RIVER is an inter-Nation-al 1 circle of people collaborating to revitalize and strengthen Indigenous approaches for regenerative development of land, water and all life.
Our collective spans generations and holds wide-ranging expertise in the areas of law and governance, sustainable enterprise, cultural restoration, biodiversity conservation, Earth’s living systems, engineering, artistry, education, and design.
In this unprecedented time, when interconnected ecological, climate, and health crises threaten our collective survival, the world is increasingly looking to Indigenous peoples for solutions. The diversity amongst Indigenous peoples’ and knowledge systems cannot be overstated - the multitude of Indigenous identities is incredibly wide-ranging. Despite this expansive diversity, a commonality that many of us share is our understanding of connection to life on Earth as kin relatives, which means that our starting place to meet global crises is relational and intersectional. A kin-centric approach shifts how we relate to the Earth and to each-other: instead of being land-owner with rights of resource extraction, we are child to Mother with responsibilities of care. In the same breath, it is important to step away from romanticised realities of Indigenous approaches and state clearly: we too, are colonized peoples. Much has been lost and the impact of our colonization is felt in the disconnection, addiction, poor health, education and criminal realities of our day.
Thus, we as RIVER are drawn together by a shared need for healing reconnection—to ourselves, to our languages and heritage, and most of all to our common Mother: Earth.
Our relationships underpin all that we do together. As we nurture our connections, we nurture the work we create. We are mindful of the interconnectedness of everything, the veins that connect us with Papatuanuku (Mother Earth) and thereby with each other. As an inter-Nation-al collective of diverse worldviews, we manaaki (embrace) each other and the communities of which we are a part. We learn and share understandings of how we connect as people and Nations, how we connect with our beyond-human counterparts, how we welcome others to join us, and how we represent ourselves.
The work we undertake requires us to be slow, deep, and intentional. RIVER is committed to collaboratively illuminating our underlying worldviews and cultivating respect for our living planet in ways that enable true healing and transformation. At the same time, we focus on practical strategies, through legal frameworks, market tools, and governance bodies, maintaining a balance between stillness and action (mauri tau—to be deliberate, without panic).
Our times require the strengths of all knowledge systems. An immense wealth of knowledge has emerged from Western science and benefitted Earth stewardship, from enabling the development of new technologies to measure, model and analyse the environment, to assisting us all in making more informed decisions.
RIVER embraces Indigenous knowledge alongside Western science through a “two-eyed seeing” approach. Many refer to the concept of “two-eyed seeing,” which means “to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous ways of knowing, and to see from the other eye with the strengths of Western ways of knowing, and to use both of these eyes together.” 2
“Two-eyed seeing” involves not integrating, but weaving knowledge, so that each way of seeing maintains its own integrity, while enhancing perspective and broadening understanding." 3
At this incredible time in our shared global history, we work to regain our sense of connection to and responsibility for our common Mother and our beyond-human relatives (plants, animals, water, soil, air, [...]). We are disrupting the false notion of human superiority over the natural world of which we are part. We work to see Indigenous communities empowered to fulfill ancestral stewardship responsibilities to their territories, in line with their own knowledge, practices and legal systems. At the same time, RIVER works to support all of humanity in our journey of reconnection with our more-than-human relations and our return to our rightful place in the web of life.
This means restoring a living and reciprocal relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world, through reconnecting with our true place in the web of life.
As an emergent organization, RIVER is currently focusing on four Anglo-settler nations with some significant similarities: Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. Although much is shifting, these four countries were the initial non-signatories to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
In discussions about colonization, conversation typically revolves around how we have been ripped from our culture, language, traditions, and human families, but in the West, we don’t really consider the degree to which the family extends beyond the human realm. This goes far beyond sentimental attachment to place; it is deeply relational. As stated, Indigenous ways of knowing and relating to the life web are incredibly diverse and distinct, but a commonality amongst our ontologies is their grounding in a deep sense of connection— a familial relationship of care and reciprocity with our more-than-human counterparts, and place-based responsibilities that accompany that relationship:
From birth, we are taught to be aware of the expanded kinship networks that surround us,which include other human beings along with the beings of the land, water, and air, and the plants, trees, and all remaining unseen beings that exist within our universe. This multisensory understanding of life is now blossoming across the planet, and we are witnessing humanity awaken to a whole new level of being. We are able to recognize, for perhaps the first time in our history, that we are in the process of an evolutionary leap, which makes this a very exciting time to be alive.
— Penobscot lawyer & author, Sherri Mitchell Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset, in Sacred Instructions 4
Many narratives, for example, involve humans transforming into other animals and other animals transforming into humans. “Marriages” between humans and non-humans are also common:
“‘Marrying’ in the Tlingit sense of the word means developing a powerful intimate and spiritual relationship. In terms of ‘marrying the water’ it is about hearing the cry of the water and answering it: “When we say yáa át wooné that means to learn about it. . . . You are going to meditate on it, you’re going to think on it, you’re going to develop a relationship with it . . . They tell the story of the woman who married the water. And they [some of the audience] are going to say ‘how can a woman marry the water?’ You see in Western languages, in European languages, marrying means the man and woman coming together and having a real intimate relationship . . . No! . . . When you develop a relationship . . . you are going to learn about that individual. You are going to begin to study that individual in such a way that you appreciate them . . . We [Tlingit people] say in the English translation ‘the woman who married the water’. However in reality you are developing a relationship with that resource called water, so that you can really appreciate it.”
— Late Tlingit Elder David Katzeek in Héen Aawashaayi Shaawat / Marrying the Water: The Tlingit, the Tagish, and the Making of Place
Citing Linda Alcoff, RIVER member Gillian Staveley explains, “An understanding of coloniality of power allows us to recognize how the “colonized were subjected not simply to a rapacious exploitation of all their resources but also to a hegemony of euro-centric knowledge systems.” Walter Mignolo identifies the effect of such euro-centric epistemologies on identity and sense of place, as being “among its most damaging, far-reaching, and least understood” 7
The invisibility of Euro-centric cosmologies and ontologies in anglo-settler Nations render them a primary culprit of the damage.
These belief systems are rooted in a perception of humans as separate from and elevated above the rest of nature, with dominion over the natural world, and their influence is far-reaching. Our Nation states’ legal, governance and economic frameworks are based on these colonial values, philosophies, and ways of relating. These frameworks are based on a misperception of our physical human place in the universe, and as such, have eliminated influences of human emotion and spiritual insight. When humans perceive themselves as separate from the rest of nature, we create and adhere to legal frameworks that look like the ones we find in our colonized countries. We create and teach economics courses in business schools with no grounding in ecology or kinship—detached from natural processes, the seasonal round, the uniqueness and agency of places, and the carrying capacity of the biosphere. Moreover, the void of spirit and emotion that accompanies relations with the more-than-human makes us sick.
In short, Western colonial governance and economic frameworks don’t account for plants, animals, lands, and waters. They don’t account for the millions of other species alongside whom we walk this planet. Collectively, we have strayed from the sacred teachings. Our human crisis of mistaken perception is leading to destruction. The systems we’ve created continue to result in biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change, with catastrophic physical, emotional and spiritual impacts for humans and non-humans alike.
“The traditional separation of our species from the rest of the universe has been a figment of our imaginations [...] That we construct a legal system that views nature apart from its physical reality as elements of property testifies to the degree of alienation we have achieved. Our understanding of reality is incorporated in our legal concepts, and, as we have seen, these are already in the process of transformation, escaping from the sterility of the past to a more comprehensive understanding in the future.”
—Vine Deloria Jr, Sioux author, in The Metaphysics of Modern Existence 9
We all are on a journey of reconnection. When we speak of reconnection in today’s world, it extends into the areas of education, stewardship, law, and entrepreneurship; we are remembering and rediscovering how we, as humans, cultivate deep Relationship, Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Redistribution 10 with and for Mother Earth and our beyond-human counterparts within contemporary frameworks. ‘Earth Jurisprudence’ coalesces into all that we do; “Inspired by indigenous cosmologies and customary laws – which are derived from the laws of Nature – Earth Jurisprudence recognises that Nature’s laws are primary and non-negotiable and that humans are interdependent with all other life forms and accountable to the wider Earth community.” 11
How may a Nation in a postcolonial world create legislation that marries people back to the water, for example? How do we weave Indigenous ways of being with contemporary models and structures within law and entrepreneurship? Some examples from recent years addressing these questions include:
Law: The granting of legal personhood to Te Urewera, ancestral rainforest of Tūhoe. (She was formerly designated as a national park under colonial legislation).
Entrepreneurship: An Eyak-led initiative for livelihoods through reciprocity with the ocean via regenerative kelp farming.
“Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.”
—United Nations, 2019
As it becomes more widely known that traditional Indigenous territories encompass up to 22 percent of the world’s land surface yet coincide with areas that hold 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity, 13 The world is increasingly looking to our peoples’ regenerative approaches to illuminate a path forward. However, as Indigenous peoples we face common challenges in fulfilling our ancestral stewardship responsibilities to our territories. We find ourselves working within governance, legal, and economic systems rooted in a colonial worldview that sees humans as separate from the natural world and attempts to erase our cosmologies. Despite these challenges, we continue to steward our lands and waters in alignment with our values to enable regeneration.
In light of these shared insights and our experiences as a collective, RIVER is focused on playing a role in revitalizing and strengthening Indigenous approaches in four key focus areas:
Anthropocentrism, dualistic thinking, and lack of interrelation with (and thus respect for) more-than-human beings are rarely acknowledged. And so, these things continue to be largely invisible. Many people have little understanding of the ongoing consequences of colonization on contemporary worldviews and socioeconomic systems. For instance, the global economy has inherited the colonizing view of Earth’s creatures and ecosystems as a collection of “resources” to be enclosed and exploited, in contrast to the kincentric and relational worldview perspectives of many Indigenous communities. But where did these ideas and assumptions come from? How can we collaboratively examine their history and acknowledge the need for transformation? What is the value of exchange between Western and Indigenous science, philosophy, and rituals? How can we recover and integrate the diverse traditions of the West that have also been suppressed by colonizing forces? How can diverse members of our planetary community cultivate respect for and relationships with our living planet that is the ground and giver of all life? Our challenge and opportunity through ourIlluminating Worldviews workstream is to create an invitation for people to explore these critical topics in ways that enable true healing and transformation.
Collaborative environmental governance describes shared decision-making power between Indigenous governments and governments of the Nation State (federal, provincial, state governments), rather than decisions being made solely by governments of the Nation State. Nation State governments in colonized countries have, for the most part, not made space for Indigenous governance of our territories. However, this trend is beginning to change, and these historic power imbalances are beginning to shift. The Haida Gwaii Management Council, a joint decision-making body composed of Haida Nation and British Columbia government representatives, is one example. This collaborative governance body decreased the total amount of timber that can be harvested per year on Haida Gwaii by 48% in its first year of authority and has created revised land use objectives and orders. 14 Other Indigenous-led stewardship models include Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas and Guardian programs.
Across the world, Western laws are recognizing the rights of nature in constitutions, legislation, and court rooms. Beyond rights, many Indigenous people perceive these developments as a reflection of our Indigenous laws that remind us of our collective human responsibilities to the rest of nature. For this reason, we refer to this movement as “Nature’s Rights / Our Responsibilities.” For example, in recent years in Aotearoa/New Zealand, legal personhood was granted to a former national park (Te Urewera), a river (Whanganui), and a mountain (Taranaki Maunga). These natural entities, respectively, are ancestors of the Tūhoe, Whanganui and Taranaki iwi (tribes), whose people descend from and have stewarded these places since time immemorial. These legal efforts were followed by similar developments in India, which granted personhood to the Ganga and Yamuna rivers, the Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers, and Himalayan lakes, forests, and waterfalls. Additionally, rights for nature, also known as Pachamama, have been enshrined in law in Ecuador and Bolivia, and in communities across the United States.
Healthy lands and waters require healthy people. Economic development is one of the strongest drivers of biodiversity loss.7 New regenerative economic models and tools that create jobs without destroying the environment are paramount in these times. Indigenous governments are at the leading edge of these models. In Canada, the Coastal First Nations, through the Great Bear Initiative and the creation of Coast Funds, have been leading the development of a diverse, sustainable, conservation-based economy that is regenerating ecosystems and revitalizing cultures. The Indigenous Guardian Watchmen programs “have delivered a social return on investment in ranges between 10:1 and 20:1, according to one study (which measured social, economic, cultural, and economic value).” An Alaskan kelp farming initiative is organizing with Alaskan Native communities in the Exxon Valdez spill zone to grow food kelp and restorative kelp farms for food security, habitat recovery, and the re-localization of lost economy. Regenerative finance tools are also developing. Aotearoa-founded Toha is advancing the regenerative economy through building “a one-of-a-kind platform so that environmental impact can be funded, measured, valued, and traded.”
In carrying out our programs as RIVER, we create space to grow international solidarity between peoples pushing for change in our various communities.
Through our inaugural Illuminating Worldviews programs, that resemble a river journey, and our virtual house of knowledge and innovation, The Watershed, we will come together to explore our place in the diaspora of our colonized realities and expand our imaginations and knowledge systems beyond our shores.
Illuminating Worldviews explores the history, philosophy and effects of the dominant Western colonial paradigm in which we exist in Anglo-settler Nations. The program supports Indigenous and non-Indigenous humans alike to perceive the landscape of our colonized realities, unfolding a shared understanding of our histories and revealing pathways toward the future.
As a watershed holds the bounty of water that drains into its streams and rivers, RIVER’s Watershed is a place for us to store our learnings, projects, challenges and successes for collective application around the world as we grow. Tributaries, or ancestral lineages, of our collective flow into the Watershed. Like a wharerangi (traditional Māori store house raised above the ground), we will store our learnings over the seasons, reaching for knowledge when we need to feed our needs and those of our communities.
True regeneration requires transcending anthropocentrism. The anthropocentric worldview is at the heart of colonization. Regeneration requires right relationship with our more-than-human kin, enabled only through reconnection of humans to our true place within the web of life.
It is critical to understand the causes of sickness before healing can begin. This includes illuminating the worldviews from which dysfunctional systems have emerged. Transformation requires examining the origins and consequences of beliefs underlying modern economics, law, and governance.
The danger of bypassing this work is that the unacknowledged shadow appears. Many of us have encountered deeply-rooted challenges when attempting to cultivate reciprocal understanding and nourishing partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments and organizations. To take one example, efforts to develop collaborative environmental governance frameworks and climate change strategies between state governments and Indigenous groups often reveal fundamentally different—and seemingly incompatible—approaches.
In our experience, these obstacles arise from the meeting of radically different worldviews. The attempted solution is often to explain Indigenous perspectives, but this rarely results in the depth of dialogue, experience, and understanding necessary to forge lasting relationships.
Exposure to the rituals, practices, and beliefs of other cultures is not enough. We also need opportunities to examine the history, tenets, and consequences of the dominant modern Western paradigm. This worldview is rarely examined, particularly by those who have been raised within it. Schools generally teach that modern science and technology provide a privileged, objective view on reality—that this way of knowing supersedes Indigenous knowledge. Many in Crown/Nation State governments and entrepreneurial spaces have worked hard to build communities of practice focused on solutions, but have not directly addressed the history of ideas and practices that gave rise to the colonizing mindset. As a result, the onus is often placed on Indigenous collaborators to educate others about their life-ways in collaborative processes, while the metaphysical beliefs—the cosmovision—of settler-colonial cultures go unacknowledged.
To expand beyond one-sided exchanges and the undue burden often placed on Indigenous collaborators, we are creating a transformational program called Illuminating Worldviews, which is a wayfinding journey of sorts. Wayfinding encompasses all of the ways in which people orient themselves in a space, and how they navigate from place to place. We wayfind based on our worldviews. Illuminating Worldviews will examine the paradigms and practices that have shaped the modern Anglo-settler world. We will provide a framework, space and support for participants to reflect on how these assumptions have shaped and directed our modern economic, legal and governance frameworks, but also, how these assumptions have shaped participants’ own lives, privileges (or lack of), and ways of being - physically, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally.
These modules are being designed as a journey down a river, with videos, interactive media and conversations as stopover sites to explore new terrain and the tributaries that feed the river.
The inspiration for the river journey as a model for Illuminating Worldviews came from RIVER Elder Dune Lankard: "When we take people down the Copper River, they start off as one person, but when we arrive at the delta, they are a different person. They are changed.” Inevitably, people who enter this learning journey together foster kinship along the way, holding space and supporting each other through challenging introspection and outward dialogue.
The goal of Illuminating Worldviews is to highlight different ways of knowing and being to inform collaborations with our human and more-than-human relations.
“Reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, from an Aboriginal perspective, also requires reconciliation with the natural world. If human beings resolve problems between themselves but continue to destroy the natural world, then reconciliation remains incomplete. This is a perspective that we as Commissioners have repeatedly heard: that reconciliation will never occur unless we are also reconciled with the earth. Mi’kmaq and other Indigenous laws stress that humans must journey through life in conversation and negotiation with all creation.’’
— Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015 16
We are working towards a foundational Illuminating Worldviews module becoming available for the public via a multi-media series to foster understanding of these issues more widely.
Simultaneously, we intend to continue to run context-specific Illuminating Worldviews programs to specific audiences. The modular design of Illuminating Worldviews enables it to adapt to diverse contexts, as additional modules about specific places, beliefs, and projects are co-created with local participants. Participants have thus far included Canadian regional government officials and First Nations collaborating on climate change strategies. In our second pilot, we intend to extend the program to contexts in which entrepreneurs, funders, and advocacy groups are entering into collaborative partnerships.
We endeavour for Illuminating Worldviews programs to make collaborative experiences easier and less laborious for Indigenous practitioners, and more meaningful for all involved. Ultimately, we hope this helps to foster the creation of more balanced outcomes among initiatives that are currently being collaboratively developed.
Illuminating Worldviews is informed by our collective experience. It is different from and complements existing resources that we're aware of in a few ways:
Firstly, Illuminating Worldviews reaches beyond human-human interactions; it examines anthropocentric and kincentric worldviews. Secondly, it takes the discussion out of academia to practitioners in accessible language, with application of concepts to real-life initiatives underway. Thirdly, while many curriculums about decolonization exist, they often default to the binary narrative of “The West versus the Rest.” While this approach is important for understanding the history of colonization, it can also overlook the complex realities of peoples who have ancestry from multiple nations worldwide. To expand participation in these processes, we must move beyond guilt and shame by encouraging learning about all ancestral lineages and cosmological beliefs. Recognizing these intertwined histories and relationships are also essential to increase appreciation and discourage appropriation of Indigenous cultures.
“How do we all, all humans, return to our Indigeneity? That is what Earth Jurisprudence is asking of us - for us all to remember our Indigeneity, pre-colonization.”
— Mark Wedge (Aan Goosh oo), Tagish/ Tlingit Elder
As RIVER member Savannah Petero states, "My work was born out of a heart to support Māori to celebrate themselves (decolonize) and for non-Māori to come to peace with their own whakapapa so that they could stop taking from ours.” Illuminating Worldviews goes beyond the binary to explore aspects of the colonized mindset within all of us. This includes highlighting the diverse European traditions of the West, which colonizing forces have also suppressed. In revealing humanity's shared complexities, we intend for the program to help participants heal relations with one another and the more-than-human world. In flowing into our second offering, The Watershed of Knowledge & Innovation, we intend to share and celebrate opportunities and examples for how healing with the natural world can be manifested in contemporary settings through law, economics and governance.
"Considering that the catastrophes we are experiencing may take decades or even centuries to play out, then another century for us to recover after that, it may be advisable for us to get ahead of the game and begin creating cultures and societies of transition, to lessen the impacts of this calamity on our communities and potentially avoid post-apocalyptic stress altogether. We need to start working with the land, rather than against it. Our communities need to share knowledge with each other while maintaining their own unique systems grounded in the diverse landscapes they care for.
Any real move towards sustainability will require us to cease limiting our understanding with simplistic language around group and individual identities, villain and victim branding, so that we can see what our actual diversity looks like and what it can do for us. We might then begin to notice the patterns and forces that are threatening the survival of all living things and start to change the way we do business. Rather than fighting brand wars to make this doomed globalising system feel more fair and inclusive, we might instead develop some new systems of transition.”
— Apalech Clan member Tyson Yunkaporta in ‘Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save The World’
Indigenous Nations across our countries are seeking innovative ways to steward our lands and waters within colonial legal systems that have been imposed on all of us. We are simultaneously seeking to participate in the economy and transform it in ways that align with our values. The revitalization and strengthening of Indigenous approaches to regenerative development have surfaced new needs that remain unfulfilled. There is currently no online platform or gathering space that serves to unify people, share knowledge, compile resources, and build capacity amongst innovative and practical examples of emerging Indigenous-led regenerative initiatives. It is always critical to tailor initiatives to local contexts, but in these urgent and globalized times, it is also integral that we leverage collective experience, learn from each other and build solidarity.
These are some of the questions we have encountered in recent years, which provide a glimpse into the kind of content we plan to co-create:
There is no better way to learn than to go straight to the people involved in these initiatives on the ground. However, Indigenous leaders are often overrun with requests to share their work, which leads to larger burdens on fewer people and negatively affects their own impact. The Watershed is being designed to alleviate some of that burden and address emergent needs by facilitating the sharing of stories and the collective strengthening of capacity.
RIVER’s Watershed of Knowledge & Innovation will serve as a resource-sharing and gathering space to foster relationships, build solidarity, and strengthen the revitalization of Indigenous approaches to regeneration. As a house of learning, 17 it is a space where Indigenous innovations can be shared, nourished, and cross-pollinated. It will facilitate coming together in a practical way to connect and learn directly from each other, with a focus on solidarity, reciprocation, and storytelling.
The Watershed will be akin to a living library as well as a gathering space. With tributaries of knowledge from many lineages flowing into the Watershed, RIVER’s community members can learn, virtually, how other Nations have dealt with similar challenges and opportunities. Given the travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19, this is particularly necessary right now. 18
Embracing multimedia, we will house resources within each of our focus areas, taking a storytelling approach that touches on physical, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional aspects of each initiative that is shared. Videos recorded in communities where regenerative initiatives are underway will bring storytelling to life, along with virtual symposiums.
In embracing two-eyed seeing, the Watershed will share information audio-visually and also house practical written resources such as legal frameworks, management plans, and resources on economic tools, governance bodies, and related measures and indicators.
We want community members to feel at home and inspired in the Watershed. The platform’s design will mimic its name and will embrace audiovisual tools, but it will also include a simpler interface for users in remote communities with limited bandwidth and streaming capacity.
The Watershed will include a protocol for being a respectful community member and terms of access for members. As we welcome new members, we will ensure that all understand the necessary intellectual property considerations.
Through the Watershed’s virtual symposiums, videos, and practical materials about regenerative legal frameworks, economic models, and more, community members will gain insights, exchange ideas, and hopefully, be empowered in their work. With consideration and care for our more-than-human relations, we endeavour for RIVER’s growing community to continue to build momentum around transformation of stewardship, law and entrepreneurship. Our current will flow ever-stronger as more streams merge into one river, bridging worlds and expanding on the wisdom cradled by the Watershed.
After 2021, once COVID-19 travel restrictions ease, we plan to host in-person RIVER gatherings in addition to our virtual gatherings as part of the Watershed. In-person gatherings will be multi-day gatherings held in locations where communities are stewarding projects of interest. In addition to the keynote speeches and breakout sessions offered in our virtual RIVER Circles, our in-person RIVER gatherings will also include hands-on skills-building workshops, land-based ceremony, land-based learning, and field trips. We will nurture deeper connections and relationships with each other through welcoming ceremonies, talking circles, art sharing nights, field visits to culturally significant sites, storytelling sessions, teachings by host Nations about traditional gathering/harvesting/fishing techniques, opportunities for visiting participants to contribute to host Nation projects, and sharing of traditional foods.
We plan to weave art, in its multifaceted forms, into everything we create. From 2020-2021, this will be done virtually within our Illuminating Worldviews programs and the Watershed. Beyond 2021, we plan to expand collaboration with artists to co-create immersive experiences and art installations that continue to encourage us to consider our relationships with the more-than-human world (rivers, mountains, forests, animal relatives). This may also include the development of unique engagement materials to educate and inform the public about the nature of Indigenous rights and title and the application of Indigenous stewardship approaches.
Another potential initiative we aim to explore beyond 2021 is the co-creation of a Diversified Investment Fund of Indigenous-led Regenerative Economic Projects. This would involve collaboration amongst partner organizations and Nations to co-create an investment fund with alternative ROI based on our values. Building off of inter-tribal trading schemes (in which Nations traded goods they produced for those they didn’t with each other), the fund would allow Indigenous Nations with recently acquired capital to invest in regenerative, value-aligned projects of other Nations in diverse economic sectors. The fund would help bring capital into Indigenous-led regenerative enterprises. It would simultaneously provide non-Indigenous investors a tangible avenue to be part of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and our planet, applying money as medicine.
Below is a summary budget of the resources required to begin to deliver on our vision in 2020-2021. As RIVER, it is integral that we extend our approach into how we fundraise. In other words, we endeavour to fundraise in a way that doesn’t uphold colonial ways of being. Predominantly, philanthropy encourages non-profit organizations to submit proposals solely for program costs. This siloing of programs from core operational costs perpetuates the struggling of organizations for core funding- funding that keeps the home fires burning.
RIVER’s programs are like streams in a braided river- they are inter-connected and indivisible. The river bed itself is our core operational/general management budget, Ahi Kaa (“to keep the home fires burning”). Our Ahi Kaa and program budgets flow together. As such, we have included the following summary budget outlining our organizational resourcing requirements as a whole. We deeply appreciate your support of this work as we journey together to ‘right relationship’ with our more-than-human kin.
General Management - including Administration, Fundraising, Reporting, Accounting & Legal Services
Organizational Liability Insurance
DevelopmentCreative Direction, Strategy, Research & Engagement
Pilot / Film Production
Watershed of Knowledge & Innovation
DevelopmentCreative Direction, Strategy, Research & Engagement
Pilot / Film Production
Shared Program Expenses
Domain Experts & Advisors, Case Study Practitioners
Communications & Marketing
Mark Wedge, or Aan Goosh oo, has long been actively involved in economic and social development, land claims negotiations, ceremonial leadership, and dispute resolution in his community and throughout Canada and the United States. He has served as Khà Shâde Héni (Chief) of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, as Executive Director of the Council of Yukon Indians, as President and Chairman of Yukon Indian Development Corporation and däna Näye Ventures, an aboriginal capital corporation. For over 20 years Mark has held peacemaking circles in workplaces and public forums for sentencing for individual crimes, land claims disputes between First Nations and the Canadian government, and outstanding issues between victims of Mission School abuse and the Anglican Church. He is co-author of the book Peacemaking Circles: From Crime to Community, alongside Kay Pranis and former Chief Judge of the Yukon Territorial Court Barry Stuart. Mark has taught in communities throughout North America and abroad, and is working towards creating Circle-based forms of contemporary tribal governance in his First Nation Government. He advises several postgraduate students; most recently with Eleanor Hayman and Colleen James, he co-authored a chapter on a Tagish and Tlingit approach to water governance in the book, Global Water Ethics: Towards a global ethics charter. Mark currently sits on the Board of Directors of the First Nations Bank of Canada and on the Board of Governors of Yukon University. He is enjoying his new role as a grandpa.
Pekaira Rei (Ngā Ruahine-i-te-rangi, Te Āti Awa, Taranaki Iwi, Ngā Rauru Kiitahi, Te Āti Haunui-ā-Pāpārangi, Taranaki Whānui-ki-te-Upoko-o-te-Ika and Te Atiawa-ki-te-Waka-a-Maui), upholds a pivotal role as Māori Cultural Advisor with the Edmund Hillary Fellowship. In this role, Pekaira provides cultural support and guidance for fellows, weaving ventures with Māoridom and ensuring a stable grounding around how to land and tread in Aotearoa. Pekaira is passionate about education and holds cultural advisory positions for the Education Council and Office of Treaty Settlements at the Ministry of Justice, while also serving as a Kaumātua for Philanthropy New Zealand, and as a Trustee for Te Muka Rau.
Dune Lankard is an Eyak activist, father, and fisherman. For 3,500 years, the Eyak Athabaskan people have been the stewards of Alaska's Copper River Delta and eastern Prince William Sound. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker spewed crude oil across more than 1,500 miles of the once-pristine shoreline of the Gulf of Alaska’s coastline. This preventable man-made tragedy turned Dune Lankard, an Eyak Athabaskan subsistence and commercial fisherman, into a dedicated full-time social activist with a dream to protect, preserve and restore two intact roadless sister watersheds. After the spill in 1989, Dune founded a cultural and legal defense fund, the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC), then in 2003 founded the Native Conservancy, the first Native-owned, Native-led and Native-run land trust in America. Native Conservancy helped spearhead dozens of environmental campaigns that resulted in one of the largest protected subsurface coal conservation easements in U.S. history, and with EPC helped preserve more than a million acres of coastal temperate rainforest habitat surrounded by some of the tallest coastal glacier-topped mountains in the world, and one of the last truly remaining roadless wild salmon habitats in existence.
Erin Matariki Carr is of Ngāi Tūhoe and Ngāti Awa descent and currently lives in Tāneatua, just north of Te Urewera rainforest. Erin is co-lead for RIVER, supporting the legal, administrative and Illuminating Worldviews workstreams. Erin graduated Victoria University of Wellington with a Bachelor of Law (Honours) and Arts (majoring in Spanish) and is passionate about regenerative community building. Her background has been in law and policy, working as a solicitor with Chapman Tripp in Auckland before later returning home to work for Tūhoe in serving Te Urewera, an ancient rainforest vested with legal personhood in 2014. Erin believes in the pathway of reconnection to Papatūānuku (physically, emotionally, spiritually and through creative expression) as an active means to rebuild self, identity and community. Erin is contracting in the areas of iwi environmental planning and Māori within the criminal justice system. Erin is co-Manager for the New Zealand Alternative, a non-profit organisation creating informed public debate relating to New Zealand’s place and foreign policy in this changing world.
Jodi Gustafson was born and raised in the Yukon, Canada, which provided an upbringing that instilled a profound respect for and curiosity about the natural world and the familial relationship of many Indigenous peoples with ancestral lands, waters, and beyond-human kin. Jodi is of Swedish and Scottish descent on her Father's side and of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry from southern Labrador on her Mother’s side (today called NunatuKavut descent). She is grateful that her work with RIVER provides the opportunity to work towards her reconciliation responsibilities as a settler (the majority of her lineage), and to honour her Indigenous ancestors too. Prior to the formation of RIVER, Jodi worked on conservation and environmental management projects with organizations including the International Whaling Commission, the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee, and the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs. Aotearoa/ New Zealand has been her second home since 2007. In 2017, she joined the inaugural cohort of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship on a mission to facilitate capacity building and knowledge exchange to further Indigenous-led regenerative initiatives. She gratefully lives between Tūhoe and Whakatōhea lands in Aotearoa, and Southern Tutchone lands in the Yukon where she was born and raised. Through RIVER, Jodi continues her work with Indigenous and Crown governments to evolve environmental governance and economic models beyond colonial frameworks. She is humbled to currently be working alongside Jocelyn Joe-Strack as a Co-Lead for the Yukon First Nations Climate Action Fellowship. As Jodi's Indigenous ancestry is distant and she did not grow up in Labrador, she does not have a lived Indigenous experience and cannot contribute from this place. Instead, her role in her work revolves around supporting communities in efforts to fulfil ancestral stewardship responsibilities. Jodi has a Masters in Conservation Leadership from the University of Cambridge where she studied as a Gates Cambridge scholar.
Georgia Lloyd-Smith is a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law where she focuses on revitalizing Indigenous laws and governance through the RELAW Program (Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air, and Water) and caring for our ocean as part of the marine team . Her experience includes using law to support Indigenous Protected Areas, Indigenous Guardian programs, co-governance models, and community fisheries. Georgia was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada on Coast Salish territory, and is of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English heritage. She holds a BScH in Biology from Queen’s University (2010) and a JD from Dalhousie University (2014). She articled at the Environmental Law Centre at University of Victoria where she trained with the Indigenous Law Research Unit . She also spent a formative summer in Fort McMurray, Alberta working as a legal intern with the Mikisew Cree First Nation in the heart of the tar sands. Georgia believes in the power of human connection to affect change, and sees law as an essential component of this work. She spends her thinking time in spaces where cultures, values, and ideas converge, in particular in the fields of Indigenous, environmental, health, and human rights law. She has a newfound love of creating (some people call it art ) and is a proud aunt to a growing flock of little ones. In work and in life, she is motivated to be a good ancestor.
Mike Taitoko is of Maniapoto descent. For the past twenty years Mike has been a leading advisor in Māori and indigenous economic development and has advised iwi (tribes), government, private sector and communities with development strategies, policies and programmes. Mike has a MBA with distinction from Massey University and is the co-founder of Takiwā Ltd, a data visualisation and analytics company focused on integrating environmental science data with indigenous data and knowledge in order to improve decisions impacting land use and freshwater. Mike also co-founded Toha Foundry, an impact investment platform designed to get scaled finance to the frontline where environmental and climate-related projects are delivering measurable impact. Toha is underpinned by Māori principles and values such as kaitiakitanga, or guardianship of our natural assets. Mike is currently leading a regenerative agriculture project in New Zealand, using data visualisation and farmer engagement to show where improved land practices are improving environmental outcomes, sequestering more carbon and improving business resilience. Transparency of funding flows and proof of impact is designed into the programme to improve transparency of impact investment outcomes.
Tasman Gillies is of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Kahungunu descent. Tasman focuses on how to maintain and enhance the relationships between people and the natural environment, with a preference towards action and creation. As a Tangata Tiaki, Tasman has a responsibility to sustainably manage the fisheries in the traditional area of his hapū - Ngāti Wheke for current and future generations. Tasman has a background in marine science and fisheries management, graduating from the University of Otago with a Master of Science in Zoology. Previously, Tasman worked for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, the tribal authority for Ngāi Tahu. His role was to work with tribal members to monitor and enhance access to mahinga kai—traditional food gathering areas, resources and practices—including providing an environment that supports the access to these resources and continuation of traditional practices. Tasman’s time at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu saw him work as a Joint Official in the Te Waihora Co-Governance partnership, which worked to restore the mauri of Te Waihora. During his studies and work he has been a part of Te Tiaki Mahinga Kai, a network of kaitiaki, fishers, scientists, and managers who work to sustainably enhance the cultural, economic, social, and environmental well-being of Māori, and New Zealand. His career and passion for connecting people and the environment have led Tasman to take part in the First Nations’ Futures Programme at Stanford University, and south to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean where Ngāi Tahu holds cultural connections and interests. Tasman now lives in Auckland, working for Envirostrat Ltd to create and execute impact-focused projects that deliver measurable environmental outcomes.
David McConville grew up in the Bible Belt of Turtle Island, raised under a strict religion inherited from his settler ancestors. Becoming disillusioned with their strange and dysfunctional beliefs from a young age, he embarked on a quest to understand the origins of their cosmology. This eventually led him to recognize the existential dangers of the anthropocentric, hierarchical paradigm that continues to dominate much of contemporary science, religion, and economics. Today, he explores the potential of art and media to illuminate this dominant worldview and to cultivate reciprocal relationships with the web of life. He is currently the resident cosmographer of Spherical, an integrative research and design studio curating and producing works about planetary regeneration. He also serves as senior researcher and board member for the Center of the Study of the Force Majeure, which brings together artists and scientists to design ecosystem regeneration projects in critical regions around the world. Previously, David co-founded The Elumenati, a design and engineering firm that creates custom display installations for clients from art festivals to space agencies. He was also co-founder and creative director of the Worldviews Network, a NOAA-funded collaboration of artists, scientists, Indigenous storytellers, and educators using immersive visualization environments to transcultural dialogues in communities across the United States. David has a PhD in Art and Media from the Planetary Collegium at the University of Plymouth.
Skye Steritz works to protect clean water, wild salmon, and traditional ways of life in the Eyak ancestral homelands of the Copper River Delta of Alaska. Skye is the Program Manager for the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC, founded by Dune Lankard), and is leading the newest program: Copper River Delta Sound Waterkeeper. In the past, Skye coordinated the nationally-renowned program Stream Watch to protect pristine watersheds on the Kenai Peninsula. Skye has designed and directed multiple environmental education programs for Alaskan youth to inspire deeper connections with the natural world and has led water quality testing excursions to empower citizen science. Her formal training is in Water Policy, Management, and Governance with a specialization in diplomacy and conflict management. Skye’s Master of Science thesis explored tools for collaborative transboundary groundwater management. She has studied and worked closely with the Indigenous Peoples of Ghana and Alaska. Skye's ancestry is Celtic, with primarily Irish and Scottish roots. She is a passionate advocate for social and environmental justice.
Gillian Staveley is a Kaska Dena member, whose heritage lies in the Muncho Lake region of Dena Kēyeh in Northern British Columbia. Graduating from UBC in 2014 with a Masters in Anthropology, Gillian’s research explored the importance of multi-generational environmental knowledge and addressed issues of residential schooling, colonialism, and political ecology–all topics that are relevant to Indigenous Nations across the globe. Through the connection that Gillian has with her heritage and culture, she has actively promoted the conversation of what Indigenous Identity means in the 21st century. Gillian has worked predominantly in the resource development sector as a traditional land use practitioner, consultant, and archaeologist. Currently, in her work as a Regional Coordinator for the Kaska Dena, her goal is to ensure that through the Government to Government relationship that exists with her Nation and the Province, that the respect for Kaska Laws (Dene K’éh Gū́s’ān) and the commitment under the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples are upheld in all consultations and engagements with her Nation. Gillian also serves as a Director of the Dena Kēyeh Institute, a not-for-profit society created by the Kaska Nation to empower, preserve, and protect the Kaska Dena language, oral traditions, history, culture, and traditional knowledge. The primary work that Gillian has been a part of with DKI over the past year is to work with the Kaska communities on designing Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas within the Kaska Ancestral Territory. As a mother of two strong and energetic Kaska boys, her livelihood is encompassed around watching them grow, live, and experience the world around them.
Lindsay Keegitah Borrows (Chippewas of Nawash First Nation) is a lawyer and researcher at the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. Previously she was a lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law, where she worked on the RELAW (Revitalizing Indigenous Laws for Land, Air and Water) Project. She supports Indigenous communities to revitalize their traditional laws for application in a contemporary context. She has worked with many legal traditions including Anishinaabe, Haíɫzaqv, Māori, Mi’kmaq, nuučaan̓uł, St’át’imc, Denezhu, and Tsilhqot’in. She has also worked as a legal support team member for the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and a researcher for the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Court in Arizona. Each fall Lindsay returns to her home community of Neyaashiinigmiing, Ontario for several weeks to co-teach land-based Anishinaabe law camps. She is also passionate about story-telling and language revitalization. She recently published a book of creative non-fiction entitled, “Otter’s Journey through Indigenous Language and Law” (UBC Press, 2018). She is a graduate of the Banff Centre for the Arts’ Indigenous Writing Program (2014), and the Writer’s Studio at SFU (Fiction, 2019). Lindsay received her J.D. from the University of Victoria Faculty of Law, and her B.A. from Dartmouth College.
Alexis Bunten (Aleut/Yup’ik) has served as a manager, consultant and applied researcher for Indigenous, social and environmental programming for over 15 years. After receiving a BA in Art History at Dartmouth College, Alexis returned to Alaska, where she worked at the Sealaska Heritage Institute, and the Alaska Native Heritage Center in programming. Subsequently, Alexis earned a PhD in Cultural Anthropology at UCLA, and has served as the Project Ethnographer for the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) project, and as a Senior Researcher at the FrameWorks Institute. Alexis is an accomplished researcher, writer, media-maker, and curriculum developer. She has published widely about Indigenous and environmental issues, with articles in American Indian Quarterly, the Journal of Museum Education, and American Ethnologist. Her 2015 book, “So, how long have you been Native?” Life as an Alaska Native Tour Guide” won the Alaska Library Association Award for its originality, and depth. In addition to writing, Alexis has contributed to several Indigenous-themed productions, including co-producing and writing the script for a documentary nominated for the Native American Film Awards. Alexis has developed educational material for both formal and informal learning environments including university level-courses as well as lifelong learner curriculum. She has served as the Co-Director of Indigeneity at Bioneers since 2016.
Jenni Matchett is focused on conceptualizing and designing healing ways of existing to transform current eco/colonial realities. Energy transition, and the cultural possibilities that exist under a no-carbon energy regime has been her point of departure for several years. Her deep inquiry into structural change has been influenced by a critique of her own business school education (Vancouver) and her time spent designing products for the consumer solar revolution (Boston). As an advisor to the Assembly of First Nations Yukon Regional Chief, Jenni recently worked on a regional initiative to decolonize climate and environmental policy. She is currently honing her practice as a Critical Conservation student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she is experimenting with mediums and methods that further the project of what it means to live reciprocally, regeneratively - particularly in relation to the body, the economy and the energy source. Jenni is of Scottish and Irish descent on her Father’s side, and Polish and Russian descent on her Mother’s side. For a long time, she has lived a nomadic lifestyle between the Eastern United States and Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in territory in North Yukon (where she was raised and is currently placed).
Stephanie Batts is of Ngati Porou, Ngāpuhi and Te Arawa Iwi descent. She is a Cultural Advisor for the Regenesis Institute, Auckland, the Director of Aro Hemp Aotearoa Limited and a Melchizedek Meditation Specialist. Stephanie has a passion for the regenerative empowerment of people, place, and systems. Her role as Kaiwhakaora Mauri focuses on empowering youth within the Auckland region to take climate change action through the zero waste initiative called Para Kore. Stephanie's work allows her to witness an increased impact for change as the youth of Para Kore share their work and mentor others their own age. As a Regenesis graduate and cultural host, Stephanie ensures that the cultural needs of programme participants are met. This allows a holistic and inclusive approach to learning regenerative practices. Stephanie's passion for protecting Papatūānuku drives her in all that she does. Her education and vision to see indigenous rangatahi connected to Papatūānuku set her apart as an authentic speaker, mentor, and kaitiaki.
Savannah Atai Petero is a mother, lawyer and entrepreneur of Te Ati Awa iwi and Cook Island Māori descent. Savannah has long had a passion for the advancement of women and Indigenous peoples, and recognises the critical role of these groups in caring for Papatūānuku (Mother Earth). These values resonated in her at a young age and are values entrenched in her by her family, whakapapa (genealogy), and faith. Savannah graduated from AUT University with the 2012 Dean’s Award for Top Student in Litigation, Mediation and Dispute Resolution. Whilst at AUT, Savannah played a key role in co-founding and successfully operating the Maori and Pacific Law Association. Savannah embodies the feminine in her leadership style, always carving space for others to launch, whether leading performing arts teams internationally or introducing new ways of being in the corporate world. As a co-founder of KAEA, she developed and delivered culturally responsive training courses for corporate offices and workplaces. Savannah is particularly passionate about protecting Indigenous cultural intellectual property and assists several Māori companies and individuals in these safeguarding efforts. Savannah is currently enrolled in the Regenerative Practitioner Series Aotearoa offered by the Regenesis Institute focusing on regenerative finance.
Olly McMillan is of Ngāti Porou and Pākehā descent. His work focuses on contaminated land and groundwater, and indigenous environmental decision-making tools. Olly completed a Bachelor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Auckland, where his research focused on ways to address the impacts of engineering projects on mauri. He then completed a PhD at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Here, his research investigated novel and sustainable methods of restoring contaminated land, in order to minimise the dependence on landfills. He now works in Toronto, Canada on projects addressing contaminated land throughout Ontario, and with First Nations communities throughout Canada developing community-led environmental monitoring programs. Olly is passionate about helping indigenous communities maintain traditional uses on their whenua.
Our Co-Leads/ Kaiākau are RIVER's riverbanks of sorts. Kaiākau carry out day-to-day tasks for RIVER, nurturing her natural flow and keeping organizational momentum healthy. They serve as RIVER’s bees, flying from flower to flower, supporting offerings and program development, researching and cross-pollinating ideas, and communicating with our wider collective and partners.
Co-Leads are supported by an Elders Circle and an Advisory Circle.
Our Elders Circle provides us guidance to ensure our work is in alignment with our ancestors’ wishes and that it is authentic. Our Elders hold our hands and balance RIVER’s canoe to ensure we are navigating with all paddlers grounded in spirit. Our Elders help support decision-making, and help resolve challenges when we encounter rapids on our journey.
Our Advisory Circle houses expertise across RIVER’s focus areas. They shape our program development, keep us connected to place, and ensure RIVER remains relevant and connected to contemporary realities and developments on the many grounds and waters we serve.
RIVER has begun as a Charitable Trust registered in New Zealand. As our work evolves, we plan to establish interconnected Trusts in Turtle Island and Australia. We currently have a head office based in Tāneatua, a small town north of Te Urewera rainforest in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Three Trustees currently constitute RIVER Aotearoa Charitable Trust's Governance Board: RIVER’s Co-Leads/ Kaiākau Erin Matariki Carr and Jodi Gustafson, as well as Professor Catherine Iorns Magallanes.
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