About Us

The Pawanka Fund was launched in September 2014 jointly with a Guiding Committee composed of leaders from the global Indigenous movement as an Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Learning InitiaTive (IWKL).

It is a four-year (2015-2018) grantmaking collaborative funded by Tamalpais TrustNoVo FoundationSwift Foundation, and The Christensen Fund. It is administered by RSF Social Finance and CADPI. Dr. Myrna Kain Cunningham serves as Chair.

The Fund supports and links traditional knowledge and skills along with stewardship of land and sacred sites, innovative instruments, objects, and cultural spaces inherently recognized by communities, groups, and individuals as part of their Indigenous cultural heritage that promotes respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. It also supports indigenous peoples' grassroots initiatives including by women and youth to promote and protect indigenous peoples well being and self determined development.

The Guiding Committee approves around 20 projects per year based on proposals submitted by indigenous peoples' organizations from the different regions. The Fund does not make an open call for proposals and the members of the Guiding Committee work closely with local indigenous organizations and institutions to support their initiatives in the spirit of partnership and solidarity.

Indigenous organizations and institutions supported by the Pawanka Fund had expressed their sincere appreciation and have describe this solidarity support as " empowering", "strengthening" "conserving" among others. Based on the positive outcomes of this Partnership, the Guiding Committee and its donor-partners shall encourage more donor institutions to be part of the Pawanka Fund.

Dr. Myrna Kain Cunningham serves as the Chair of the Guiding Committee which is the collective decision making body of the Fund.

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projects supported (w/ continued support)


calls for proposals issued


range of Project Budgets


countries with pawanka grants funded

Our Guiding Principles

The Pawanka Fund upholds principles of solidarity, reciprocity, complementarity; promotes a holistic approach, intercultural and gender relations; and respects the self-determination and Free Prior and Informed Consent of indigenous peoples.

1. Holistic Approach

The activities will be done respecting the holistic approach of Indigenous Peoples. The Guiding Committee will ensure that the activities that will be supported will contribute to maintaining, sustaining and building on the inter-relationship between peoples and land, territories and nature supporting the balance and harmony of nature and human beings. The Fund will seek to strengthen, protect and enhance distinct cultural institutions, Indigenous philosophies and worldviews, and customary laws and governance systems that are the basis of traditional knowledge.

2. Complementarity

The principle of complementarity (when each part adds something to the other or, helps to make the other better) between women and men, elders, youth and children guides our work, especially in the recognition of the value of partnerships between human being who are committed to the rights of Indigenous peoples. This grantmaking initiative must strengthen complementary relations between individuals and between peoples from different geographical regions including urban and rural areas.

3. Reciprocity

For Indigenous peoples, reciprocity is not only an exchange of goods it is a way of building relationships among persons and between other beings of the cosmos as animals, plants, stars, and spiritual beings. Reciprocity means balance between human, natural and spiritual beings. As Indigenous Peoples, we have a common understanding that humankind is the guardian of Mother Earth and to live in balance it is necessary to take care of Mother Earth who gives and sustains life.

4. Intercultural and gender relations

Global exchange and bridge-building among different cultures and peoples of various regions enrich the work and increase the capacity of all women and men towards progressive social change both in local communities and at an international level. The full diversity of Indigenous Peoples of the world represent needs to be considered including those peoples living in marginalized rural zones, in urban areas, migrants and persons with disabilities.

5. Self-determination

In the context of the Indigenous Peoples’ rights, self-determination refers to the right as Indigenous Peoples to freely determine their political status and pursue social, cultural, political and economic development. It also refers to the right that Indigenous women and men have in freely determining their lives by holding elections and making decisions.

6. Free prior and informed consent

The free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) relates to the right that Indigenous Peoples have to fully participate in decisions about the processes that directly or indirectly affect their lives. FPIC implies that there should not be coercion, intimidation or manipulation; that there is a respect the time requirements of a consensus processes, and that accurate information is shared in ways that Indigenous Peoples can access (appropriate translation). Participatory processes at all levels of planning and implementation need to include youth participation and elders to ensure intergenerational transfer of knowledge and experience. A full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples guarantees the sustainability and continuity of the initiatives.

Our Guiding Committee

Myrna Cunningham Kain (Chair)

Centro para la Autonomía y Desarollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (CADPI)

Joan Carling

Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)

Hussein Isack

Kivulini Trust

Teresa Zapeta

Foro Internactional de Mujeres Indigenas (FIMI)

Danil Mamyev

AruSvati Scientific Ethnocultural Education Center

Melissa Nelson

The Cultural Conservancy

Nāmaka Rawlins

Mokuola Honua Center for Indigenous Language Excellence

Rukka Sombolinggi

The Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN)

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz

Tebtebba Foundation, Phillippines and UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Gunn-Britt Retter

Saami Council
Norway, Finland, Sweden, Russia