Meet LEVEL advisor, Jess Housty, a citizen of the Haíɫzaqv Nation and mother of “two little Haíɫzaqv babies” with an extensive background in community work. She is currently a writer, community organizer, and communications director for Indigenous non-profit Qqs Projects Society, based in Bella Bella, BC. We spoke with Jess who shared with us her experience, insight, and wisdom on what inspires her. 

What made you decide to be a part of the LEVEL community?

I’ve spent 14 years as a fundraiser, trying to resource ideas that matter to me not just as projects, but deep in my bones. I do what I do based on a lifelong, values-rooted commitment to the communities I am part of, and the work I fundraise to support reflects that commitment. But raising dollars in this context is hard work. You live and breathe the struggles and the strengths of your communities, and you know the stakes are high because you see the human impact of every project that receives – or does not receive – the funding it needs.

Joining the LEVEL team felt like an opportunity to take everything I’ve learned about philanthropy from a community/grassroots perspective and use that learning to catalyze some industry-leading change in the field of grantmaking. I think that what Vancouver Foundation is doing with LEVEL is both bold and overdue, and the people who should be – and are! – at the heart of it are the people who truly understand the social (and social justice) context of the work that Indigenous and racialized immigrant youth and communities are leading.

It’s impossible to decolonize grantmaking; I think the power dynamics of the economic context that enables philanthropy are too at odds with Indigenous worldviews. But I believe shifts in grantmaking practices are possible that will make it more decolonial, more rooted in respect and reciprocity, than the way the current system operates. And I hope I can play a small part in setting that trend.

Why does it matter to have young people’s (especially those who are Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee folks) voice at the table?

I think we bring diligence to the table — because our own practices are rooted in accountability to our communities. We’re creative and resourceful — because we’re accustomed to making big things happen with limited resources. And we bring a lot of humanity to our work as grant advisors, because we’ve so often been on the other side of the conversation — through LEVEL, we’re in a position to model the kind of grantmaking practices that our experiences as community organizers and leaders show us we need.

Importantly, as young people doing this work, we’re not constrained by the norms and habits of old school philanthropy — which has historically been very whitewashed and rooted in very Western values. With LEVEL, we’re building a community of advisors who are establishing our own norms, values, and practices that better represent our diversity and our experience. We’re creating the conditions for a new philanthropic model to thrive and a new kind of leadership in grantmaking to shine. And the kind of system change we’re creating can only happen with Indigenous and racialized immigrant youth at its heart.

Why does racial equity matter?

As an Indigenous person, I’ve seen the kind of deep and phenomenal leadership that exists and emerges in our communities. I also see the many ways in which the playing field is not level, and in which the public narrative about our communities is both negative and oppressive. At a certain point, if this is the only image of themselves that our youth and communities see reflected in society at large, it’s going to kill our spirit.

It’s past time to correct the imbalance. Instead of narratives that reinforce negative and frankly racist stereotypes, I want to look at authentic narratives. Ones that represent who our communities really are and what they value. It’s time to elevate the leadership, the resilience, the ferocious love, the wit, the wisdom, and the incredible vision that exists amongst our peoples. We need to know one another if we’re going to forge a path forward together.

What is your hope for the future of Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee youth?

Know this: you make your communities more whole. You make your communities’ visions for the future clearer, brighter, and more possible. You have more power than you know and you are living proof of your ancestors’ resilience. You carry that forward and onward and you are every bit as strong and visionary as the generations that came before yours.

If I have one hope for the future of Indigenous and racialized migrant/refugee youth, it’s that they feel the sense of hope they give me.