Native Americans in Philanthropy's Review of Building Resilience Event


By Jennifer Fairbanks, Communications Specialist


The George Family Foundation invited Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) to attend their Building Resilience event at the St Paul River Centre September 27, 2016. The event focused on the foundation’s 2015 Catalyst Initiative in partnership with Marnita’s Table in response to the need for conversation around using whole person practices to heal from trauma. The goal of Building Resilience was to provided tools and techniques for uncovering culturally meaningful integrative practices that may help both individuals and communities recover and rise above historic, secondary and other types of trauma.

Sabrina N’Diaye, founder of The Heart Nest Wellness Center delivered an emotional opening keynote where she delved into the power of human connection on the mind, body, and spirit. The keynote set the tone for the breakout sessions and put attendees in a mind-set that was open to learning new ways to heal.

The lunch plenary was delivered by Dr. Gail Christopher, Senior Advisor and Vice President for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation who discussed the foundation’s work on racial equity and the human body’s natural capacity for resilience. NAP was lucky enough to have had Dr. Gail Christopher at our Generation Indigenous: Raising Impact with Innovation and Proven Strategies White House event where she spoke on the need for philanthropy to work more with Native communities. At Building Resilience, she noted that Native Americans are more likely than any other racial group to be killed by police, a statistic NAP has shared through social media recently. Dr. Christopher also touched on the need for inclusion when we talk about healing because not all communities look alike and the way they heal or deal with trauma greatly varies. The last plenary by the founder for Partners in Resilience, Henry Emmons, took a look at stress-related disorders and patient care by blending new science and traditional cultural knowledge and practices.

A handful of interactive breakout sessions were offered during the morning and repeated in the afternoon for attendees. The Indigenous Ceremonial and Ritual Healing session that I attended featured a two-part demonstration: Aokiniimo and Healing Trauma with Generational Gifts. Aokiniimo, which means “Cedar Bath” in the Blackfoot language, is a sacred bath using water and the medicinal plants sage, cedar and traditional tobacco for healing trauma. Elders in Residence, Linda EagleSpeaker and Donna LaChapelle, for the Minnesota Indian Women Resource Center taught attendees the proper way to smudge, prepare a cedar bath, and the process it takes to prepare the plants for medical use. Traditional Healers, Rita Navarrete Perez and Tonita Gonzalez, followed with a demonstration on a traditional South American ceremony practiced on victims of trauma and discussed the importance of healing yourself in order to ensure health for future generations.

I also attended the Community Resiliency Planning and Implementation session: Engage! Rising Up and Fostering Resilience through Catalyzing Authentic Community Connections. This session around community outreach focused on tools, techniques, and insights from Marnita’s Table that has shown effective community engagement, which is a first-line strategy for building community resilience. The success of Marnita’s Table formula for Intentional Social Interaction for community-based problem solving was examined with testimony and first-hand experiences shared with attendees.

The day-long event ended with a beautiful drumming ceremony by Samba Fall. Coming away from Building Resilience, I felt positive about my experience and the recognition of the importance for cross-cultural and inter-generational healing. NAP has focused our Generation Indigenous work on educating the philanthropic sector on the challenges that Native youth face and the multi-generational trauma from racism and colonialism that needs to be addressed. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Native youth between the ages of 15 and 24, which is two and a half times the national average. NAP is urging philanthropy to build partnerships and meaningful investments with nonprofits and Native programs that demonstrate innovative solutions and lasting restorative impact on their communities. The proven tools and traditional practices shared at Building Resilience and the movement in the sector for a more holistic, whole-body approach for the individual and communities inspire hope of a shared vision for building healthy and sustainable communities for all.