First Nations’ Donors Sojourn to the Southwest

Santa Fe and Alburquerque, New Mexico, served as the scenic and cultural backdrops for a special tour that took nine enthusiastic First Nations supporters to the Pueblos of Jemez, Pojoaque, Santo Clara, Tesuque, and Cochiti to meet First Nations’ grassroots community partners.

The Southwest Sojourn Tour ― the fourth tour since the program launched in 2015 ― gave our valued supporters an up-close-and-personal look at the important work they are helping to preserve to strengthen Native communities.


“We hadn’t conducted a donor tour since 2019 due to the pandemic, so it was great to connect our supporters and partners again,” said Jona Charette, First Nations’ Associate Director  of individual giving and the lead tour organizer who spent nearly five months pulling together the many details of the event. “Instead of putting 200 people on several charter buses, we kept the tour small to encourage more discussion and closer connections between everyone.” Charette says this intimate approach to the tour goes back to the “high touch” with partners that First Nations is known for.

Tour participants  included Husayn Allmart, a program officer for Wayfarer; Dr. Judith Favell, CEO of AdvoServ; independent artist Mars Luren; Drs. Amar and Mangala Kumar; Ray Garcia, principal of R.T. Garcia & Co., Inc.; Julia Kant and her friend, Marsha Albright, an orthodontist; and Maurice LeBlanc, a retired rehabilitation engineer noted for his work with prosthetics.

This particular group was just awesome!” says Charette, a member of the Northern Cheyenne/Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. “Everyone clicked so well and were best friends after dinner the first night.”

Maurice LeBlanc, a retired rehabilitation engineer, has expressed an interest in donating to the California Tribal Fund.

LeBlanc, who has expressed an interest in the California Tribal Fund, was most impressed with how active Natives are in their thriving communities. “Everyone in the Pueblos is so well-educated and in good positions to help American Indians in so many ways.” He was particularly grateful to have met New Mexico State Sen. Benny Shendo, a member of the Jemez Pueblo Tribe ― who also served as the sojourn tour guide ― and First Nations President Mike Roberts (Tlingit). “Having meals with these men and getting to know them enhanced the trip for me because of their depth of knowledge and experience with Natives.”

As a result of this trip, LeBlanc plans to increase his support of First Nations and become more involved with the California Tribal Fund, whose main office is based in his hometown of Claremont, California.

First Nations President and CEO Mike Roberts (right) and First Nations Board Chair and New Mexico State Sen. Benny Shendo, a member of the Jemez Pueblo Tribe who volunteered as the tour guide.

Places to Go, Partners to Meet

Charette and other escorts from First Nations, including Eileen Egan (Hopi), a resource development advisor, led donors on a fun-filled, informative, and action-packed week to explore the worlds of 10 community partners in New Mexico:

Saad K’idilyé Diné Language Nest: A grassroots organization working to provide urban access to the Diné language and culture within and around Albuquerque.

Indigenous Women Rising: An Indigenous-led, full-spectrum reproductive justice organization.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center: The gateway to the 19 pueblos of New Mexico, featuring a museum and art galleries spotlighting the works of Pueblo artists.

Keres Children’s Learning Center: A preschool using Montessori pedagogy in a Keres language-immersion setting that serves Cochiti children between the ages of 2.5 and 6 and provides weekly seminars and language materials for parents and extended families.

The Pueblo de Cochiti: A 53,779-acre reservation that is home to 1,175 Pueblo members, 55 miles north of Albuquerque. Principal uses for the land include farming, livestock, recreation, economic development, agriculture, and Pueblo home/residential construction.

The Puye Cliff Dwellings

Puye Cliff Dwellings: A cultural site where 1,500 Pueblo Indians lived, farmed, and hunted game from the 900s to 1580 A.D.

Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, Summer Policy Academy: An educational organization that offers intensive sessions in leadership, public policy, and community issues for New Mexico high school juniors and seniors interested in becoming policy advisors within their Native communities.

IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts: The IAIA (Institute of American Indian Arts) Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) is recognized as the preeminent organizer of arts exhibitions representative of Native North America.

Poeh Cultural Center: Founded in 1988, this center promotes Native American Pueblo art and culture. Its primary focus is on the artists of the six Tewa-speaking Pueblos of Northern New Mexico.

Pueblo of Pojoaque: It is one of the six Northern Tewa-speaking Rio Grande Pueblos that became a federally recognized tribe in 1936. Current tribal enrollment is 263 members.

For one community partner, the Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC), meeting donors in person was invaluable. “I think it is important that they see our work in person because it gives them a visual of all the great work being done at the center,” says Curtis Chavez, KCLC’s director of development, who always welcomes friends and allies to visit the center. Chavez and his staff treated First Nations donors to a taste of Pueblo culture, literally, with an authentic Pueblo feast. “We really enjoyed meeting donors and learning about all the Native projects they support.”

Tour participants also learned about KCLC’s plans to build a new school facility that will enhance its mission to teach Keres language immersion to Cochiti children, parents, and extended family members for generations to come.

Highlights of the Tour

The Southwest Sojourn Tour kicked off with a welcome dinner and opening remarks by First Nations’ Chairman of the Board and New Mexico State Sen. Benny Shendo (Jemez Pueblo). His speech titled, “Indian 101: Ask Me Anything” set the stage for a week of friendly, open discussion and camaraderie.

Drs. Mangala (left) and Amar Kumar, who came to the U.S. from India more than 45 years ago, made lasting memories on the Southwest Sojourn Tour.

Participants were treated to a well-balanced mix of educational presentations, private tours, site visits, delicious food, and hands-on activities ― all centered around Pueblo culture. Some experiential highlights of the tour included collecting corn pollen, making Pueblo bread, attending the Jemez Pueblo Feast Day, and a pottery demonstration by 2020 Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow Clarence Cruz, an award-winning artist from the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and foremost expert in Tewa pottery.

There were many memorable moments of the tour for donors Amar and Mangala Kumar, medical doctors who moved to the United States from India more than 45 years ago and now live in Virginia. “Amar and I were very impressed with the amount of energy that Indigenous Women Rising put into their work,” says Mangala, who also enjoyed the nutritious lunch at the Pueblo Feast Day, “provided with a lot of thought and affection.” And something she will never forget, “Coming down the ladder in the Puye Cliff Dwellings was exciting and breathtaking.”

Independent artist Mars Luren, who supports Native land-back efforts, had an amusing experience at the Pueblo Feast Day that changed the way she thinks about food. A Pueblo elder asked her about the food in North Carolina, where she lives. She listed all the international cuisine available there, such as Mexican, Indian, and Korean. When she asked the elder the same question, his one-word response was, “Chili.” She laughed but said that jarred her into thinking about foods indigenous to North Carolina, like chili is to New Mexico, and that perhaps she should be eating more local foods, as well. “It made me wonder what seasonal foods are grown where I live. What is actually there?

A presentation by Regis Pecos, co-founder of the Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School, left a big impression on California donor LeBlanc. “Regis’s presentation was extraordinarily good. He went through all the governmental legislation over the years, all of which has negatively impacted American Indians. I had no idea it was that bad!”

Dr. Judith Favell, CEO of AdvoServ, was moved by the “spirit” of the event.

For Dr. Judith Favell, CEO of AdvoServ, it wasn’t necessarily one event or presentation that stood out for her, but rather, the “spirit” of the event that meant so much. “I was very pleased to see up close and personal the kind of good that First Nations is doing, and the gratitude of the partners and beneficiaries of it. I was impressed by their spirit for improving their own lives and the lives of people in their communities.”

Dr. Favell explains why she gives to First Nations. “We cannot erase or ameliorate the horrible history of what happened to Native Americans. But each of us should do what we can now to contribute to the betterment of their communities.”

Plans Underway for the Next Sojourn Tour!

According to Charette, the 2023 Southwest Sojourn Tour was so successful that she and her team are already planning the next one, tentatively scheduled for June of 2024. This time, in Minnesota or Wisconsin, or possibly both states. Granular details still to be worked out. But Charette does know that, like the Southwest Sojourn Tour, she will include a variety of supporters and community partners from across First Nations’ multiple programs and projects.

The overall objective for Charette in organizing Sojourn Tours is for participants to build lasting relationships. “My job is all about relationship-building, and on these tours, you make lifelong friends. I still maintain close relationships with those who attended the first tour in 2015!”

She adds that First Nations encourages donors to give directly to community partners. “They don’t have to necessarily go through us. We are happy to share their contact information because we want our supporters and community partners to develop their own special relationships with one another.”

First Nations’ Associate Director of Individual Giving Jona Charette

Thank You, From First Nations

To bring the Southwest Sojourn Tour ― and this story ― to a close, First Nations’ associate director of individual giving has one last thing to say:

“I want to thank all the supporters of First Nations Development Institute for your continued support and for believing in our work. Without you, we would not be able to do the work that we do. I am so appreciative for our continued partnership in giving.