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Indigenous Peoples’ rights and sovereignty: A Q& A with Carla F. Fredericks, CEO, Christensen Fund

March 23, 2022

Headshot_carla_fredericks_christensen_fundFounded in 1957, the San Francisco-based Christensen Fund works to support Indigenous peoples in advancing their inherent rights, dignity, and self-determination. In 2020 the foundation implemented a new grantmaking strategy that centers its work on “supporting and strengthening Indigenous peoples’ efforts to secure and exercise their rights to their land, territories, resources, and sovereign systems of governance.” The shift from a regional approach to a rights-based one in support of the global Indigenous Peoples’ Movement is rooted in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Carla F. Fredericks joined the foundation as CEO in January 2021. An enrolled citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, Fredericks is an expert in sustainable economic development, finance, human rights, Indigenous peoples law, and federal Indian law. She has provided core support to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, serving as counsel to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in bringing their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline to international financial institutions, assisting the Maya peoples of Southern Belize in implementing the affirmation of their land rights, and developing a model for Indigenous-driven consent processes and remedy. As a faculty member of the University of Colorado Law School, in 2017 she relaunched First Peoples Worldwide—an interdisciplinary program that engages investors, companies, financial institutions, and policy makers with Indigenous peoples to promote implementation of Indigenous rights. Fredericks also serves as board chair of the Mashantucket Pequot (Western) Endowment Trust, and is a member of the Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group to the Decolonizing Wealth Project.

PND asked Fredericks about the foundation’s right-based grantmaking strategy, the intersection of Indigenous people’s rights and climate action, and her work to integrate human rights into financial frameworks.

Philanthropy News Digest: You joined the Christensen Fund just as it shifted from a regional grantmaking strategy to a rights-based one. What does a rights-based approach look like, in concrete terms?

Carla F. Fredericks: Taking a rights-based approach means that we support and defend Indigenous Peoples inherent human rights, in and of themselves. Indigenous Peoples are too often seen as a means to an end to carry out solutions ordained by non-native people in power—especially in environmental and climate spaces. But Indigenous Peoples’ rights and sovereignty need to be restored and defended because these communities are inherently worthy of the same rights and protections that all people deserve.

Our approach centers Indigenous Peoples as rights holders first and foremost. It is rooted in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which is the global standard that both asserts and recognizes Indigenous worldviews and values and establishes a universal framework for recognition of their rights. UNDRIP is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Part of the goal of growing the recognition and use of UNDRIP by both Indigenous Peoples and states is to move Indigenous Peoples’ rights toward the status of customary, international, and/or domestic law. Our ultimate goal as a foundation is always to improve Indigenous Peoples’ lived realities in every way. This includes ensuring that Indigenous communities know their rights and protections under UNDRIP, and supporting them in defending these rights and protections. Rooting our strategy in UNDRIP is our contribution to the essential global work of ensuring that nation-states recognize and adhere to Indigenous Peoples’ rights, dignity, and sovereignty in order to improve their daily lives beyond just considering the well-being of the land and seascapes they steward.

In concrete terms, this looks like practicing trust-based grantmaking that advances self-determination and is not prescriptive. We’ve moved all of our grantmaking to general operating, multiyear support and have thrown significant financial support behind Indigenous-led funding mechanisms that fund Indigenous communities....

Read the full Q&A with Carla F. Fredericks, CEO of the Christensen Fund.

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