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From Learning to Action: A Foundation’s Journey to Paying Shuumi Land Tax

Learn by doing. You don’t have to have it all figured out perfectly to take the first step.

By Faiza Bukhari, Walter & Elise Haas Fund

Shuumi Land Tax poster along the Ohlone Greenway, designed by Rayah Jaymes with El Cerrito Progressives. Photo credit: El Cerrito Progressives

As someone who doesn’t own a car, I spend a lot of time walking around my neighborhood of El Cerrito, California. One of my favorite places is the Ohlone Greenway, a beautiful pedestrian and bicycle path that is named after the Indigenous people of what is now known as the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area.

But despite the hundreds of times I’ve walked that path, the meaning of the name had never crossed my mind. I was always more engrossed in reading the signs posted along the path — complaints about piled up trash, owners searching for missing pets, flyers promoting upcoming events…you get the picture.

One day last May, I came across a sign that read, “You are on Indigenous Land. Pay Your Shuumi Land Tax.” I wondered what it was about, took a picture, and googled the website on the sign: www.sogoreate-landtrust.org.

That was the first time I learned about the history of the Lisjan Ohlone people and the land they have stewarded since the beginning of time.

I also learned about the Shuumi Land Tax, an inspiring model for redistributing wealth to Indigenous communities via a voluntary annual contribution to support Sogorea Te’ Land Trust’s work of returning Indigenous lands to Indigenous hands.

As I read and as I learned, I kept thinking, Why did I never learn about this in school?

A Journey Begins

A couple of weeks later, I received an email from Jamie Allison, the executive director of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund where I work as a Program Lead, asking me to check out an upcoming webinar. It was hosted by Justice Funders and entitled, Giving Shuumi: Philanthropy’s Role in Redistributing Wealth & Supporting the Return of Indigenous Land.

I immediately thought, Wait…Shuumi? That’s the thing I was looking up a couple of weeks ago!

I happily attended and the presentation opened my eyes even more. Listening to Corrina Gould, Co-Director of Sogorea Te’ and the tribal spokesperson for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, share the stories of struggle, determination and resilience of her ancestors was profoundly moving. Her powerful words expanded my awareness about the importance of restoring the sacred relationship between Indigenous people and their ancestral lands.

Hearing Melissa Nelson, a Sogorea Te’ board member, explain how the accumulation of wealth in the United States — including foundation assets — was built upon the theft of Indigenous lands and lives was also enlightening.

I realized how much the philanthropic sector has a responsibility to recognize the breadth and depth of harm that has been caused to Indigenous communities through the extraction of resources on which our field was founded, and to contribute to their healing and repair.

After the webinar, I was inspired to share these learnings with the rest of my team and to begin conversations about how the Walter & Elise Haas Fund could play a proactive role in that much needed healing and repair. I collaborated with two colleagues to organize an all-staff learning session in which we watched the webinar recording together and talked about what it meant for our work.

And that was how our organizational learning journey began.

Learning leads to Action

Since 2020, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund has been engaged in a racial justice learning journey to better understand how we could contribute to meaningful societal change and help dismantle systemic racism. Our learning has been paired with action, providing general operating grants to Black- and people of color-led community-based organizations that are addressing anti-Blackness and white supremacy and building cross-racial solidarity and power.

It was within this context that we began our learning journey on Indigenous sovereignty and land rematriation.

Shortly after the webinar, one of my colleagues and I participated in an interactive strategy session hosted by Justice Funders for foundation staff who participated in the webinar and wanted to take the next steps in encouraging their institutions to pay Shuumi Land Tax.

Then, as an entire staff, we began conversations about where our office was located; where the majority of our staff lived, worked and played; and how we as both individuals and as an institution have inadvertently benefitted from the theft of Indigenous land and attempted genocide of Indigenous people.

We reflected on the resiliency of Indigenous people, and were inspired by Edgar Villanueva’s 7 Steps of Healing — grieve, apologize, listen, relate, represent, invest, and repair — as a framework through which both individuals and institutions can commit to help restore exploited communities.

After several sessions of learning about Indigenous sovereignty and rematriation, building on our previous year-plus of learning about racial justice, it was time for us to take action. In November of 2021, two of us reached out and set up a conversation with Corrina to begin to build a relationship, learn more about Sogorea Te’s work, and share with them our decision to begin paying our annual institutional Shuumi Land Tax that year.

We also made a commitment to match any staff member’s individual Shuumi tax by 2-to-1, leveraging institutional funds to encourage our staff to also participate.

Taking the First Steps

Our team at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund has taken our own, unique journey to start paying our institutional Shuumi Land tax. We recognize that there’s no one right way to do this, with each foundation needing to adapt to its particular context. For those who need a bit of inspiration to get started, here are some lessons we can share that we learned along the way:

  1. Learn by doing. You don’t have to have it all figured out perfectly to take the first step. Pay your Shuumi, then keep learning and making shifts as you go. We haven’t figured out exactly what the commitment will look like long-term, but we’ve taken the first step.
  2. Keep learning & adapting: We know that foundations are being encouraged to pay their institutional Shuumi as an operating expense rather than a grant, both to signify a perpetual organizational obligation (hence, the term “land tax”) and also so that grantmaking budgets aren’t impacted. For the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, making a grant was the fastest and most flexible way for us to take immediate action. Now, our work includes exploring how best to institutionalize our commitment to Indigenous communities.
  3. Don’t stop at paying your annual land tax. Shuumi isn’t just about writing a check; it’s about entering into a long-term relationship and process of healing and repair in partnership with Indigenous communities. As a next step, we hope to create opportunities for our philanthropic peers and grantee partners to learn alongside us, which we know will deepen our own learning as well. In addition, our learning journey around rematriation has inspired us to think about how we can take a proactive role in applying a reparations framework to our grantmaking.
  4. Encourage others to follow. My hope is that we and other foundations that have begun paying institutional Shuumi can influence others in the field to start their own journeys of learning and action. Philanthropy’s long-term, field-wide commitment to Indigenous communities is much needed and long overdue.

The Next Chapter

Since last fall, every time I’m on Ohlone Greenway, I am reminded of Corrina’s words:

“People are really trying to understand how to try to fix some of the wrongs and the pain that has happened over the last few hundred years since America was created.”

Her words remind me of what it means to me, personally, to give Shuumi every year. I am also inspired to think about the important role that philanthropy can play in repairing ancestral harms that have occurred, and comforted that I work at a place that has acknowledged its responsibility to support rematriation efforts, and restore land to California’s Indigenous communities.

I invite you to join me, and join us, on this journey. Whether this is the first time you are learning about the Shuumi Land Tax for foundations, or you and your institution have been on your own journey and are ready to take that first action step, check out these resources including opportunities to connect with the folks who are leading this work:

  • Learn more about the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust and the Shuumi Land Tax: Guidance for Foundations page on their website.
  • Check out the Shuumi Land Tax for Foundations resource page on Justice Funders website.
  • If you are with a Bay Area philanthropic institution and are seeking support and resources around paying institutional Shuumi Land Tax, please reach out to Ariel Luckey at Sogorea Te’ Land Trust (ariel@rematriatetheland.org) or Maria Nakae at Justice Funders (maria@justicefunders.org).
  • Sign up here to connect, build community and take action around Shuumi Land Tax for foundations.

Faiza Bukhari is the Program Lead for Racial Justice and Arts Build Resilient Communities at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund.

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Stories and analysis to inspire philanthropic transformation.

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