#116 Be At Your Best When Giving to Indigenous Communities, with Jim Enote, Executive Director, Colorado Plateau Foundation

Feb 13, 2023

Sybil has a very special interview for you today. She had a wonderful conversation with Jim Enote, a Zuni Tribal Member, farmer, and Executive Director of the Colorado Plateau Foundation. In season one, Sybil interviewed him at length twice because his advice is so wonderful for donors who want to give effect to Indigenous communities. Sybil has profiled some of her favorite parts of Jim's conversation in this episode, and they are here for you today to listen to. 


Episode Highlights:

  • Ensure your ideas about what you want to give align with the mission of the organization
  • Build your relationship on trust
  • Talk with Indigenous communities from a place of opportunity and hope


Jim Enote Bio:

Jim Enote is a Zuni tribal member and has spent over 40 years working professionally to protect and steward cultural and natural resources. He is the CEO of the Colorado Plateau Foundation, which supports regional Native communities to protect water and sacred places, ensure food security, and preserve languages and ancestral knowledge. He also serves as the chair of the board of trustees for the Grand Canyon Trust and lives in Zuni, New Mexico.



Website: https://www.grandcanyontrust.org

 LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jim-enote-32a368120

 Colorado Plateau Foundation


 Native Americans in Philanthropy

Fact Sheet and Info about the Colorado Plateau Foundation

Illustrated Story of the Colorado Plateau Foundation


If you enjoyed this episode, listen to these as well:

#35 Back by Popular Demand! Learn More Ways to Fund Indigenous Communities with Deep Respect and Grace with Jim Enote, CEO, Colorado Plateau Foundation

#32 Creating Meaningful Connections with Anupama Joshi, Executive Director, Blue Sky Funders

#25 Sybil Speaks: Get to the Heart of the Matter and Figure Out the Kind of Funder You Want to Be


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Full Transcript

I have a very special interview for you today. I had a wonderful couple of conversations with Jim Enote, who is a Zuni tribal member, farmer, and executive director of the Colorado Plateau Foundation. In season one, I interviewed him at length twice because his advice is so wonderful for donors who want to give effectively to indigenous communities. 

If you want to hear the entire interview, please listen to episodes #25 and #35 in season one. For this season, season 2, and this month, where I'm focusing on effective giving strategies to indigenous communities, I've taken some of my favorite parts of Jim's conversation from season 1. During episode 25, I just think he is wonderful. 

Some of the really good pieces of advice and words of wisdom he gives to us are things like, make sure that your Ideas about what you want to give should align with the mission of the organization. Build your relationship on trust, and also don't make assumptions that native peoples are in a perpetual state of victimization. Instead, and in truth, they are a generation of They're within a generation of nation-builders, so he says there will be many more very good things, and so I don't want to take up any more of your time today. I want you to have the opportunity to listen to him and his advice in this episode. 

Good morning, good afternoon. Good evening. Wherever and whatever time it is for everyone else I'm here in my hometown, Zuni, New Mexico, and I'm a Zuni tribal member and a farmer. I am a farmer first, and this is my 64th consecutive year planting, and I lead the Colorado Plateau Foundation. 

So, my work supports native communities in the US Southwest. My motivation for entering the world of philanthropy certainly comes from altruism and benevolence I believe I have, but also because of some life experiences. And I hate to say that much of that was caused by injustice in the world

I remember 1962 as a young boy, being with my mother and feeling the tension and squeezing she had in my hand—my little hand, my little boy hand—I knew there was something wrong. Was something wrong there? But she squeezed it in a way that I thought something was wrong, and I looked up at her face, and she had a tear coming down her face and I couldn't make sense of it, but when I looked forward, there was a sign in front of us that said, "Whites only in public restrooms," and I didn't completely understand what that meant or the history behind it. But I knew there had to be something wrong there. Ironically, that was just outside the Air Force base where my father was serving this nation. 

Some years later, after high school, I went hitchhiking for two years all across the West, just kind of walking the Earth, a kind of time in my life and gaining experience by meeting different people and doing different things. 

Was there a time when a couple and I of friends. One was a hooper, and one was a Navajo. And we were hitchhiking outside of Los Angeles, and we got stopped by some police officers, and they asked us questions. But you know, I hate to repeat this injustice. But you know, I noticed they were looking in all directions looking behind them and then they worked us over. They beat us up. 

And I'm aware that there are very good peace officers. There are very good people working in public safety. We need those. But there were some bad apples, and there is a bad and broken system there, but it once again pointed to some injustice and a power problem. 

Advancing even further some years later, in 1991, I remember that, again as a farmer, I was helping to put together a proposal to raise funds for our small farmer cooperative, as we called it. We had no idea what our co-op was all about. We just call it a co-op. I prepared a proposal for the program officer, who called me and said, "Let's have dinner in Santa Fe." So I drove up to Santa Fe, and we had dinner. And she told me afterward that she would like to support this. And there you were in the parking lot. It was clear that she would support this if I met her physical needs. Basically, it was sexual harassment. I said that was just not right. I stepped back and refused that money, and I had this epiphany after that, and I thought about all these things that have happened in my life and in other people's lives too, particularly with women and people of color, Marginalized people. I said, "Why can't we do something about this asymmetry of power?" 

And within that asymmetry of power as well, what can we do about our own self-determination? And if it comes to funding or supporting financial resources, why can't we do this ourselves? So of course, yeah, I had this idea, but my grandma didn't leave me $50 million to start the fund, but I did have an idea in my vision that I could put together a first-rate team of native staff and a native board and that we could do work in this area that I know and we know best, which is the Colorado Plateau. This four-corner area of Arizona and New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah would be our geographic focus. 

It's motivated by injustice and power asymmetry, but it's also motivated by the joy I see, and that we all see, in seeing young native people graduate from universities with the power of 1,000,000 new ideas. They want to fill the gaps. You know they don't necessarily want to work for the tribal government or the federal government. Bureau of National Affairs or others they see gaps in their own communities, and they want to go home. And they want to serve. And those are the organizations that I Want to help? 

You know I've started some C3 nonprofit organizations myself. The majority of them have done very well. There have been a couple that struggled and ultimately failed. And I know now. Why do you know? It's basically because of things like 990 reporting, leadership development, financials, and succession planning. All of those are sort of internal things. So I thought additionally, what we need to do is help build the capacity of these organizations to become stable, and stronger from within so that they can flourish and continue their good work. 

So, it's all about building their capacity so that they can be around to do their work. a long time and generations to come. And you know our work is not initiated entirely by me. Our priority areas were truly brought together by leaders from across the plateau. 

So, we assembled cultural, religious, political, and other grassroots leaders from this region and for two days, without necessarily introducing any agenda, what are the priorities for this region? And after two days, they said protecting water meant protecting sacred places, which is code for environmental protection. Preserving languages and ensuring food security. So those are our priority areas, so it's informed by people on the plateau—leaders, grassroots folks, artists, religious leaders, and such—and those became our marching orders early. 

And this is how we launched the David Lucile Packard Foundation and how I approached it. And the Christiansen Fund and mentioned that I had an idea. And this vision, we could assemble the A-Team to do this grant-making work, supported by resources from these foundations, but we could do that in a way that would be more efficient and effective. 

I mean that those organizations just don't have. The human power, the manpower, the human resources, the time to come out to this vast region and get to know the programs and the communities and such. We know who we are. We know where we live. We live here, and one of our mantras that we laugh about is that we know who dated who in high school. We know this area very well, and so we often say that we live where we serve.

So, one is from the foundation side, right? So, there's the David Wilson Packard Christiansen Fund, and kudos to them because, first of all, they were not prescriptive, not very prescriptive at all. Fortunately, they knew me… not to elevate me too much or put me on a pedestal, but they said you have standing in this area. And so, we trust your decisions. You've been very good at advising us in the past, and so here you go. We're going to help seed this idea. That was great because other foundations can be very prescriptive at times.

Now our own people on the plateau are informing us, saying that these are the priorities that we think need to be attended to. We took those and made them our priorities. Obviously, with our grant-making work Then we'll start our program. Of course, it does all the due diligence and connects with the grantee communities and the potential grantees to assure that those ideas, though they are priorities, are being met. 

But we also don't want to burden any advisors or committees by constantly revisiting and consuming their time. It’s something that we will revisit occasionally. It's also worth noting that sometimes people who want to be advisors don't come from the nuances and finessing of philanthropy. 

Because it's one thing to say these are important areas: food, security, sacred places, languages, water protection, and so on. It's another thing entirely to delve into the nuances and finessing of declinations, not being prescriptive, or investigating what is the sublime and sacred work versus The secular and profane work well together, and our staff is very good at this. 

Yeah, we have a great team. The Flamingo Board has native staff, but what about this nuancing thing? You know, I've been around philanthropy for a long time too, over 40 years. And, like any other discipline, whether it's dentistry, law, or conservation work, it's always evolving and learning; you hope it's an additive field where we're constantly building on experience. We should be in any case. 

And so, yeah, in my earlier careers, I encountered those asymmetries. I've been in situations where you know donors are going to show up and expect you to laugh at their jokes. You know, and if you do, it's because you're caught in that power asymmetry. 

Now we've learned from that. Right, we've learned that we equals, and because we are moving resources and monies, we always wake up in the morning and it's like that. ground ourselves first. You understand our mission and whom we serve; keep in mind that we live where we serve and are held to high standards by those we serve. 

So, if I or our team were in New York City or San Francisco, both of which are beautiful and wonderful places, it isn’t. Like we can be. We're not anonymous in our grant-making either, because philanthropy is one of those strange fields where there's no bottom line. 

There’s also the notion that if you make a good grant that some good things will happen, you can pat yourself in the shoulder and think. We did, after all. Saw that coming. Yeah, that's good for us. Or, if you accept our grant and cause havoc in these communities, you can always just shrug and say, "Well, we're all about taking risks," and then you kind of move on to the next thing. Well, it's almost like having your own version of the Democratic Oath. You know, like my physician said, it's like, "Wake up!" And if we're going to do our work of philanthropy with true benevolence and altruism, then let's do no harm. You know we are a We are an intermediary, but the fact that we live in the community where we serve makes us extremely accountable.

I believe Albert Einstein said something along the lines of "don't make things simpler, but not simple. But so, there are now young people coming out of universities with different toolkits, right? They have degrees in applied anthropology. They have degrees in indigenous studies. They have degrees in different things, like sociology, hydrology, and the rest. and they want to go home. They wanted to go home and in the past, my generation went to university. And in returning, there weren't any jobs for us. 

You know if a young native person got a job in engineering. I mean, it's got a degree in engineering. There were maybe two engineering jobs on the reservation, and those people weren't about to retire anytime soon, so that young native engineer would have to get a job in Albuquerque, Denver, or Phoenix somewhere. 

As a result, there would be a constant brain drain. As a result, young indigenous people are now forming non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These non-profits fill in the gaps where the government cannot or will not do certain things. The more because they're nimble. 

An example is the COVID situation. The COVID-19 situation where governments were They did their best, but they were hampered by a slew of policies enacted. It is difficult for them. And to get things moving, as well as to start distributing water and food. In contrast to NGOs, natively non-profits and NGOs We’re bringing in resources and getting them out to the communities quickly, and some of them are reacting to language loss or climate change in the same way. Initiatives, food security initiatives, and so on, and they are making it happen. They're making it happen, so they are filling gaps.

And on a different scale. So, the Colorado Plateau Foundation, which I lead, is once again filling a void. There are federal grants out there and state grants out there that are cumbersome and difficult to navigate for some, but ours are free, straightforward, and simple. When we talk about evaluation, we're really talking about assessment and reflection. We just do things differently and in a way that is relevant to the communities that we are serving. So we fill a kind of gap in getting resources to move initiatives forward. 

There is a growing network of native LED funders throughout the world, really, you know, but what would people say of the global South. There are certainly some in the north. There are also the ones that we serve, of course. in the southwest. 

As a result, we are members. I mean, just as many funders are members of organizations such as environmental Grantmakers or the Council on Foundations, so are many grantees. But we're not just edge funders; we're also members of international Indigenous funders. 

And we also work with Native Americans in philanthropy; we've done some work with an organization called Candid. I think those are numerous resources for potential donors to consider. There are definitely places and resources on the web. People can find out where to give, but if you want to get to the real truth, I think it's like a detective story. 

If you want to get to the facts and the truth, you go to the source. Right, I'm referring to you. You begin your research on the web, but then you go to the source and actually ask the community if you can visit the community, or if not, at least communicate with somebody in those communities or somebody who knows those areas well, as close to the source as you can get at a higher level, what not to do. Is to make such assumptions that Native peoples are in a perpetual state of victimization, and we are all sufferers. In reality, we are a generation of nation-builders. 

That is something you should not do. Another consideration is whether or not you intend to give. And you've done your research. And if you believe in the organization or those people, then you trust them. You know you don't have to just jump immediately into a relationship. Maybe let it stew for a year. You get to know them, and you get to know the people they serve. And maybe it's next year. You say I've seen enough, and I'm ready to move on and Give.

And when you do, I think it's in ways that aren't prescriptive, right? It all comes back to like I know what you need. Because, you know? Still, I mean. What constitutes 90 - 95% of the relationships That I have or Our relationship with donors is based on trust. And they say you've built it; it's stable, it's strong, and it's doing good work. We trusted you because you have a good reputation. We’re going to collaborate with you.

There are still about 5% who will say they will give IF … it is not truly within our mission, and we do not want it. We don't want to create a mission drift, right? You know, people have their ideas that they've thought long and hard about. You don't want to come in and color that conversation by saying this. 

We'll do this if you do this other thing, and it's going to happen even if it creates a mission drift that's not good. That's prescriptive, or, say, add some conditions that make the organization think, "Well, so we have to change something in our policies now because this donor is saying." that we'll give you money if…

So, I think we should avoid being prescriptive. I mean, and sometimes it can be accidental, but you have to think about: am I being prescriptive or not? Or do I trust this organization? Have I done my research and so on? 

I suppose prescriptive is another way to put it. It's like, you know. You may not perceive it as prescriptive, but I may perceive it as prescriptive, so how it's really perceived is a big part of that. Yeah, it's something I encounter all the time. 

So, we support water, sacred places, food security, and language work, right? And also climate change, right? And if a donor says, "Well, we only want to support… water" Right, and then I think it's a negotiation, right? You have a relationship with someone, and when I have my first call with somebody, it could be a potential partner. I say you know, what are your needs? And I'll tell you what our needs are. And I say that I don't really expect anything to come out of this first conversation, that this is a conversation of possibilities. So, let's just start there and get to know each other. I'll tell you what our needs are. Tell me what your needs are. And it's a negotiation, so it's not really a black-and-white situation. It has to be this; it has to be that. 

It has to be one of the beautiful things that should be part of philanthropy. Is there a relationship between us? That’s never how we'll say that all the time, right? It's about a relationship. It's a relationship, but it really is, and actually, now, after so many years, some of my best friends, you know, they're not even funding now to any causes that I support. But we're just friends, you know? We're just really good friends because it turns out we believe in many of the same things. And possibly water as well. But it's also fishing. You know, maybe water, but it's also, you know, height or gardening and things like that, so it really is a relationship. Beginning with the conversation of possibilities.

I think if you're going to be a donor, you're going to have to develop some skills too. Some are in, you know, communication skills. If you want to be a donor, if you really want to be part of that philanthropic experience, I think they're also like you in that you have to. It's not like continuing education credits or something, but it helps to be a good communicator and a good people person. Granting to native land intermediaries Is this a good idea, according to three grantors? Yes, granting to native-language intermediaries and re-grantees makes sense. We can be more efficient and effective in generating dollars. 

Jim, this was such a great experience talking to you. 

Well, next time we can have a conversation in my field as you're pulling weeds and I'm irrigating. 

Perfect! Thanks, Jim. Have a really great rest of your day. 

Thank you too.