Bush Foundation narrows focus

Babette Herrmann, Today correspondent
3/27/09

ST. PAUL, Minn. – When the Archibald Bush Foundation’s board of directors set forth on its journey to narrow its philanthropic goals to three areas, they picked Jaime Pinkham, Nez Perce, to spearhead the Support the Self-Determination of Native Nations goal.

Pinkham began his role as the vice president and Native nation team building leader March 16, just two days after resigning as watershed department manager for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

His new position has him working closely with the 23 tribal nations of Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota in their efforts toward self-determination.

Prior to Pinkham’s start, the organization filled the VP roles of its two other goals in the three-state region.

About two months ago, Pamela Wheelock joined the team as vice president and leadership/community engagement team leader to organize the Develop Courageous Leaders and Engage Entire Communities in Solving Problems goal.

Susan Heegaard started about two weeks prior to Pinkham in her role as vice president and educational achievement team leader to Increase Education Achievement.

The organization has plans to reach the goals for each area by 2018. Along the way, they will collect data to examine what measures work best to achieve desirable outcomes, and to learn from undesirable outcomes.

As for Pinkham, before he starts taking any sort of action in his department, he wants to meet tribal leaders from the 23 nations to learn more about their history, and the challenges they face in order to frame a program that works. He also wants to learn from the tribes that are succeeding in their quest for self-determination.

“A lot of it’s going to be me learning from them,” he said. “We have over 250 years of failed policies being brought from the outside.”

“The real successful strategies are coming out of Indian country,” he added.

As the VP he must start from scratch, collecting data and building his team from the ground up. Pinkham is no stranger to spearheading programs in Indian country. In his last position with CRITFC, he worked with Congress and executive branches of government to uphold support of tribal watershed restoration.

He also served on the governing body of the Nez Perce Tribe as treasurer, and on its financial and natural resource subcommittees. And he has held various positions with countless other Native organizations.

Pinkham said that he first met with members of the Bush Foundation’s board of directors in 2006 in his role as a board member of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy through the Udall Center at the University of Arizona.

At the time, the board of directors wanted to create a program that would best help Native nations reach their goals of self-determination based on the philosophy and research from Udall and Harvard.

The meeting left an impression on Pinkham, which led him to his choice to work with the organization. “The Bush Foundation struck me as very bold and courageous.”

“They came to the conclusion that tribes are best in determining their policy for self-governance.”

Pinkham said even despite the fact that Wheelock and Heegaard hold two distinct roles they will likely collaborate on select projects in the future.

Wheelock is spending her beginning months meeting with nonprofit leaders in the three state region to examine how the Bush Foundation can help improve community leadership and goals.

Similar to Pinkham’s goals, she’s also on the lookout for nonprofits with exemplary programs in place, in addition to those that need the greatest assistance. “I think there are going to be a lot of areas for us to work collaboratively on these initiatives.”

Heegaard has started to set up meetings with officials from higher education institutes to evaluate whether they are interested in the Bush Foundation’s goal to create better teaching programs that focus on effective measures, retention and mentoring.

“I am trying to find out if they’re interested, and what they think about our goals, and to begin to establish these partnerships so we can hit the ground running by 2010.”

Heegaard plans to work closely with Pinkham on any initiatives that will improve the educational outcome for Native students.

Kathy Tunheim, chair of the organization’s board of directors, said they are looking forward to learning about the 23 tribes. “We’re honored to have Jaime Pinkham as our teacher and believe his leadership will help us be a respectful partner with those nations.”

The Bush Foundation was established by 3M executive Archibald Bush and his wife Edyth in 1953. They are a private grant making organization that serves Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.

They have also awarded hundreds of fellowships in the arts and culture, health and human services, education and ecological health. And they support African-American colleges and other higher education institutions across the nation.

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