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Edgar Villanueva, Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance (Berrett-Koehler, 2018), 216pp.Edgar Villanueva, Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance (Berrett-Koehler, 2018), 216pp.

A review by Brad Keister, former Deputy Division Director of the Physics Division for the National Science Foundation.

Edgar Villanueva was born in North Carolina, is part Native American, and came of age when society was beginning to grapple with systemic issues of ethnic and racial injustices.  He ended up working in the nonprofit world, where he encountered a deep-seated view of the world that, in his view, would simply perpetuate the very problems that nonprofit institutions see themselves working to eradicate. Now a sought-after speaker, Villanueva lays out his perspective in this book.

Villanueva argues that injustice is a structural phenomenon that is maintained by institutions of power that are set up precisely in a way that perpetuates the structures of injustice. These structures provide the rules by which everyone is expected to play. The result is that only on rare occasions does someone in a long-oppressed group succeed in our society while playing by those rules.  Nevertheless, our institutions hold up these unusual individuals as role models that ‘prove’ that our system is working and accessible to all.

In Villanueva’s view, long-lasting societal change will occur only when those controlling these institutions are willing to give up exclusive power, and share it with members of minority groups.  Standard models of philanthropy are not enough. In particular, he notes that the idea of altruism already has a power structure built into it: the haves giving to the have-nots, and always on the terms of the haves.

Power sharing (as well as sharing of wealth and other resources) promises to be quite difficult for all parties concerned. But on the basis of his Native American heritage, Villanueva writes that the way forward involves partnership rather than simply ceding power. There is clearly compassion in this book, but the deep, critical problems are laid out starkly at their roots.

Dan Clendenin:

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