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Decolonizing Wealth

Por Mariel Fiori
December 2018
Decolonizing wealth: indigenous wisdom to heal division and restore balance, is the name of the last book by Edgar Villanueva, a registered member of the Lumbee Nation of North Carolina, president of the board of directors of Native Americans in Philanthropy and vice president of Programs and Defense of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Villanueva speaks for a poorly represented group in the circles of money and power. A native in the field of philanthropy, he was born into poverty but through his work has given hundreds of millions of dollars to minority communities.
I read his book which was published in October very quickly, because I was so interested in his proposal. He happened to be around the area giving a presentation together with Sachem Hawkstorm, leader of the original Schaghticoke nation. He was promptly interviewed on La Voz En Breve on radio Kingston, where we delved into the many topics of the book.
So what does Villanueva say? He begins by explaining the concept of colonization, the idea that people come to a land with a sense of God-given "superiority" and forcefully assimilate the indigenous people of that land. Much of his book talks about colonization, its impact and the trauma from genocide, land theft and slavery which continues to affect our society today.

Villanueva says that trauma is not only suffered by the colonized community, but also by the colonizers. "We do not talk much about this, but the settlers broke ties with their homelands, with their cultures to subscribe to the narrative of the American Dream, to be part of the colonization of this land. I understand that colonization has to do with dividing and controlling people, and money has been a tool to separate and cause harm in our communities. " And it’s true, much of the accumulation of wealth in this country has often had to do with theft and the exploitation of others.
Money is neutral, argues Villanueva. What matters is the way money is used. Money can also be used as a tool for healing, love and belonging. "All our systems and institutions are infected with this colonizing virus. Decolonizing wealth means accepting that the institutions that control wealth are intrinsically damaged, and people with wealth - and philanthropy - have benefited from this broken system, "explains the author.

People are supportive, philanthropic, around the world, but the United States has a special case: philanthropy can be used as a way of not paying taxes. If a family has money in this country, money inherited from generation to generation, instead of paying taxes, you can decide to donate it to a foundation on behalf of the family, to distribute it in the way you see fit, without any legally required responsibility. The problem is that those who work in that foundation are the family members, or their friends, and almost all of them are white and it is a network in which minorities almost do not enter, neither as workers nor as beneficiaries.
Philanthropy is an industry with more than $80 billion in assets, and only 7-8 percent of this money is delivered to communities of color. In this sense, philanthropy in this country is like a second colonization, a second robbery. "This money is no longer used for the public good, although philanthropy does not create the public good in communities of color," says Villanueva.
What should we do then? We can not undo what has been done. The best we can do is to recognize the history, the pain it has caused, heal, repair and use the resources in a way that does not cause more harm, the author replies.

In the book Villanueva mentions the many things people can do. Look in the mirror and ask yourself: am I doing something that perpetuates this problem, the problem of separation, of division? Or am I using the resources at my disposal to unite people? This can make you feel uncomfortable, warns Villanueva, but "to heal what hurts, to reunite as a human race and restore balance on earth, we need to decolonize wealth."

I recommend this reading (for now the book is only available in English) as a gift, since we are in the holiday season. I also recommend you to continue being generous with your time and money, and always dedicate them to causes that make us more united as human beings.

Being well informed and inspired is a principle. I hope you remember La Voz in your end of year donations, lavoz.bard.edu/donar

See you in February when we are reunited!

Mariel Fiori
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La Voz, Cultura y noticias hispanas del Valle de Hudson

 

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