Why our developing organization decided to turn down a $150,000 cash prize
Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) recently had to make some unexpected and incredibly difficult decisions together. As a new organization with a growing team led by women of Dene, Cree, Metis, Blackfoot, Haida, Inuit, and Anishinaabe-Ojibwe descent, we have had to navigate the muddy waters of corporate funding within the early stages of our work.
On November 22, Aviva Canada reached out to notify us we were the winners of the Community Legacy Fund – an exclusive $150,000 cash prize. Not only did we win, we were informed that ICA had received a perfect score from every single judge on the panel. While this news should have been reason to celebrate, we had just learned that Aviva plc (the parent company to Aviva Canada), holds over half a billion USD in passive investments in at least 11 major corporations operating on Indigenous land in Alberta’s tar sands and pipeline corridors.
That meant the company offering us this significant sum of money was affiliated with some of the most threatening projects that chronically violate Indigenous rights. With both direct and indirect financial backing, these major oil and gas projects are proceeding without the consent of Indigenous communities.
We had to take some time to digest this news and decided to reconvene as a team the following day after this came to light. We opened the staff meeting for reflections from everyone, and unanimously, we agreed that we could not accept these funds. Yes, the $150,000 award would give our developing organization a strong financial foundation, and yet, our team agreed that accepting this award would go against our principles and contradict Indigenous Climate Action’s vision, mission and values.
Thanks to our friends at Rainforest Action Network and UK Tar Sands Network, we brought the facts to our volunteer Executive and National Steering Committee. We had consensus across the board: There was no way that we could accept this money in good conscience. Our Indigenous-led committee offered wisdom, guidance, and encouragement. They were clear that we had to reject this prize, and we had to do so in a good way. With this advice, we submitted a letter to Aviva Canada on November 28 declining the award (see official press release here).
Since then, Aviva Canada and Aviva plc have contacted us inviting further conversation. We acknowledge that as far as insurance companies go, they are not the worst, but there is still a long way to go. To ICA, climate justice absolutely must meaningfully recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is crucial to acknowledge the interconnectedness of our rights and ways of life in order to take real action on climate adaptation, mitigation, and Indigenous-led solutions.
Even though the last few weeks were trying, it was heartening and empowering to establish and uphold our moral principles as a new Indigenous-led organization. We made this decision with consensus from our national network – we were open, honest, respectful and transparent. ICA is committed to maintaining this standard in our work moving forward. We unequivocally stand with all land defenders, water protectors, and Indigenous Peoples exercising their rights.
Mussi, Miigwetch, Haw’aa, Hay Hay, Nitsíniiyi'taki, Qujannamiik,
The ICA Team
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