#129 Giving Well to Indigenous Communities, with Jim Enote CEO of the Colorado Plateau Foundation

May 22, 2023

Jim Enote joins Sybil for a special bonus episode. He shares what he has been doing since his last appearance on the podcast, and then shares his wisdom for those who want to give to indigenous communities. Jim explains how to give in a righteous way that reflects equality, fairness, and respect. 


Episode Highlights:

  • Give from a place of support and empowerment, not guilt
  • Trust those you are giving


Jim Enote Bio:

Jim Enote is a Zuni tribal member and CEO of the Colorado Plateau Foundation. He serves on the boards of the Trust for Mutual Understanding, and Grand Canyon Trust, and formally with Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation. He is a National Geographic Society Explorer, a New Mexico Community Luminaria, and an E.F. Schumacher Society Fellow.

Jim’s service over the past forty years includes natural resource, cultural resource, philanthropic, and arts assignments for many organizations including UNESCO, UNDP, International Secretariat for Water, Nordic Council of Ministers, Tibet Child Nutrition Project, the Mountain Institute, National Geographic Society, US Bureau of Indian Affairs, US National Park Service, Zuni Tribe, and several major charitable foundations, museums, and universities. He has written in Heritage In the Context of Globalization; Science, Technology, and Human Values; Sacredness as a Means to Conservation; Mapping Our Places; Indigenous People and Sustainable Development; A:shiwi A:wan Ulohnanne, and Redrock Stories, to name a few. Recent short pieces include; We Cannot Live by Sentiments Alone, The Museum Collaboration Manifesto, Buyer Beware, What I Tell Boys, and Please Don’t Call Me a Warrior.

In 2010 while serving as the director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum Jim was awarded the first Ames Prize for Innovative Museum Anthropology during the American Anthropological Association’s annual conference. In 2013 he received the Guardian of Culture and Lifeways Award from the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, and in 2016 received the Hewett Award for leadership and service to the New Mexico museum community and for achievements in the museum field. He lives in his work in-progress home at Zuni, New Mexico.




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

#126 Sybil Speaks: Leveraging Public Dollars

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


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Full Transcript

OK, everyone. So, I know that I promised you that I have themes for each month, and this month is focused on leveraging public dollars. However, what I've been finding is, as I dig deep into each of the themes each month, I end up finding out better information about the theme that I'm working on and the theme that I focused on in the previous month was how to give well to indigenous communities and I ended up having an amazing additional conversation with Jim Enote about this work. 

He's an expert. He's from the Zuni nation, and he runs the Colorado Plateau Foundation. And he is such an expert on how to give well to indigenous communities that we had an additional conversation. And I've been waiting to be able to fit this into the portfolio that I have to offer You. And since May has an extra Monday in it. I wanted to sneak this in. 

So, I know that you're here to listen this month on how to leverage your dollars with public dollars, but I want to squeeze this into the conversation to remind you about how to give well to indigenous communities. So here you go. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Jimmy Enote. 

Jim, I am really honored to have you back on my podcast. Every time we talk, you have so many amazing words of wisdom for my listeners and my listeners are donors who want to give well and give to causes they care about. And you're really, you know, you know Your staff. 

So, thank you for coming back to my podcast. I did rerun our interviews. Well, we had two interviews, but I reran one of them just this month in February 2023 because I thought it was so terrific. And it's been almost a year since we've talked last though in person, so. I'd love to hear your Insights about you now that it's been a little while, how are you doing? How's your nonprofit doing? How are you? Do you have any specific grants that you've helped give recently that have made you really happy and, you know, to remind my listeners, you're somebody who…You give grants, and you receive grants from donors who Value your expertise in your area and that's really, really important. 

So, I don't want to say more, I Want you to talk. Talk a little bit more. Remind my listeners you know who you are and what you do, and then let's talk about some of the things that have excited you this last year. About what's going on?

Well, thank you, Sybil. It's great to speak with you again. It has been a while. Things are well and I'm actually in San Francisco today. Yesterday I was at home on the Zuni reservation in Zuni, NM, my hometown. 

It's quite a thing to be there putting wood in the fireplace. Having a lot of mud on my shoes and then the next thing to be here in San Francisco and putting on a sports jacket and you know, knocking on doors and meeting with potential high-end donors and also meeting with people that are just good people, just friends who may have an interest in our work. So just as a refresher, Yep, I am Jim Enote and I am a Zuni tribal member in Zuni, NM where I'm based.

Jim, Jim, let's talk about that. What you just said I want to hover over that.


You went from putting wood in the fire yesterday to wearing a suit and talking to donors. I think that's sort of the Crux of what we're trying to talk about here today is. When you're going and talking to donors in San Francisco, you know, how does that make you feel? I mean, is that OK? What is the kind of thing that a donor should think about when they're asking you to come to San Francisco? And are they getting the full story? If they're asking you to come there versus coming to your territory, I don't know. Talk about that a little bit.

Well, I said I didn't say I was actually wearing a full Suit. I'm wearing my jeans and I have. I do have a black suit that I wear just for certain occasions, but I just have a sports jacket and I don't even own a tie, but I do like being a dandy. Sometimes I don't. It's kind of fun to Wear some clean clothes. And shirts that button up. I wouldn't say it's a transformation or any kind of shapeshift, it's really if I'm going to meet somebody in their place. I tried to present myself as an equal right but at the same time, I am authentically me. I think that's important. 

So, the way I show up with my own presence is just who I am, so I don't own the type. It's just that I have Bolo ties. I'll wear them sometimes, but it is sometimes, and I wonder if it's a? How much of an arena of power is it? Because philanthropy is sometimes very much about some powers. But really, I think we're all really wanting to do and do it better to deal with that asymmetry of power. Right. And because if I'm in a situation where a potential donor says. 

So, what I think you need are XY, and Z and I say well, this is where I live and these are the people, I am in service to us. What we know we need is Q, R&S, and I will show up just as myself, right? And I wouldn't want anybody to make any assumptions like, well, there's a dress code or that if I arrive and I appear or look differently than they think I should look, then that's not good either. You know, I'm not going to put on Some of my jewelry? You know, I'm not going to arrive as a Super Indian, you know, like I'm going to sing a song and make a fire for you. So that you'll know that I'm a native person, I don't need to do that, right? I'm just going to come as I am. 

And I think that's very important, and I expect the same from people that I am meeting with too. Just be you. Just be yourselves. We'll both be the same and that will help to deal with that asymmetry. We're just people, right? We're all just.

I love that. Wanting us, we all. Well said, Jim.

Want to make the world a more beautiful place?

Well said, well said. Let's go into some of this now. What are some of the things that you're excited about that you've been talking with donors about this? And also, just in general, in this past year, some of the work you've done.

Well, I lead the Colorado Plateau Foundation and we are focused on a region in the southwest US. So, we are in service to tribal communities in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and I spoke with someone today actually about that and he asked if I'm doing work internationally or nationally. I said no, I have been to many places in the world. I'm very fortunate in that regard, but I'm not interested in doing work outside that. That's out of my scope. That's out of my area. And not really interested in doing things nationally either, and I am more interested in working where I know best and so I guess one of the mantras or slogans of the Colorado Plateau Foundation is we live where we serve.

So, we know about Cultural political governance. Social outlooks, better than anyone could ever know, because we live there, so we have a very regional focus. It's almost like a Community Foundation like fun. And so, I've been emphasizing that. 

But also, I think sometimes I'm even coaching potential donors. People who are donors. Why give to native or indigenous peoples? It's like, how do you want to contribute to change? Because some people think like, well, I hope I can do something to help native indigenous people with health, maybe education perhaps Law, you know, legal work more, maybe the environment. And then the next question is, I would ask well, which tribal nation or group of tribes are you interested in? Have you done your research? What are you reading? Who are you speaking with? Because it's always important to familiarize yourself with the issues because it could be food security. It may be education. 

So, we need to be aware and informed about those things because some people will just have a very big overarching question, our overarching. Answer to What are you interested in? They say I just want to support indigenous people and I and I again ask well which part and where, and they'd say, well, I feel bad about what has happened to indigenous people. And I want to make things right and then that raises a flag for me, actually. I would say. You know, if you're going to do this good noble work, and give in the right way in a righteous way, I think don't do it. Because of sentiments. Right. 

It's just like I'm not interested in an “I'm sorry”. I would be more interested in hearing “Thank you”. I think that's where part of this altruism, benevolence, this good idea, philanthropy should be coming from. It's like thank you for what you're doing. It makes sense that I want to support you because of this. This makes sense not because I feel bad about it. 

Guilt doesn't really solve a lot of problems. I think if we've all been in different relationships, maybe some better than others, guilt and the feeling of guilt doesn’t really help the relationship, right?

Very good point, yes.

And I think that when you understand what makes sense to make things better, then you can get to the right place and do it in the right way and righteously.

That is terrific advice, Jim. That is really terrific advice. I'm sitting on that. I love that.

Along those lines, let's talk about some of the work you've done. Where the thank you has been prominent and the good work that you're doing? In your area, to really make a difference that the donors can think about in terms of what they might want to lean into in the future. 

Yeah, well, you know, I think. It's always important to think about where there are gaps. Thinking about whether I am interested in supporting a project or am I interested in supporting a movement. Because of projects, I may have said this before, but projects have a beginning and an end, and sometimes that's very good. Sometimes, like you have, the project fixes the problem. Or the project solves the puzzle, but sometimes what may be needed is some real movement building, maybe some nation building and supporting a movement is something that you're investing in for the long term, or you're supporting something that's going to last, right? 

So, thinking about where the gaps are, and doing the research and the other is of course you know as is in, in so much of philanthropy, I think we should have our own oath. Is to do no harm. Right. We should be thinking that way too. Right. 

Because if we're not careful, we might do. Supports something that in the end may have caused some mayhem for a small community, maybe a small tribal community in Alaska or Alaska Native Village or, perhaps in the southwest US or elsewhere. 

If we haven't done our research, if we haven't done our reading and then talking with the right people. And understanding the gaps we might be doing something that just really creates more trouble so that's been something I've been having some really good conversations with people about. 

And also, I think Having this idea of People better understanding, what is the difference between giving restricted funding or support versus general support, right because. Maybe there's an organization that is working on food systems and maybe food security, and that person says, well, I want to give but, I want to help them just to buy tools for their gardening work or to build a greenhouse and that may be fine if it's. If it's OK with the organization. About perhaps the organization what they really need is to cover their travel or our salaries, and maybe they need just to keep the lights on. 

And so that's where general support, maybe even better for that organization. There there's, there are all sorts of nuances in giving to native or indigenous communities and those are. Just a couple of them. 

No, that's great. That's really helpful because it's sort of the big picture and the difference between general support and project and helps us think through the kind of questions we want to ask. I mean it is the Community that we're talking to, telling us that there is a particular project they need support that can help them really overcome a critical barrier that they're trying to overcome that would be like maybe a one to five-year timing time horizon or something like that. Or there's just a systems-wide concern that the Community has, and they want to support, so thanks for saying that I'm going to bring it home to you though, Jim.

I want to hear from you now that you think so deeply about this in your community and with your organization when you're talking about these words of wisdom and this advice, what grants have you given that have really inspired you? Either on the project or general support level. Because like we said before, you're getting funding from some of the bigger foundations, and philanthropic organizations, and then you're giving to indigenous communities in your region. So, what are some things, what are some specific grants that you really would love to have his examples for us?

Well, Sybil, I'm. I'm glad you brought that back home for me.

Well, the Colorado Plateau Foundation, we are in grant-making. Protecting water. Protecting sacred places, which is really code for Environmental Protection. Preserving languages. I believe languages are the Crucible for native knowledge and for food security through sustainable agriculture. 

And those are the kinds of grant-making we do, and those are the main priority areas. And our initial grants to an organization really are about first helping them to build their capacity. If they are working on one or more of those. We help to help them to get stable, to get stronger from within so they can flourish and do good. We also gave general operating support grants, right?

But I think that the, the, the grants that are happening now that are really, I think. Well, there's so many that are important to me, but I think for example. Protecting sacred places again, which is a kind of code for Environmental Protection and, well, there's the workaround. Bears Ears National Monument. We have grantees working in that area and with the previous presidential White House administration that was rolled back. As you may know, and with the change of that and the reinstatement of Bears Ears National Monument, there are some wonderful things happening again. This is the work to protect sacred places like Bears Ears. Board again and so that makes me very happy. I feel good about that. 

I think the other is around languages and preserving languages because as I said, yeah, languages and traditional knowledge that the language is the Crucible for that. If we lose those languages, we're losing a wing of the world or the human experience, knowledge, you know, or all of this knowledge that's kept within language. It's not just critical. I think it's even in an emergency right now. It's really an emergency. I mean, the pandemic had a profound and serious effect on our communities, and we lost many elders. And that made it even more critical that more of an emergency that supporting language is so important.

I'm feeling really good about the kind of work that we've been given. And I think the other is that we are giving multi-year grants now. So last year, 2022 was our first year giving multi-year grants and we were able to give a handful of those. But that's a big commitment because, you know, we obviously have to have the money in the bank. We have to be able to stay with that promise that will support them this year and the next year. 

And so, in other words, they don't have to reapply again next year. It's like we’ve committed to supporting those grantees again next year. So that's been a big step for us. So, I feel really good about that. Though we are on a rocket. We're rocketing into the future. As a native-led foundation, you know we're more than just grants out the door because we also provide that support to the grantees because we're right there where they are too. As I said, we live where we serve. 

So, we have continuous support for those. We bring them all together each year for a learning community, and so there's that value-added part of our grant-making. So that’s one more thing that makes me happy. 

And while it's not a grant the other part of our work is public. You know, it's helping to really create a more informed world. The public is a more informed citizen; so, they can also know about the issues in the region, whether it's for native issues, maybe the environment, and all of these. So, our public education is another important part. 

So, I'm feeling good. I'm feeling really good. We are taking big steps. You know, I think we're showing that. The ability of native peoples, now in 2023, that we are serious, we're capable and we're taking big steps forward. You know, we're moving.

That's so exciting and I'm really inspired. And when we were talking offline too, it just sounded like you are on a Rocketship like you are going places. Not surprisingly, not surprisingly, before we go, and gosh, I don't want to have to go but. I feel like you know you're super busy and I want to respect your time, but this has just been such a great check- in before we go. Can you offer me, my listener, just a reminder, what should we be doing as donors? 

What are the most important things that you think we should be doing, you know; you said a bunch of them today, but I'd love to make sure that you just emphasize them for us. Take home messages to make sure that we do the right thing in the future for you and do good for you.

Well, I think when you are meeting with people, hopefully, you're going to have a visit, a meeting, hopefully, hopefully within the arms region in a safe way. But I think coming to your work with your own dignity. Right. The dignity of you, of your hearts, and yourself. Because if you're wanting to do this work, I mean, it's noble, it's a righteous, righteous thing to give, right? If we can do that, it's important and it's not. 

I think you don't. You don't come, you don't say, Well, I'm so sorry about this. Right? I want to make things better, but really, it's like you come with your dignity. It's like I want to help to make the world a more beautiful place. I want to partner with you. And you have dignity for the person you're sitting across from and respect them and it's a beautiful thing when those two energies come together with that idea of dignity and respect for each other. Because if you don't, then it's, then again the balance of the relationship is not the same and what you want to bring is equality, fairness, and righteousness to your giving, so dignity itself.

I love that, Jim and last we talked; you talked about the power of 1,000,000 new ideas and how inspired you were by the next generation who are coming up in the world and they're starting their own nonprofits and that everyone's so entrepreneurial. 

I'm so excited for the future and with people like you in it, so I just appreciate you if anyone wants to get to know, you know, your organization better. We're going to have links to the Columbia Plateau Foundation in Colorado. Oh, my gosh. Colorado Plateau Foundation. In the show notes. Any other information that you might want to share will also be in our show notes, but I just thank you for coming back to my Show. OH yes. You are showing you that my audience can't see, but you're showing me the visual. You talked to the group about it, and well, I actually have that in my show notes right now for folks, but talk about it, Jim, talk about it stand up.

Yes, we have. One of the great epiphanies this past year since we last spoke was the power of communications, right, and diversifying the kind of communications that we do.

Yes, yes.

And we had an idea to tell our story in a different way. And it's, you know, video is a good medium and radio, and all the rest is good too. But we wanted to diversify because we're doing all that? But we wanted to do something different. And so, we created a comic book.

I love it. Yes, I looked. OH, it's so great. I hope my listeners check it out.

What's called stand up and what we'll do is send you a PDF of this comic. It's a short read. You can probably get through it in 5 minutes or less, but it's a story of the emergence and development of the Colorado Plateau Foundation and I think your subscribers will like it.

Yes, it's beautiful. I have seen it and I've been lucky enough to look at it and I definitely will put that in the show notes so that folks can get their hands on it because it's just really great. Anything else you want to share with us like that? I mean, your right communication is so important. All right. Well, Jim, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

All right, Sybil. Take care.