Building the Spirit Wheel: FPW’s Values-Based Evaluation Tool for Indigenous Grant Making

By Katie Cheney

Indigenous Peoples’ lives and livelihoods are comprised of their spirituality, however formed or manifested. It is important to recognize that all of Indigenous life is based in spirituality, and that spirituality is demonstrated through the value system of each unique community. That value system is inextricably connected to all that we think about and do – from traditions and ceremonies, to hunting or fishing practices, to strategic planning activities and entrepreneurship, and for First Peoples Worldwide: grant making.

In December 2014, our Keepers of the Earth Fund (KOEF) completed its 8th year of grant making to Indigenous communities around the globe. Distributed grants total nearly $2 million USD, supporting Indigenous communities in over 60 countries. The KOEF has supported cultural youth camps, legal registration, mapping of ancestral lands, community celebrations, farming and agricultural projects, and even more projects in other areas. How does our value system align with the projects we support?

One of the most integral pieces of our work at First Peoples Worldwide centers on the Spirit Wheel, a conceptual tool that guides us in evaluating grant applications from Indigenous communities based on an Indigenous values system and spirituality.

At the heart of the Spirit Wheel is Spirituality, from which we gain our sense of vision, self, and our meaning within the community and the larger universe. Grant making cannot be accomplished effectively in our communities without including spirituality.

For Indigenous people, spirituality is a sense of inter-connectedness, in itself a basic value system, that includes a return to, or rebirth of, traditional values and beliefs.

Moving from the center outward, the circles represent the individual,community, nation and world.

The four axes provide a guide for the rest of the wheel, designating values to four areas: Values, Personal Efficacy, Kinship, and Control of Assets.

Values: For Indigenous people, values are the ideas and beliefs interwoven throughout projects that, together, form a foundation of spirituality. Values include reciprocity, respect, responsibility, caring for one another, honoring, and the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life.

Control of Assets: This element refers to the ability of the community to control the decision-making around their assets in order to create wealth, whether cultural or financial.

Personal Efficacy: To have a strong community and economy you must have people or human capital with a strong sense of confidence in their own ability. Indicators of improvements in personal efficacy at the individual level include self-esteem, ability to problem solve, positive outlook and increased knowledge and skills.

Kinship: In traditional Indigenous systems, assets and wealth were distributed through their kinship network. Kinship is the basis for circulation of goods and services and the method by which generations share their culture and values. Kinship indicators can be measured through tracking subsistence activities involving barter and trade, and through evolving hunting, gathering, fishing and other resource usage codes that reflect traditional kinship systems for distribution to the community.

In addition to the four main axes, each vector within the four quadrants measures specific conditions within the project and community.

Trade/Exchange: captures changes in the economic relationship between the community and others by measuring both the direct and indirect impact from economic activities.

Income: refers to improvements in the financial wellbeing of the community. Changes in financial wellbeing can be measured at the individual, organizational, or community level.

Productivity Skills: refers to changes in employment, skills and knowledge in the community. It is related to building human capital and measures the number of jobs created, number of training workshops held, number of individuals trained, etc.

Vibrant Initiative: This refers to the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit within the community, and is related to leadership and innovative use of resources.

Responsibility and Consequences: This element relates to strengthened integrity and accountability within the community. Specific indicators include the number and type of new organizations and entities established, financial stability, staff and leadership stability, ability to leverage resources, and increased community inclusion in decision-making processes.

Health and Safety: This element refers to a sense of security and wellbeing within the community. Defined broadly, indicators include an improvement in health status, a decrease in the crime rate, and an increase in the availability of food resources.

Political and Civic Participation: This refers to the degree to which the community engages in the political and civic life both within and outside the community.

Social Respect: Social respect is closely related to political and civic participation, but refers to the type of networks and collaborative partnerships formed between the community and others. Specific indicators include the number of collaborative partners, the number of new partnerships and networks formed and the quality and diversity of networks.

Cultural Integrity: This element captures the maintenance and strengthening of traditional knowledge and cultural practices, such as the degree to which indigenous knowledge is protected and promoted, the maintenance of language, and the continuation of traditional practices.

Choices and Vision: This element refers to the expansion of opportunities in the community and engagement in long-term strategic visioning.

Hope/Future Orientation: Closely related to choices and vision, this element captures the level of community investment in its future and its people. Specific indicators include the number of youth and elder participants in projects or the number of young adults who stay in the community.

Environmental Balance: This refers to the environmental or ecological impact of economic activities, and the degree to which a balance is maintained between ecological and economic outcomes.

The Spirit Wheel’s 16 vectors represent the evaluation questions our reviewers apply to each project. Although these questions are not exhaustive of all the aspects of a project, they are the primary questions that allow First Peoples Worldwide to measure spirituality as it exists in a holistic development process.

Finally, we are able to “map” a project’s growth in each vector over time by plotting baseline data gathered at the beginning of a project, and applying new data when we receive interim or final reports. This way, we are able to measure the true impacts on a community’s development, as a result of our funding and technical assistance.

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"The primary purpose of an Indigenous economy is to assure that the needs of every member of society are met, now and for the generations to come. Balance and harmony are not romantic notions, but the design fundamentals for sustainable production and equitable distribution.”
-Rebecca Adamson, Founder and President

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