Saying goodbye to Laurie MacKenzie, Development Director with heart

RAVEN is saying a bittersweet farewell to our amazing Development Director, Laurie MacKenzie. This March, Laurie will be moving on after ten years of incredible work to build this organization. With her open heart, strategic approach and unforgettable warmth, she’s built a solid foundation of support for Indigenous legal challenges. We caught up with Laurie to hear about why she’s taking this step now, and what she’s learned in her decade working for Indigenous justice.

How have you seen people change in the time that you’ve been with RAVEN, in terms of their attitudes, feelings and interest in Indigenous Peoples rights?

When I started at RAVEN, the only people that would call the office were wrong numbers! No one knew us. Now the calls we get are unsolicited: people offering to donate their stocks, make legacy donations or something else generously amazing.  It’s incredible to look back on where we have come from. Back then people just thought we were raising money to pay for lawyers, they didn’t understand the impact that Indigenous litigation could have.

And so, to come to now: Having conversations with my friends, donors, colleagues and even strangers, is different. I’m not the only person that is feeling this way. We have deeper, more meaningful conversations. And I’m in a position personally to engage in a deeper, more meaningful way now. Having these conversations is awkward and uncomfortable but critical if we want to show up in a good way. 

To see Nations that are stepping up against industry and governments and feeling empowered, seeing the people that are donating and seeing the people that are divesting… seeing blockades…it’s different now. Progress feels slow but looking back, I can see things have changed. I remember hearing Grand Chief Stewart Phillips speak, and he said that in order for there to be change, we needed three things.

One, on the ground resistance: land defenders. Next was systematic change, we need to change the systems. And then the third was, ordinary people coming together to back Indigenous leadership. These three points, working in tandem, are so strong. 

I feel very proud that I had an impact at RAVEN and could advance Indigenous litigation in a small way. 

How are you going to take that forward in your own life? What has your work with RAVEN given you? 

My biggest gift from working at RAVEN was the unlearning I was able to start,  the decolonization work that we were able to do with Charlene George, Jada Gabrielle Pape and our whole staff. I was given the gift of seeing the world from an Indigenous perspective. That has impacted my heart and my soul, it has changed the conversations I have with my children: it’s changed my life. And I’ll never look at West Coast plants the same way again:  like the healing properties of a fern!! 

I know that I will continue to unlearn and learn simultaneously. I will continue to share what I learn. I will continue to make others uncomfortable with those conversations until people understand settlers’ roles; how we can affect change by amplifying Indigenous voices, donating to Indigenous causes, and divesting our finances. None of this could I have said ten years ago, I just didn’t have the language.

So as RAVEN’s Director of Development, could you talk a little bit about some of the incredible humans that you’ve had the privilege of knowing through this work?

In my time at RAVEN, crowdfunding took off. When we launched our first crowdfunding campaign with Beaver Lake Cree Nation, “Shit Harper Did” partnered up with us.  We had no idea what to expect. At that point we used to print off every PayPal payment we received, and so it was like … print! print! print!  We couldn’t keep it up because money was just rolling in. Seeing the shift in mindset that cumulative giving could be so powerful was pretty exciting. And seeing the worldwide support for Beaver Lake gave us so much hope. We grew our most successful campaigns with the power of people coming together.  

What’s been your favorite part of your job with RAVEN? 

Every year, when my performance review comes, I am asked “what’s your favorite part of the job?”, I always would answer, “connecting with donors”. That is why I’m here. That is what fills my heart and soul, for sure. 

That’s one thing I love, is feeling the energy of people when we come together. I used to have pre-conceptions of what a ‘philanthropist’ is, and it could have been really easy to get intimidated by people who are seemingly very successful and wealthy. But what I found is those who give to RAVEN, they are the sweetest, most kind-hearted, open-minded, and genuinely generous people. A lot of them are environmentalists that understand the impact of our work and have learned that donating is one way they can change the landscape of this country. And so sitting in people’s homes, laughing together, or meeting for coffee or a walk, that is my favorite part of the job. 

There are so many people I carry in my heart thanks to RAVEN. Retired forestry workers, writers, farmers, immigrants that found a home in Canada and embrace our history and want to make it a better place. I think of the staff within foundations who bring our message to their boards of directors, and bravely speak on our behalf because supporting Indigenous litigation is a long-term game. I have met people who just love trees! Or had a deep connection with an Indigenous friend from decades ago. All these wonderful donors are hell-bent to stop the expansion of the tar sands, pipelines, dams and mines. They believe in human rights and they want to show up in a good way. When you are talking to someone who is on the same wavelength as you, it’s easy to get excited, and then they get excited: it’s just this great cycle of hope and belief.

What is next for you? 

When I first interviewed with Susan, she told me about RAVEN’s two campaigns and immediately, I was like, “Yes – I’m always up for a good fight.”  I wasn’t even looking for a job but RAVEN’s mandate was so compelling to me. 

Now, I feel like I came to do what I needed to do at RAVEN. We have built our Generational Giving program for legacy donors, we have a pool of incredible monthly donors that are RAVEN’s backbone, systems are in place to handle growth, and most importantly, Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) is safe, and Beaver Lake Cree Nation will have their day in court. I’ve done what I set out to do. 

It has been a conscious effort to create a development team and we have that now: we have Levin as our grant writer, we have Caitlyn nurturing events and businesses, and we have Suvane on the technology and database side of things. 

Now I can turn my attention to my spiritual work and healing. I have a deep knowing that what I’ve given to RAVEN is all I can give. And it’s someone else’s turn to come in and contribute something else that will bring RAVEN further along.  I know I am leaving RAVEN in good hands with our current team, it is time for me to focus my energy on myself and building my coaching business.

I’ve learned so much, and RAVEN has given me what I need to move on. Honestly, I feel like I’ve stepped off the cliff and my parachute has “trust and surrender” written all over it. But I know what I am capable of building, and I know I’ll create something awesome that will have an impact on the world in a different way. 

What’s RAVEN’s next chapter going to look like? 

I fully trust RAVEN is going to attract an amazing new Development Director, who will be overseeing the fundraising of the organization. Their biggest task will be finding new and creative ways to create different revenue streams, cultivate new relationships and evolve the organization as a whole. 

RAVEN’s work is about reaching people, and it’s about taking them further along the path of understanding this country’s history and how Indigneous litigation is a viable path forward to protecting our environment and advancing reconciliation. 

Connecting with people in that way is not just superficial, it’s deep, because we care about the land, we care about other people and we are serious about putting reconciliation into action. I learned how to have those dynamic, deep conversations with people at RAVEN: and that’s what I’m taking with me into my coaching practice. And that is what I will miss the most. 

I hope the right people find RAVEN: either as Nations who need the support, or as staff members who are going to bring something incredible,  or as donors who are going to donate, fundraise, give their stocks or leave a legacy gift.

I know the RAVEN community will have a big impact in the world of Indigenous justice and litigation. It’s my hope that decisions start to come from the courts quicker, more cases get through the system, more precedents are set…and that we all start to see Indigenous Nations as the sovereign nations they are and have they resources and the capacity to build their nationhood.

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