Indigenous non-profits are the problem.
The Non-profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) is a system of relationships designed by colonial and capitalist forces to manage and neutralize effective radical organizing.
- The NPIC is inherently extractive and colonial.
The NPIC was established to manage social and environmental groups with the same structure as corporations. Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs) co-opt movement momentum into campaigns they manage to control and capitalize off of. Based on the charity model, NPOs focus their resources on building organizational power and not community power thereby stripping essential resources from front-line radical liberatory organizing, while reproducing or prolonging inequality and social hierarchies.
- The NPIC upholds capitalism.
Wealthy families, individuals, foundations, owning classes, and corporations use the NPIC to shelter their wealth from having to pay taxes. These capitalists grant millions but save many millions more by profiting off of the tax breaks from the NPIC. They have no sincere motivation to end the injustices that they often perpetuate and benefit from.
- NPOs are more accountable to funders than their communities.
Most NPOs are not transparent with their grant funding reports. They operate with a low level of secrecy to ensure that desperate communities they impose their representation on do not see how much they extract and profit from their misery. They often design bloated budgets for personal gain and are not resourceful. They ultimately create incentives to exploit struggles.
- NPOs Foster Abusive Power Relationships.
Due to their artificial structure and nature of hiring positions as movement “jobs” or professional titles, security culture and intersectional practices are almost always compromised within these groups. Most often, qualifications are limited to those with academic or activist portfolios and not based on dedication and commitment to the issues and necessary hard work to address oppressive actions and behaviors. Hierarchical Indigenous NPO’s become easily corrupt with cronyism, nepotism, and cis-heteropatriarchy. “Leaders” in the NPIC typically exploit issues to build their social capital and clout. Once these organizations are established, abusive individuals who maintain them often go unchecked due to lacking community-based accountability and job titled positions that absolves them from committing harms. NPO’s are also notorious gatekeepers that have reshaped and distorted what grassroots political movements like abolition and mutual aid have hxstorically stood for. They also undermine and delegitimize radicals whose work they co-opt while channeling and hoarding resources away from those autonomous people, groups or efforts. Overall, they implicitly alienate radical tendencies by their very existence thereby compromising not only potential resources and support, but their very safety. The professionalization of activism and movement work has entrapped many within the rugged lie of independence and commodified relations that are in ongoing tension with actual practiced Mutual Aid.
NPO’s have also overtly collaborated with state agencies and law enforcement to denounce, distance, and criminalize radicals. This has hxstorically regulated our resistance to these oppressive structures.
- NPO strategies are explicitly reformist.
Regardless of the radical revolutionary decolonization jargon they use, NPOs don’t want to end colonialism and capitalism because they wouldn’t have a job without these systems of oppression. NPOs look at movements and break them down into manageable campaigns that meet the grant conditions of large capitalist foundations. They strip away radical tendencies in organizing with management tactics such as “Non-Violent Civil Disobedience” and direct popular energy towards begging colonial politicians for concessions. Their language may be radical but their actions are informed by the respectability and legitimacy they seek to maintain with their capitalist funders and their political targets. Colonizers aren’t going to relinquish their power through bad publicity, voting, or aggressive lobbying. Those tactics serve to reinforce colonial power and de-radicalize overall liberatory efforts.
- NPOs Can Perpetuate False Representation.
Some NPOs appear to be radically driven by Indigenous Peoples yet their founders are not Indigenous and they have no meaningful connection to the communities and struggles they claim to represent. Seeding Sovereignty, as an effort driven by non-Indigenous People, is a primary example of this insidious misrepresentation and profiteering. Other NPOs can be driven by Indigenous Peoples who are movement based yet use these movements as stepping stones for personal gain (financially or through clout chasing) or towards political careers. Due to their resources (and access to resources), they often dominate the narratives of struggles. Acting as the sole voices for Indigenous issues, many NPOs in the Climate Justice Movement have agendas driven by settler social and environmental NPOs such as 350.org or the Sierra Club.
The overall strategy of the NPIC is colonial, upholds unjust power relationships, and capitalism.
Groups like NDN Collective are prime examples of the problems with the NPIC. They have co-opted the term “collective,” which is a radical non-hierarchical practice, but are structured with a president and CEO. They purchase and maintain private property as a “land back” campaign that is not a radically anti-colonial action to build Indigenous autonomy, but a capitalist strategy.Their CEO is paid more than $200,000 a year and their annual operating budget is more than $10 million dollars. They recently received more than $10 million dollars from extreme capitalist and working class exploiter Jeff Bezos. The NDN Collective organizes with the idea of “Decolonizing Wealth,” which is really just a marketing strategy to commodify and cash-in on Indigenous struggles.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Indigenous non-profits rushed to secure funding and brand their efforts as “mutual aid” when they were providing financial and resource handouts. This is not mutual aid but acts of relief and charity that serve to keep communities dependent on the very hierarchical and exploitative systems we want to abolish.
The NPIC is a barrier to building collective power towards liberation.
Indigenous capitalism doesn’t equal liberation. Smash the NPIC!
Directly fund and support front-line community based and autonomous Indigenous groups and organizers.
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
Decolonization is not a metaphor
Anti-History : An Indigenous Anti-Capitalist Analysis
Nonprofit Industrial Complex 101: a primer on how it upholds inequity and flattens resistance
What’s the Nonprofit Industrial Complex and why should I care?