Building a Non-profit
There is a saying out there: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” This might not apply to your style of working, but as an entrepreneurial self-starter, this applied to me. It was good to start Native Land on my own, because I was able to work quickly and move through the theoretical problems using my own sense of right and wrong. But, as the project grew and those problems started to become more apparent (largely through criticisms and feedback), I realized that this resource and project was much bigger than me or what I could handle alone.
This meant that some sort of organization needed to be formed that could help me, or, even better, take over running the project entirely one day. Ideally, this would be a non-profit, with a board of Indigenous people with expertise and knowledge in the areas of mapping and social impact. The organization could pursue funding, deal with staff, explore new opportunities, interconnect with Indigenous communities around the world: all things that were beyond my own time, initiative, and wallet.
And so I began to reach out, emailing some of the people who had helped me over the years, trying to put together a few staff members and hoping to find some people to help. Asking for help is important, and accepting it can be even harder, especially when it seems to come “too slow” or sometimes conflicts with your own ideas of what’s good and bad. But this is part of the “going far,” and in truth, it’s been very exciting to see the growth of the organization. Difficult, and at times frustrating, but rewarding.
Thus, the past year or so has seen the growth of Native Land Digital, the Canadian non-profit that is now in charge of maintaining and running the website and its associated initiatives, such as Education Guides and media work. We have five board members: Leena Minifie, Shauna Johnson, Mesiah Burciaga-Hameed, Lee Timutimu, and Rudo Kemper. These people come from all around the world and have been huge helpers and guides. We have been able to secure some initial funding, and are working on finding more so that we can continue to sustain the project as it scales in size and complexity as we go forward and continue growing.
It is important for me to hand this project off, as much as possible, to Indigenous leadership in one form or another. This is difficult, because, in forming the board initially, I had to make decisions on who was a suitable member and who was not. These decisions were not easy and had to be informed as much by who was available as by things like land base, educational expertise, or passion and willingness to help. At times, I have wanted to abandon the project and go back to doing other things. But, the more that Native Land sticks around and grows, the more it is clear to me how important this project is, not even as much to the broader world as to me personally. I will be happy if, one day, my responsibilities are able to decrease to the point where I am only involved in a small way; but in the meantime, I resolve to take on whatever needs to be done in order to help the organization get its legs under it.
At the end of the day, what you are putting your time and energy into matters to you. It is important to take the challenges, criticisms, and problems seriously, but it is also important to allow yourself some space for validation and praise from those who you affect positively. Native Land has been a space of personal struggle and personal triumph for me, and most of all, a place to learn my own boundaries and my own need for collaboration and help.
If you have a project in mind, or a project underway, I encourage you to stick with it and to run with your strengths. Ask for help from others when you don’t know what to do anymore—people all have their own work, but even a few minutes or a short conversation can revitalize you to keep going.
The future of Native Land, now Native Land Digital, is unclear, but I have faith in myself and in the team we’ve assembled to continue the work as long as it makes sense to do so. We have much learning to come, much research to do, and many more people to reach. I want to thank all the members of the board and the many people who have emailed and helped over the years—your support, your criticisms, and your words mean the world to me. Good luck with your endeavors, and remember not to give up.
“Carte Linguistic du Canada,” MuturZukin, September 2019, http://wvvw.muturzikin.com/ cartesusa/canada.htm.
“Early Indian West,” University of Texas, September 2019, https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/maps/ united_states/early_indian_west.jpg.
“Indigenous Peoples at the UN,” United Nations, September 2019, https://www.un.org/ development/desa/indigenouspeoples/about-us.html.
“Language Map of British Columbia,” First Peoples’ Cultural Council, September 2019, https://maps.fpcc.ca/.
“UNDRIP Manual for NHRIs,” United Nations, September 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/ Documents/Issues/IPeopIes/UNDRIPManualForNHRIs.pdf.