Category Archives: General

A rising tide lifts all boats

Why marine protection and protecting Canada’s hope spots are philanthropy’s next wave

By Sarah Margolius and Darcy Dobell

A year ago, in the waters off the west coast of Canada, a female killer whale known as J-35 carried her dead newborn and undertook an unprecedented “tour of grief” that captured global attention.  The heartbreaking vigil ended 17 days later, when the orca finally released its dead baby. It was a terrible loss to a population of killer whales so critically endangered that only 73 remain.

The media coverage testified to the public’s increasing concern about the health of marine and coastal habitats. Key to sustaining life on earth, these ecosystems are the subject of marches, shoreline cleanups and citizen-science initiatives. Many of the barriers that have hampered marine conservation efforts in the past – knowledge deficits, lack of legislation and policies, under-resourcing of programs – are falling away.

Hunters in Sanikluaq at a local Polynya. Photo: Joel Heath/Arctic Eider Society

A continued revolution in thinking, funding and action is needed to rebuild, protect, and sustain marine ecosystems to avert their collapse. The Government of Canada, in partnership with the Qikigtani Inuit Association and the Government of Nunavut, recently designated Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area in Nunavut, bringing our total protected oceans and coastal areas to almost 14%. Since scientists say at least 30% of the world’s oceans must be protected by 2030, Canada is almost halfway there.

Photo: Whale Point

Despite momentum, the world’s oceans have received less than 1% of all philanthropic funding since 2009 making their protection and management the least funded Sustainable Development Goal. In Canada, of the total philanthropic funding directed to environmental issues, just 13% are focused on coastal and marine ecosystems[1].  

A new philanthropic initiative aims to support and expand the community of ocean funders. “The Oceans Collaborative grew out of an awareness that powerful solutions for our climate and our planet must involve strategies to protect, restore and steward marine ecosystems,” says Pegi Dover, Executive Director of Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network (CEGN). “This exciting new initiative makes it easier for our members to achieve greater scale and impact with their investment. We welcome the interest and participation of additional funders.”

Hope spots are areas of the oceans which offer extraordinary returns on conservation investment and deliver multiple environmental and social benefits. Canada’s Arctic fits the bill, with 55% of its waters considered ecologically and biologically significant, and much of it managed collaboratively between the Crown and Inuit peoples.

CEGN’s Oceans Collaborative has taken note. Among its first grantees is an organization called the Arctic Eider Society that won a Google Impact award for its project SIKU: the Indigenous Knowledge social network.

Puasi Ippak using the mobile app on the land. Photo: Joel Heath/Arctic Eider Society

“SIKU was inspired by groups like Inuit hunting stories of the day, and our community-driven programs connecting work by Inuit hunters and researchers across different regions of Hudson’s Bay,” says Joel Heath, Executive Director, the Arctic Eider Society. “It provides a way to share Inuit knowledge and observations in near-real time, through simple social media tools like tagging wildlife and their habitats and including Inuktitut sea ice terminology. The results of community research or guardians programs and hunters’ observations of dangerous ice or other conditions can be found alongside weather, ice imagery and tools to help with safety, knowledge transfer and environmental stewardship.”

SIKU combines traditional knowledge with cutting-edge technology. The tool engages Inuit youth and hunters to document changes on the land for the benefit of local and scientific communities while contributing to regional stewardship programs and monitoring of protected areas.

Jimmy Iqaluq and Johnny Kudluarok looking at hunting stories and sea ice on the online platform. Photo: Joel Heath/Arctic Eider Society

“The SIKU platform is built by and for Inuit,” Joel continues.  “A primary goal is to provide new ways to facilitate Inuit self-determination in research, stewardship, and education. It also gets youth interested in being out on the land and seeing what is happening in their region. There has been a great response so far. We’re publicly launching the platform later this fall and are really excited about its potential to help connect communities and programs across the north for environmental stewardship.”

Screenshot of showing news feed, map and satelitte imagery services.

Canadians support scaling up conservation targets and increasing protected areas. Government is taking action, but further work is urgently needed to conserve, restore, and rebuild abundant marine fisheries, wildlife, and ecosystems.

By investing in marine protection today, funders accrue benefits across a range of environmental, social and economic issues. Best of all, they will help to safeguard our vast and vulnerable oceans and coasts igniting hope to all who depend on them.

Ultimately, that’s all of us.

If you are a CEGN member and interested in joining the Ocean Collaborative, please email Pegi Dover at  

 The CEGN environmental grants database tool and reports have become important resources for our network. Together they promote data-driven strategic decision-making to ensure successful outcomes for the environment and high-impact investments. With the support of our members and other funders, CEGN is a leader in the collection, analysis, and application of data for Canadian environmental philanthropy. While the main database is public and accessible on CEGN’s website, CEGN members have the opportunity to gain more granular information through accessing the database via the Members’ section of the website.

[1]   CEGN’s Environmental Grants Database Tool, 2016. Coastal and marine ecosystems are defined as the open ocean and coastal wetland systems which include fisheries, aquaculture, coastal lands, deltas, estuaries, marine protected areas and marine pollution (e.g. marine dumping). As a point of contrast, Biodiversity and Species Preservation was the most funded issue at 19%,  which includes terrestrial projects).


The Tide Needs Turning: Investing in Ocean Protection Will Pay Immense Dividends

By Sarah Margolius and Darcy Dobell

Canada is a marine nation, with more coastline than any other country in the world. Our ocean estate includes deep fjords, offshore seamounts, dynamic ice floes, and expansive underwater plateaus. It also has immense potential to protect and rebuild rich and abundant marine resources.

As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada has committed to protecting at least ten percent of its marine ecosystems by 2020. The growing scientific consensus is that at least 30 percent of the oceans must be protected by 2030 to maintain the web of life on Earth. Canada’s leadership is urgent.

Sea lions. Photo credit: Neil Shearar

“Not since the 1980s has there been such a good opportunity to build on strong political will and policy direction in the areas of biological diversity and marine protection,” says Linda Nowlan of West Coast Environmental Law. “But we need to shift the way we think about the oceans in order to effectively protect them. It is not just about the quantity of marine ecosystems that we protect, but also the quality of the protections. And Canada’s commitment to improve marine protection can be a stepping stone for other types of marine action, like ensuring Indigenous peoples play a role in deciding what goes on in the ocean.”

Great strides have been made on designating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). These legal tools safeguard and rebuild important ocean ecosystems. The marine equivalent to terrestrial areas like Banff National Park, MPAs work when they are established in the right places, consider Indigenous and local knowledge and science, prohibit harmful industrial activities, and their rules are monitored and enforced. Policy and legislation like the new minimum protection standards and updates to the Oceans Act strengthen MPAs.

Killer whale. Photo credit: Whale Point

“Much of Canada’s coastline is sparsely populated and is the traditional territory of Indigenous peoples. They have their own systems of law,” Linda says. “By appropriately recognizing Indigenous legal traditions that reflect their worldview of the indivisibility of nature and humans, we can maintain the health of the oceans and the people who rely on them. Revitalization of Indigenous law is an exciting development in British Columbia, and has been a major influence in marine protected area management and marine planning.”

That’s why Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) may well be one of the most promising avenues to meet ambitious conservation goals. IPA models will vary depending on the visions of the First Nations leading their creation, but they generally include ecological principles that value ocean health, community wellness, employment and prosperity.

“First Nations are an indicator species on the health of the ecosystem,” says Dallas Smith, President and Chairman of Nanwakolas Council in an interview at CEGNs recent conference. “You can have all the protection and management you want around a specific ocean area, but if we aren’t healthy, then the ecosystem isn’t healthy.”

Meaghan Calcari Campbell of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation says, “All across Canada, Indigenous People as First Nations are weighing the needs of the current generation and future generations. This kind of consideration around inter-generational equity presents an opportunity that is aligned with ocean conservation.”

The Foundation was an early funder of the pioneering Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP) which has become a model of collaborative and integrated planning. First Nations and the provincial government worked together to plan for ecosystem health, community uses, and marine economic development in the Great Bear region of northwestern B.C.

For Dallas, this is an example of true sustainable development. “In the Great Bear, we are at a point where things are starting to harmonize. Wealth and opportunity are making our communities stronger. The power of employment and meaningful engagement make our communities that much more resilient.”

West Coast Environmental Law staff on the water near Hornby Island, B.C. Photo credit: Stephanie Hewson

The Oceans Collaborative was established to help funders protect and restore healthy and abundant oceans. Its members recognize that, when First Nations play meaningful roles in ecosystem conservation and management, all Canadians benefit from growth in natural capital and economic, social and cultural returns. With this in mind, the Collaborative supports Indigenous Protected Areas and new models of collaborative governance and management. Funders also aim to amplify Indigenous voices and invest in the development of new tools for Indigenous governance and stewardship capacity.

Says Dallas, “Canadians aren’t in the way of First Nations economic progress anymore. Profits are important. But if we don’t have balance, those profits will be short lived. The Great Bear is a great example of what happens when the usual fear mongering disappears. Balance and change are part of our reality now. We need everyone to be accountable to each other. We really want everyone to be in the canoe with us.”

The state of our oceans can be discouraging. Images of whales starving to death on our coasts, or community volunteers racing to save juvenile salmon from drying riverbeds are further evidence of declining biodiversity and ecosystem health around the world. In Canada, we still have an opportunity to turn this tide. Join us and build momentum toward collaborative, effective, forward-looking stewardship of our precious oceans and all the life they support.

If you are a CEGN member interested in joining the Oceans Collaborative, please email Pegi Dover at

Oceans Collaborative’s Program Manager Darcy Dobell and Chair Meaghan Calcari Campbell flank Dallas Smith, President of Nanwakolas Council after a session at the recent CEGN conference. Photo credit: Sarah Margolius

Vast, Deep and Troubled: Why the Time for Investment in Oceans is Now

By Sarah Margolius and Darcy Dobell

Canada is dominated by iconic terrestrial landscapes (think Banff’s towering Rockies, the coastal ancient rainforests of Clayquot Sound, or the fall colours of Ontario) and we are also a maritime nation. Three vast oceans surround us. Their shining, scenic surfaces hide a stark reality: they are in deep trouble. Collapsing fisheries and starving whales tell only part of the story. Around the world, steep declines in ocean productivity and biodiversity are terrifying, especially in the context of ocean acidification and rising temperatures.

WCEL staff with community members touring the waters around Hornby Island, BC. (Photo: Stephanie Hewson)

Enter CEGN’s newly established Oceans Collaborative, an opportunity to make a seismic leap forward on a file that is fundamental to our planet’s survival. Chair Meaghan Calcari Campbell says simply, “Our work in environmental conservation can be pretty depressing.  But oceans bring joy and hope. They are also a great place to invest to make a meaningful difference.”

Recently launched with seed funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the goal of the Collaborative’s work and shared grantmaking is to protect and restore abundant marine ecosystems, and to support those who care for them. As the Program Officer for the Moore Foundation’s Marine Conservation Initiative, Meaghan shares her perspective on what helped drive the pioneering philanthropists to fund oceans work almost two decades ago.

Photo Credit: Whale Point

“As avid fisherfolk, Gordon and Betty Moore have talked about the inspiration for conservation that they drew from vast intact ecosystems and beautiful coastal spots – places like the thriving watersheds of British Columbia that teem with salmon and people who need them. This fueled the foundation’s work to fund areas that reflect the future we want and that is still possible – Hope Spots, if you will. These areas can also deliver the biggest bang for their buck. I hope other funders come to see the oceans as Hope Spots, connected to things that they care about. When it comes to climate change, food security, wildlife protection, Indigenous rights and stewardship and return on investment for the next generation, the oceans cover them all.”

There is also a window of opportunity.  The current government is living up to Canada’s international commitments to protect at least 10% of our oceans and coastal areas by 2020.  The global community is looking beyond next year, with scientists uniting around a call for protection of 30% of the planet’s surface by 2030. The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, recently announced new standards for ocean protection that prohibit certain damaging industrial activities from taking place in Marine Protected Areas (MPA). He also designated the largest MPA to date, bringing Canada’s protected ocean spaces to just over 8%.

Steller sea lions near Hornby Island, BC. (Photo: Maryann Watson)

Beyond these successes, the oceans offer a meaningful opportunity for reconciliation by supporting the work of Indigenous communities who are leading the work on oceans and coastal spaces.

“We need to maintain a healthy ocean for the health of all people, including Indigenous communities who rely on food from the sea,” says Linda Nowlan, Staff Lawyer who heads the Marine Program at West Coast Environmental Law. Ms. Nowlan has been advocating to ensure the Government of Canada lives up to its commitments, and that pending legislation gets passed before the writ drops before the next federal election. “If Canada and other governments recognize Indigenous authority, respect their rights and law-making processes, then we are on the right path. But there is more work to be done.”

Plastic pollution is a growing threat to our oceans. Photo credit: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash

“Currently, a small fraction of Canadian environmental grantmaking is directed at oceans,” notes Darcy Dobell, Program Advisor to the Oceans Collaborative.  “Many grantmakers don’t think of themselves as ocean funders, even when their priority programs – climate, food security, biodiversity, reconciliation, community development – absolutely depend on healthy oceans. We have created an artificial divide between land and sea, and this limits our thinking at a time when we need to go all in to rebuild the abundance of natural systems.”

CEGN members are invited to share and coordinate efforts as part of the Oceans Collaborative. Join participants like Coast Opportunity Funds, The Donner Canadian Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Oak Foundation, Sitka Foundation, Tides Canada, and Vancity Community Foundation. Working together, we can help ensure that the federal Government continues to deliver on Canada’s marine conservation commitments, that Indigenous and community voices are amplified, and that the stage is set for further action to protect and restore marine biodiversity and productivity.

West Coast Environmental Law staff and Indigenous partners gather to discuss Indigenous environmental laws at the Kvai River Lodge in the Great Bear Rainforest, in the heart of Heiltsuk Nation territory. Part of the RELAW (Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water) project. (Photo: Georgia Lloyd-Smith)


Healing Through the Land: How a heart-centered approach is transforming power and redefining relationships

By Sarah Margolius

In 2017, the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network invited Inuit environmental, cultural and human rights advocate and author Sheila Watt-Cloutier to address its annual conference on the subject of climate change and human rights in the Arctic. The timing was perfect for the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, a CEGN member which just a year earlier had committed to redefining relationships with Indigenous people. A chance discussion between Executive Director Valerie Lemieux and the Nobel Prize-nominee sparked the creation of a ground-breaking collective process aimed at supporting Indigenous leaders and communities who are engaged in healing, transformation, and climate action in their communities.

Healing Through the Land is this ground-breaking initiative “The feedback that we’ve had to date has been incredible,” says Lemieux. “The intention is to seed a stand-alone, Indigenous-led fund. We no longer consider this a pilot, as this initiative has been under development for the past year and a half. Rather, this is a long-term development initiative operating in a Pan-Canadian context. Grantmakers have the opportunity to be a part of this process which is actually quite beautiful and different.” .With the CDF’s commitment of $1 million, the target of the fund securing $5-million over five years seems doable to Lemieux and Watt-Cloutier.

Melaw Nakehk’o of the Dene Nahjo explains the cultural importance of moose hide tanning, and how honoured she is to be using her Grandmother’s moose hide tanning tools.

Disrupting power to get to a place of learning, understanding and appreciation is, in Watt-Cloutier’s view, a crucial first step in building effective climate solutions.  

“We know that environmental projects are not always long-lasting in our communities,” says Watt-Cloutier. “If grantmakers are to trust that Indigenous people can lead and prioritize what works, then re-education is important. Trust is essential if we are to become stronger, more effective change agents and climate defenders in our communities.”

What do funders make of this new prototype? For many, they are re-learning some of the basics, such as what constitutes ‘environment’ in their programs.

“In northern terms, ‘environment’ is very broad,” says Watt-Cloutier. “We say ‘sila’, which implies outdoors, wisdom, consciousness. Since our way of life is the very thing that is being challenged by climate change, we need to first protect our land and culture. Healing is only going to happen from the traditional way we raise our children to become resilient. But our solutions will disappear if we lose the very ice we depend on for our power.”

Statue in Yellowknife representing the Cultural crossroads. It was created by three Indigenous artists. It is made up of an Indigenous drum and three animals dancing together. The fish, the Métis spirit animal, symbolizes the water; the bear, the Inuvialuit spirit animal, symbolizes the land; and the eagle, the spirit animal of the Dene, symbolizes the air. The drum represents the universal language of music.

The Catherine Donnelly Foundation was interested in exploring how it and other foundations could address Indigenous peoples’ holistic community needs within a climate change/climate justice framework. As a result, for the past couple of years, the Foundation has been actively seeking out partnerships with actors, allies and funders currently engaged with and within Indigenous communities and has hosted three gatherings. Guided by the collective wisdom of participants at the gatherings, a shared understanding that addressing capacity needed to be rooted in healing emerged. It was also understood that the initiative could not just be rooted in environmental concerns, but would need to be flexible and appreciate Indigenous worldviews of interconnectedness.

This led to the emergence and naming of the Healing Through the Land initiative.  While still in the process of being fully defined there is a broad understanding of what it might encompass in a holistic and innovative way including: integrating and enhancing elements of community leadership, cultural revitalization, addressing issues of Indigenous homelessness, increasing energy efficiency in housing, creating renewable energy sources, localizing food (sovereignty), supporting economic development/sustainability and water protection across Indigenous communities. The skill sets developed in these on-the-land initiatives would move participants beyond “surviving” to “thriving” through building Indigenous knowledge and leadership.

“As a foundation, our roots in social justice taught us that you must be prepared to ‘push power’ and address power dynamics,” says Lemieux. “My own journey has taught me the importance of engaging and mobilizing voices who are not yet heard. In this initiative, we hear from Indigenous participants, mostly female, whose heart-centered approach really resonates.”

The inter-generational female energy in the program emanates from young women, mothers, and grandmothers, providing almost a sacred space to develop the program.

“The meetings were very powerful for me, because of the group of younger and older Indigenous leaders and the fact that the settings for these meetings were not typical,” says Watt-Cloutier. “You could almost feel the presence of The Sisters of Service (the founders of The Catherine Donnelly Foundation) in the room. You could be very creative and innovative. Someone said, “We are re-engineering everything here!” That made sense for me. It felt right.”

Re-engineering structures is essential to confront the monumental challenges facing Indigenous communities.

“Poverty, hunger, housing, suicide…We are just starting to understand what has happened with historical traumas,” says Watt-Cloutier. “Now, climate change threatens our land, culture, and remarkable way of life. A new wave of assault is upon us. No one knows how to ‘do’ reconciliation. But that is what we need to do and is my hope for this initiative.”

Just as Watt-Cloutier’s powerful message resonated with members, so has Healing through the Land. “It’s exciting to see this initiative evolve,” says Pegi Dover, of CEGN. “Funders have the opportunity to live their commitments to reconciliation through this process. We are happy to help make those connections.”

And live their commitments they have: the Inspirit Foundation, McConnell Foundation, Tides Canada, PetSmart Charities of Canada, Max Bell Foundation and The Gordon Foundation have all participated at the convening meetings, with The Gordon Foundation pledging the first contribution.

“The program will allow for the actual healing of children and parents who have gone through trauma and to break the repetitive patterns that exist,” says Watt-Cloutier. “It’s about healing trauma, the heart and spirit. Indigenous people are the governing energy in the development of the programming. That makes a difference. Other funders should take the leap and come on board.”

Healing Through the Land participants, Yellowknife, NWT, September 2018

Building land-based programming takes time and requires deep relationship building, which can be a challenge for some funders.

“If you are truly engaging in a participatory process, then you have to relinquish your power and slow down,” says Lemieux.  “In our meetings, there is a great exchange of wisdom and knowledge. Someone said, ‘Colonialism didn’t happen overnight. It took 400 years or more.’ To think you are going to have everything figured out right away is hubris.”

The gatherings hosted by the Catherine Donnelly Foundation have been grounded in an Indigenous rights-based perspective; an openness to learn from challenges; and a willingness to slow down and let things emerge from the “circle” of participants. The process has been guided by the seven grandfather teachings (Truth, Humility, Honesty, Respect, Courage, Wisdom and Love) and incorporates the “4Rs” (utilized by the Indigenous Funders for Indigenous Peoples) of Respect, Reciprocity, Responsibility and Relationships. By walking the path, Watt-Cloutier says, you will become a better leader (and a better funder).

“The circle brings people together, rather than a divided board room,” says Watt-Cloutier. “That in itself has created a sense of connection to one another. We are all in this together.” 

When viewed through a lens where everything and everyone is connected, the broader philanthropic community becomes even more indispensable to positive outcomes.

“As funders, we provide grants, and our grantees receive our funds,” Lemieux says. “What if we were open to receiving, and grantees open to giving? Then we are really on the path to building deep relationships and de-colonizing grant making. That’s what we are doing here. For those that wish to join us on this journey, I say: welcome. There’s always room for one more. Set another place at the table.”  

Or find a seat in the circle.


The next convening meeting is coming up soon. If you wish to learn more about joining the initiative, contact Valerie Lemieux at 416-461-2996 x 200 or by email

 About the author: Sarah Margolius is a consultant with The Manning Group and President of Sustainable Media Production Canada, a not-for-profit focused on environmental stewardship in the film, television, and digital media industry. 

 Purchase Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s book, available on Amazon: The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet.


It’s past time to improve our charity laws.

by  Burkhard Mausberg

I have managed charities for 25 years.  Not quite as along as the Leafs haven’t won the Cup, but long enough to make a few observations.

Like the Leafs, there is a huge support for charities: Canadians donated almost $13 billion to charities and non-profits in 2013.  We love what they do: charities provide services to the needy, help youth, advance health care, and improve the environment.  

Since the Leafs last won the Cup, charities have worked to end acid rain, reduce drinking and driving, and end smoking in the workplace, to name just a few.  All these were the result of non-profits bringing public attention to issues that required changes in policy.

Yet charities are also consistently underfunded, their staff is paid way less than equivalent positions in the private sector or government, and charities require the volunteer labour of thousands.  Having to operate under these circumstances, it’s simply amazing what they get done.

So it’s also difficult to believe that with all those accomplishments, the sector is still governed by laws little changed since the 19th century.  This is like regulating the aviation industry with horse-and-buggy rules.

This old legal framework exists despite the tremendous economic impact the non-profit and charitable sector has on the country: it employs over 2 million people and accounts for 8% of the GDP.   We would never accept such an outdated regulatory framework for any industrial sector of that size.

What’s more, when charities want to fulfil their missions they are often stifled.  Consider:

  • The Harper government launched public attacks when it pursued audits with the aim to take away tax-deductible donations. The 50 charities suffering from these politically-motivated threats simply disagreed on some policy issues with Harper.
  • Charities operate under onerous rules that stifle their efforts to be creative in generating revenue other than fundraising. “Business activities” have to be related to the charity’s purposes, and what counts as, and how to determine what is, a “related business” is difficult to discern, and there is little substantive guidance the Canada Revenue Agency (the regulator of charities). If charities get this wrong, then face deregistration
  • Charities that spend more than 15% on fundraising are often poohpad. But this is not the age of bake-sales anymore.  Fundraising is difficult, expensive and takes a effort.  Businesses often use 50% of their funds for business development.  Why should charities function under different expectations?
  • Accumulating capital (past surpluses) is viewed with suspicion by the CRA as indicative of a profit motive, even if the accumulated capital is intended to be put to good use in the future.

Then consider the unworkable rules charities have to follow if they want to help with changing public policy.  To meet their policy goals, charities have to use political tools.  At no time should they ever be partisan and support a political party or their agenda.  Yet, charities are facing outdated rules because of red-herring definitions of “political activities.” 

Or fake news in today’s lingo. 

The definition of political activities is completely nonsensical. Lobbying politicians or their staff isn’t “political” under the charitable rules.  Speaking at political events is not considered “political.”  Providing in-depth commentary on law reform is not considered “political.”  Beats me what is.

The Trudeau Government promised to step in and clean up this mess.  They suspended all the unfair audits on the 50 charities.  Then they appointed a credible panel of experts to recommend changes on “political activities.”  And finally, they promised to reform the whole sector, both during the election and again in the recent federal budget. But little has happened.

What charities need now is action.  It’s only 19 months until the next federal election.  Trudeau promised to remake the legal framework.  I ask the Prime Minister: what are you waiting for?

So what will happen first?  The Leafs winning the Stanley Cup, or charities finally getting the legal tools they need to accomplish even more benefits for all Canadians?  I wish for both.

Burkhard Mausberg is a big Maple Leafs fan and served as the CEO for the Greenbelt Foundation, Environmental Defence, and Great Lakes United.

Transformative Strategies for Disruptive Times

Transformative Strategies for Disruptive Times
CEGN’s 2018 Conference
May 15th – 17th at The Banff Centre

(Download this page as a PDF)

Read our Call for Proposals

In his most recent book, Thomas Friedman argues that “we are living through one of the greatest inflection points in history ……The three largest forces on the planet — technology; globalization; and climate change — are all accelerating at once. As a result, so many aspects of our societies, workplaces and geopolitics are being reshaped and need to be reimagined.”

The dislocations that are occurring are enormous: climate impacts through droughts, flooding, fires and rapidly melting permafrost; the growing international refugee crisis; the threats to democracy from ‘hacked’ social media; and the exponential growth in technologies leading to increased automation of work and travel are just a start.  Most of these dislocations are being felt locally, as well as globally, and the thin hope that we can remain immune from them here in Canada is rapidly disappearing.  Our inability to keep abreast of the constant news cycle across multiple media about these and other major issues (a disruption in and of itself), leaves many of us feeling overwhelmed —- leading some to disengage or perhaps be lured by the distraction of celebrity culture or other lighter fare.

With our equilibrium challenged, we are wondering if the tools and approaches that we bring to our work as funders are still the relevant ones? And if the solutions to complex problems are bubbling up rather than being enforced from above, are we including the full range of perspectives and voices that are needed to foster change? Are we keeping our eyes and hearts open for the disruptive opportunities that are being sparked and are we heeding the call to life-long learning, necessary to navigate the uncertain future that lies ahead? What are the practices in funding, investing, convening and relationship building that offer the most promise for staying at least one step ahead of the disruption that is chomping at our heels?

These are just some of the thorny questions that we will explore at CEGN’s 2018 conference at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in May.  Our theme “Transformative Strategies for Disruptive Times” sets a high standard for our convening, and the Conference Planning Committee is doing its best to structure an ambitious program while retaining ample opportunities for meaningful connection with peers, and pauses for reflection. The Banff Centre is situated within Treaty 7 Territory, home to the Wesley, Bearspaw and Chiniki Nations of the Stoney Nakoda, the Kainai, Piikani, and Siksika Nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Tsuut’ina Nation. A Call for Proposals will also provide funders with a direct opportunity to participate in session development and a pre-conference session on “Truth, Reconciliation and Right Relations” will offer funders a means to better understand the truth of Canada’s shared history with Indigenous peoples and the capacities to begin to chart a ‘right relation’.

Please join us at the Banff Centre in May as we focus on (and develop) the transformative strategies that will be needed to realize our collective dream of a sustainable future that meets the needs of people, planet and place.

CEGN’s 2018 Conference Planning Committee

Jason Bates, Calgary Foundation, Co-chair
Karen Wilkie, Carthy Foundation, Co-chair
Rob Buffler, Banff and Canmore Community Foundation
Cheryl de Paoli, Alberta Real Estate Foundation
Pegi Dover, CEGN
Sandy Hoang, CEGN
Betul Keles, Laidlaw Foundation
Pat Letizia, Alberta Ecotrust Foundation
James Littley, Okanagan Basin Water Board
Burkhard Mausberg, Chair of CEGN
Rod Ruff, Alberta Ecotrust Foundation
Wendy Vanasselt, Wilburforce Foundation

The river runs through it

By Pegi Dover, CEGN Executive Director,

Photos © Pat Kane/

Swift flowing and turbid, the majestic Mackenzie River runs north some 1,700 kilometres from its headwaters in Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean.   Named for Alexander Mackenzie who paddled the river in 1789 with six voyageurs and two Indigenous guides in an abortive search for the long sought Northwest Passage, the iconic river is known locally as Deh-Cho or big river.  And it is through the heart of the territory of the Dehcho First Nations that this largest and longest river system in Canada runs as it makes its journey northwards.

Heading up the Mackenzie River

Heading down the Mackenzie River

As funders across Canada explore the role for philanthropy in advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people, a trip with the Arctic Funders Collaborative in July provided a window on the challenges faced by the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) and the opportunities for funders to engage.  Organized by Itoah Scott-Enns, Director of the  Collaborative,  our journey  took us by canoe and then by motor boat  down this powerful waterway from Fort Providence to  Fort Simpson where we flew back to Yellowknife.

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian

Accompanied by Grand Chief Herb Norwegian and community elders, we learned about the current challenges facing the DFN which encompasses a territory of 210,000 square kilometers, and also received many glimpses into the past. At a shore stop, Sam Gargan, one of the elders travelling with us, guided our group through overgrown brush to the remains of the log cabin where he had been born – as one of 17 children. That afternoon as we travelled north in Sam’s boat, he pointed to a strip of lowland along the river where in summers past 1,000 white tents would grace the shoreline  —  a  gathering place for the Dene to reconnect with one another and celebrate the long hours of sunlight.

Community members see cultural revitalization as a first step in the land use planning process

Community members see cultural revitalization as a first step in the land use planning process

Dahti Tsetso, who heads up the Dehcho K’ehodi Program (a name that means “Taking care of the Dehcho” in Dene Zhatie), explained how DFN is working in collaboration with their 10 member communities to develop a regional stewardship program. The need to develop a stewardship program was sparked by the devolution of land management from the federal to the territorial government in 2014. Devolution means that the territory is now the main negotiating partner for DFN. The territory’s pro-development stance challenges the DFN’s keen desire for substantial protection of its lands. However, it was the territorial government’s pause on all Protected Area Strategy (PAS) work across the north that provided the key impetus for DFN and its member communities to begin working towards their own regional stewardship program.   

Elders talked about the legacy of residential schools and their concerns about resource development.

We also learned from the elders on our trip about the ongoing impact of residential schools. Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge, of the Deh Gah Gotie Dene Band in Fort Providence, showed us the stark monument to those who had died while at the community’s residential school. The school is now gone but the field adjacent to the monument is an unmarked cemetery, cradling the remains of the many children who died while at the school.

It was a rich time of learning for me and I would like to share my key takeaways:

  • Culture is key Community elders have placed a priority on cultural revitalization as a first step in the land use planning process. Reviving traditional language skills and reconnecting youth and families with the land is a priority for the First Nations which comprise DFN. In Fort Providence, Lois Philipp, the inspirational principal of Deh Gah Elementary and Secondary School, starts the school year in early August, so that she can get kids and families out on the land with elders to learn skills that may have been lost. She has also developed a K-3 immersion program so that children can learn their traditional language. The use of traditional place names on maps of the enormous Dene territory is another important aspect of bringing the past into the future and seen as a key ingredient for natural heritage protection. As such, the Dehcho communities have identified Dene Place Name mapping projects as being a priority for the Dehcho K’ehodi program. The concept of conservation through culture is a model for protecting the environment that was well expressed by our hosts and the possibility for its success was demonstrated throughout the river trip.
  • Commitment to land stewardship is strong A strong commitment to stewardship of the land came through in all of our discussions. There was wariness about resource development such as diamond mining and other extractive activities, both because of its short-term economic impact and the long-term implications for people and place. But there were also cautions about protected area concepts that might threaten to exclude Dene from their traditional lands. Concern about the decline of caribou in the region was echoed in many of our community conversations. The elders and leadership of the Dehcho region also identified a founding principle of their stewardship program as, “To be on the land, in the Dene way, will protect the land.” It was explained that the basis for this principle is the simple recognition that Dene people of the region have lived on this land, according to their own oral histories, since time immemorial. They have done so in the Dene way and the land has always been well taken care of. The Dehcho Dene have decided to center their stewardship initiative on the Dene perspective of taking care of the land.

  • Sustainable economic communities are possible The DFN is taking a page from communities in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest and is developing stewardship positions, similar to the Guardian watchmen, which are helping to ensure the health of BC coastal waters. Individuals are being trained and deployed to assist in the stewardship of DFN lands. Participants in the Dehcho-AAROM(Aboriginal Aquatic Resources & Ocean Management) Program joined us on the trip and spoke to the work they do in monitoring the health of the region’s water and fish. Dehcho-AAROM is headed by George Low out of the DFN office and consists of a network of community-based water monitors in every Dehcho community. The Dehcho-AAROM program works with communities to meet community-identified water monitoring objectives. DFN is working in close partnership with Dehcho-AAROM to grow stewardship initiatives out of this regional water monitoring program. One good example of the work being done by Dehcho-AAROM is that data collected by this program is being channeled to the Mackenzie Data Stream, a collaborative data initiative, funded by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, designed to get a better understanding of the health of the Mackenzie River and its tributaries.  These initiatives are still small scale and need nurturing and expansion, but they are a solid anchor to build upon – a way to provide skills, jobs and stewardship of the lands within the DFN territory.  They offer funders across a spectrum of issues – environmental, social, health and economic – the opportunity to make a real difference for the people and the land and to lay the foundation for sustainable economic communities. Tides Canada’s On the Land Fund, headed by Steve Ellis, provides a number of opportunities in this regard and would be a good place to start for those who are interested in learning more, as would a conversation with Itoah who heads the Arctic Funders’ Collaborative and with Dahti at Decho First Nations.

After being on the Mackenzie River for four days, I returned to Yellowknife and turned on the hotel TV to catch up with the world. The news was bad — the terror attack in Nice and the coup attempt in Turkey — and I switched the television off quickly. I wasn’t quite ready to re-engage, but it was a sobering reminder that in Canada there are real opportunities to get things right.

The Mackenzie River watershed is described as the largest and most intact ecosystem remaining in North America. Working with the Dehcho First Nations, as well as other First Nations in the region, to help ensure sustainable futures offers multiple benefits for people in the region, as well as for the land upon which they depend.  As the philanthropic community begins to move from intention to action on reconciliation, the lands and people of the Dehcho/Mackenzie watershed afford one beautiful place to start.