlingit artist Clarissa Rizal, demonstrating Chilkat weaving to an NSF Program Officer. The large piece of glass artwork visible in another image is by Preston Singletary, submitted to the art show held in conjunction with the conference. —