A Mi'kmaw Analysis of Charity and Volunteering on #GivingTuesday

Are your offerings for #GivingTuesday honouring your spirit?

I guarantee that when you scrolled through your social media feeds today, you were bombarded with dozens of posts about charities raising money and non-profits promoting the important work they do. Many of your network connections will feel warmth in their bellies as they selflessly give back to communities that need the most assistance. I can also wager a bet that the comments and reactions on these posts are boosting serotonin levels across the globe.

While I commend the selfless efforts of our donors and volunteers, I want to encourage you to ask yourself the following question:

When you donate $75 to a charity, volunteer 12 hours a week for a local non-profit, or give 3 bags of used clothing to a thrift store, how does it make you feel?

It is normal to sense that warmth in your belly, to have a smile on your face, and to feel deep down in your heart that you are making a difference.

When you donate, volunteer, and give, it is important to think about the aftermath. What happens when you complete the transaction, leave the building after your shift, or drive away from that minimum wage worker?

While these are all noble endeavours, the unfortunate truth is that these offerings are only scratching the surface of what we as a society can do. The selflessness of charities and volunteers is desperately needed in a world that fails to value its people. But when the loud minority holds power over the silenced majority, these acts of selflessness will continue to provide band-aid solutions to gaping wounds in desperate need of stitches.

It all started when settlers arrived in the New World and were greeted by peaceful and egalitarian Indigenous societies. They saw traditional matriarchal communities where their women were honoured as sacred life-givers. This was a stark contrast to the religiously-rooted devotion to patriarchal order within European societies, where women were seen as the property and any objection was labelled as "disobedient" to men and God.

People are afraid of what they do not know or what they do not understand, and in an effort to maintain their positions of power and superiority, European men scared their wives and children into believing that Indigenous societies were uncivilized and sinful. Settlers created laws that abolished the egalitarian system, knowing that the patriarchy could only be upheld if it appeared to be the only viable option. With these new laws—and the Doctrine of Discovery's concept of Terra Nullius—in tow, Europeans were "given permission" to claim land, pillage, and commit mass genocide, all in the name of God.

Colonization has left these gaping wounds in the fabric of our traditional communities, allowing Intergenerational trauma to ripple its way through our families with no remorse. While those who donate, volunteer, or run non-profits have their hearts in the right place, these acts of generosity often fail to break down the barriers that place marginalized people in need of these services in the first place.

Our only way of moving forward is by taking a look back at our ancestors and our old ways of living. Indigenous nations have existed for millennia, passing down traditional knowledge, fostering loving communities, and honouring Mother Earth. What we built over 10 thousand years had been almost completely destroyed in only five centuries. However, Indigenous peoples come from strong, resilient nations, and over the past few generations, we have been well on our way towards reconciliation.

Our pre-contact nations were loving, nurturing environments, welcoming of anyone and everyone who landed on our shores. As Lnu'k (Mi'kmaq people), one of our most important teachings is "M'sit No'kmaq," which loosely translates to "All My Relations" and is the concept that all beings are equal. We held on to this belief for millennia and we nearly lost sight of it for a few hundred years. As we learn to heal from colonial traumas, we can slowly see our sacred traditions resurfacing. Our spirits are strong and unbreakable. Our ancestors continue to guide us towards the right path, whether we are aware of it or not.

Deep down in our hearts, we all know that the only way to heal our broken system is to rebuild our communities with our traditional teachings in mind. I look forward to a day where we live as our ancestors did, caring for one another, and ensuring that every single person's basic survival needs are met. I want to live in a world where everyone is treated with respect and dignity, no matter their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion/spirituality, or cultural background. I want us to give back to Mother Earth and honour her for everything she gives to us, as we had in Mi'kma'ki for over 11,000 years.

So, while you donate, volunteer, or put on your philanthropy cap today, I want you to ask yourself if your offerings are honouring your spirit? I understand that you might be doing what you can with what you have been given. However, I want to challenge you to pause and reflect on how we break down those systemic barriers, rebuild our equitable society, and ultimately get back to living in harmony as our ancestors once did. After all, who would pass up such a delightful opportunity?

M’sit No’kmaq (All My Relations).


Mi'kmaq Vocabulary

1. Salitewa'teket (sa·li·de·waa·de·get) = give charity

2. Ta'puowei (daa·bu·o·wey) = Tuesday


Kubik, W., Bourassa, C., & Hampton, M. (2009). Stolen Sisters, Second Class Citizens,

Poor Health: The Legacy of Colonization in Canada. Humanity & Society, 33, 18-31.


National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (2019).

Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and

Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. 1a, 1-728.

Native Women’s Association of Canada. (2010). Fact Sheet: Root Causes of

Violence Against Aboriginal Women and the Impact of Colonization.

Smith, A. (2003). Not an Indian Tradition: The sexual colonization of Native peoples.

Hypatia, 18(2), 70-86. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2003.tb00802.x

Stannard, D. (1992). American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World. New York:

Oxford University Press.


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