Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

January 2, 2023

The Money Pump -- Non-Profits in Indian Country: Fraud, Secrecy and Deep Deception

Iron Eyes Cody, an Italian who masqueraded as an Indian, and Princess Pale Moon, both were exposed as frauds. They were part of the non-profit American Indian Heritage Foundation television commercials before the non-profit was shut down. It solicited both cash and land in its "Give the land back to the Indians" campaign. (Photo Iron Eyes Cody presents President Jimmy Carter with a headdress on April 21, 1978. Photo courtesy of Peter Bregg/Associated Press)

The Money Pump -- Non-Profits in Indian Country: Fraud, Secrecy and Deep Deception

Censored News spent months looking at the tax records of non-profits in Indian country. Here's what we found: The non-profit structure puts lots of money into the pockets of a few. We've updated our article with more documents and Standing Rock Nation's ban on two non-profits.

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
Updated May 3, 2023

The average income in Indian country is $40,000.

The average salary of an executive director at a non-profit in Indian country is $100,000 to $200,000, with more money being funneled to family members. The annual salaries at non-profits in Indian country are as high as $1.2 million for executives.

Many executive directors of non-profits in Indian country have been playing poor, especially when grassroots groups asked for funding. Now, their tax documents are online and reveal that many receive millions of dollars in grants and donations each year.

The tax records show CEOs and executive directors giving themselves lavish salaries and expense accounts. In some cases, the CEOs are non-Indians, and in other cases they are frauds. Some have suddenly become Cherokee, Yaqui or Apache.

The Exploitation of O'odham Sacred Lifeways

Ofelia Rivas, Tohono O'odham elder, said non-profits are exploiting the sacred.

Rivas is among O'odham responding to the traditional food conference held at the Tohono O'odham Nation Museum during June of 2022. The traditional saguaro fruit harvest was demonstrated at the conference by the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and detailed photos of the traditional harvest were placed on social media. (See the non-profit's details below.)

Rivas said, "I hope the people have the strength to assert the rights of the peoples and sacred way of life."

"Many O'odham are very disturbed at the exploitation of our way of life. This way is very much connected to the greater O'odham way of life, the ceremony life."

"We O'odham that continue this way of life can only make an offering at the great offensive and disrespect to our relatives the saguaro people."

Sleeping with the Enemy: Dirty Coal

The foundations donating to Indian country causes often obtain their money by way of exploitation: Mining, power plants, and land seizures for railroads. 

Censored News research into non-profits in Indian country reveals a dirty fact in the bowels of non-profits and coal-fired energy.

The Christensen Fund's wealth came from a Utah coal mining company and a coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Nation.

It is one of the leading funders in Indian country and reaped its fortune by way of the development of the most polluting coal-fired power plant: The Four Corners Power Plant. The power plant and the Navajo Mine, on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, result in sickness and respiratory disease. The Navajo government signed the land lease in 1957. While the electricity went to Southwest cities, many Dineh suffered from its dirty plume seen from space.

Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine

The Christensen Fund was founded by Allen D. Christensen. In 1957, The Interior Department approved a coal mining and electric power development lease by Utah Construction Company for 24,000 acres on the Navajo Nation south of Fruitland, New Mexico, according to the Interior Department.

The ten-year lease was signed by Allen D. Christensen, president of Utah Construction, and  Chairman Paul Jones of the Navajo Tribal Council. The strip of land was 25 miles in length and two miles in width.

It became one of the most polluting coal-fired power plants in history.

The astronauts of the Mercury program reported that they could see two human-constructed things from space: one was the Great Wall of China and the other was the "plume streaming from Four Corners Power Plant."

Climate justice and food sustainability non-profits receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from this non-profit, according to its grant search on its website.

It wasn't just Dineh in the Four Corners region that suffered from mining by the Utah Construction and Mining Company, the mining was also in Peru and Australia.

Christensen's company also bought out Lucky Mc company, for uranium mining and ore processing in Wyoming.

The Exploitation of Culture and Lifeways

Non-Indians are selling Native seeds, and receiving large grants by exploiting cultural ways, including dry farming and sustainable agriculture. The public is deceived about who is operating these non-profits because they use photos of Native employees in their publicity.

Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Censored News was asked about the non-profit that hosted the traditional Tohono O'odham foodways conference at the Tohono O'odham Nation Museum in June of 2022. Photos of the traditional O'odham saguaro fruit harvest, O'odham young people, and farmers were posted on social media.

The host was a non-profit with a non-Indian executive director based in the bordertown of Ajo, Arizona, the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The small town in the Sonoran desert is located near the western edge of the Tohono O'odham Nation, just north of the Mexico border.

The website shows Nina Sajovec from Slovenia as the executive director. However, the tax form for 2020 shows the executive director is from Slovenia, but with a different name, Katarina Sajovec Altshul. Her salary was $84,000 in 2020.

The non-profit, which identifies as a Native American non-profit, received $772,000 in contributions and donations in 2020. According to its Facebook page, it accepted donations from the border wall constructors, Southwest Valley Constructors, while O'odham protested the border wall.

Ajo residents said they were unaware that the executive director received a federal grant for $875,838, in April of 2022, to open a new food bank to serve Ajo and the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Ajo residents said they have asked for the financial documents, but were unable to view the 990 tax document until it was posted here on Censored News.

Native board members said there has been no transparency.

Update: Rat and squirrel infestation in the food pantry

Board members and former employees provided Censored News with a stack of labor violations and ethics concerns about the operation of the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture. They point out that it was volunteers who kept the food delivered during the worst of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. They also point out that very little food is actually grown by the non-profit.

In an open letter to funders, three board members, along with nine former employees, volunteers, and community members, ask for accountability.

Included in the list of labor violations and ethics concerns, the twelve Ajo residents told funders there is a lack of regard for food safety.

Pointing out the food bank delivers to those in need in Ajo and the Tohono O'odham Nation, they tell funders:

"The worst occurrence was a rat and squirrel infestation of the Ajo Center for  Sustainable Agriculture restaurant food pantry and work building. Nina Sajovec expected employees to work in a rodent-infested environment and to distribute possibly contaminated restaurant and food pantry food to the Ajo community, the Tohono O'odham Nation, and to Gila Bend during their food crisis in August 2021."

"At least two community members reported the infestation to the Pima County health department, but little action was taken. One employee chose to quit at this time," states the letter to funders.

The following report from Pima County Health Department says there were rodents and a squirrel in the cafe and food pantry. It also says the rat problem was out of control and doors were being left open in September of 2021.


Single mother denied pay after contracting COVID

Cris Franco was the food pantry manager when she contracted COVID-19. In a letter to the editor of Ajo Copper News, Chris said she was denied pay for a month after contracting the virus and becoming seriously ill with pneumonia.

Cris is a single mother. In her letter, she points out that the CEO was receiving a salary of $84,000 while working from home, while Cris became sick as a frontline worker and was denied pay.  (Please scroll to the end notes to read her letter.)

Ajo residents also point out that board member Mara Branson no longer lives in the United States and returned to her home country of Latvia in Europe.

Board members said they have not been given tax or financial documents.

Non-profits are required to provide 990 tax documents for the previous three years to anyone that requests these. The tax document shows the CEO's salary of $84,000 and board members in 2020.


Above: Tax documents for Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture, for the year 2020, posted at ProPublica.

Native American Agriculture Fund: CEO's salary more than $300,000

Lawsuit Settlement Funds for Farmers, Ranchers and Education

The Native American Agriculture Fund has $297 million, a really big chunk of the class action lawsuit filed by Native American farmers against the USDA for discrimination. The lawsuit was Keepseagle v.Vilsack.

The CEO is at the top of our list of the highest paid in Indian country. CEO Janie Hipp, Chickasaw, received $305,933 in 2020. -- (The current CEO is Toni Stanger-McLaughlin, J.D., Colville.)

The grants it gives out include ranching, farming and educational projects. The non-profit's money is a “cy pres” award, a distribution of money that is left over from a class action settlement that is then given to a charitable organization. The non-profit is based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Photo: Page one of employees and the board shows the top salaries.
Tax document at ProPublica

Tax document posted at ProPublica

Native Seeds Search

Another non-profit, Native Seeds Search in Tucson, was founded by a non-Indian. A walk through its new lavish offices in Tucson reveals it is operated by non-Indians. 

Tohono O'odham elders point out that one or two people can not give permission to sell their ancient seeds. When O'odham elders asked for bulk seeds for planting, they were denied. They want the non-profit to stop selling their seeds and return them.

The same non-Indian founder of Native Seeds Search created the Southwest Borderlands Food and Water Security, at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It is based on the sustainable agriculture of Tohono O'odham and funded by a Kellogg grant.

For many years, both non-profits have published photos of Native Americans in their publicity. These are employees and volunteers, which deceptively gives the appearance of the two non-profits being operated by Native Americans.

The Virginia Non-Profits: Two Non-Profits Based in the State of Virginia

Princess Pale Moon, fraud and salaries of $200,000

Among the most egregious are the huge non-profits, operated by non-Indians, who many say are thriving on "poverty porn." These non-profits thrive on collecting cash -- and then they distribute used clothes and leftovers. The salaries of directors and board members average $200,000 each year.

The American Indian Heritage Foundation in Falls Church, Virginia, was steeped in fraud before it was shut down. Its president Princess Pale Moon was exposed as a fraud. Another fraud, Iron Eyes Cody, an Italian, appeared in its television commercials.

"Give the land back to the Indians" was the message in its television campaign. It is unknown if land was donated to the non-profit, and sold before it was shut down.

This 1991 article exposed the fraud, involving its president Princess Pale Moon, a fraud, and another fraud, Iron Eyes Cody, who was an Italian. This non-profit was asking people to donate land -- how much land was donated for Natives, but instead sold by the non-profit is unknown.

Begging for used clothes, while showing $70 million in revenues

Currently, the Native American Heritage Association in Front Royal, Virginia has one of the largest revenues in Indian country. However, it is begging for used clothes to send Lakotas on its website.

It received $70 million in donations and paid its board chairman a salary of $226,794 filed in 2020. In fact, it pays its staff nearly a million dollars each year. And it also has $16 million in assets.

However, it is sending used clothes, and outdated food, to Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Crow Creek, Cheyenne River, and Lower Brule.

Lakotas said the food delivered is donated food and often outdated. 

Although it has one of the largest incomes in Indian country, it solicits and distributes used clothes.

It says on its website, "By the end of the week, we have enough clothing to fill our tractor-trailer. Then the driver begins the long haul to the Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Crow Creek, Cheyenne River or Lower Brule Reservation to deliver the many items that so many Native American families will treasure."

(Below) The Native American Heritage Association tax document filed in 2020, shows $70 million received in contributions and grants in one year.

Source: Tax document online at ProPublica

Huge Salaries -- First Nations Development Institute and Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation

Meanwhile, the First Nations Development Institute in Longmont, Colorado, paid its president more than $202,000. It received $15 million in donations and has $28 million in assets, according to tax year ending in 2020.

Above: First Nations Development Institute, Longmont, Colorado, tax document for 2020.

Above: Top salaries for First Nations Development Institute in Longmont, Colorado, tax document for 2020.

Crazy Horse Sculpture: Big Money for Non-Indians

One of the non-profits that paid its non-Indian co-directors huge salaries for years is the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation. It has been paying huge salaries to the family members of the non-Indian sculptor who began sculpting an image of Crazy Horse into a mountain in South Dakota.

New England sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski first blasted the mountain in the sacred Black Hills to create a monument of Crazy Horse in 1948. Its revenues are from admissions to the site and contributions. Ziolkowski died in 1982. However, three of the founder's ten children continue to work at the site, according to the Foundation's website.

The sculptor's daughters Jadwiga Ziolkowski and her sister Monique served as the co-CEOs of the Crazy Horse Memorial and received these salaries for many years. When Zadwiga resigned as co-director, she was replaced by Laurie Becvar who resigned in March.

In 2020 each of the co-directors received about $200,000 in salaries. That's a total of $400,000 annually for the co-directors.

It received $5 million in admissions and donations in 2020, and $15 million in 2019.

It has more than $102 million in assets.

Lakotas who object to the sculpture being carved into the sacred Black Hills point out that Crazy Horse refused to be photographed and there is no image of him.

Above: The 2017 tax document for Crazy Horse Memorial shows the sculptor's daughters each received salaries of about $200,000 each year.

Above: The 2020 tax document for Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation shows donations and its $102 million in assets.


The five top-paid board members at Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation are shown above, with the co-directors each receiving about $200,000 in total compensation, the 2020 tax document shows.

Above: Twelve years ago, in 2010, the top-paid person at Crazy Horse Memorial was the sculpture's son Mark Ziolkowski, with a salary of more than $129,000 for road maintenance.

Native American Advancement Foundation

Where's the Skateboard Park?

Gu-Vo tribal members, on the western side of the Tohono O'odham Nation, said they have not been kept informed about the large amount of funds being collected for their community for a skateboard park.

The tax records show the non-profit received $1.6 million in grants and donations in 2019. There was also a $42,000 vehicle donated. It has $2.2 million in assets and is based in Tucson.

Source: tax document online at ProPubica

Partnership with Native Americans in Texas: Millions for Disaster Relief in Northern Plains and Southwest

(Below) Partnership with Native Americans in Addison, Texas, paid five board members salaries of more than $100,000. It received $45 million in 2020. (Source tax documents online at ProPublica.) The non-profit says it delivers disaster, education and other assistance in the Northern Plains and Southwest. During the long winter blizzards, Lakotas were in desperate need of propane and food. Did the non-profit deliver disaster relief in the Dakotas?

Partnership with Native Americans in Texas received $45 million in 2020. It increased its salaries to $4.2 million. It says it delivers disaster relief to the Plains and Southwest.

The Partnership with Native Americans in Texas increased its salaries in 2020. 

Arctic Slope salary: $789,013

Among the non-profits in Indian country receiving the most revenue in the last tax year was the Arctic Slope Native Association. It received $117 million in revenue. The top salaries shown are for 2020. The revenues are primarily from oil and gas industries.

Lakota Language Non-Profit Banned by Standing Rock Nation

The Standing Rock Nation banned the Lakota Language Consortium, Language Conservancy, and Jan Ullrich, the Czech who originally took the language to Europe, and Wilhelm Meya, the non-Indian who operates the non-profits.

Ullrich is currently a board member of Language Conservancy and Meya is the president, as shown on its website, which lists the many Indian Nations where it is involved. Meya is CEO of Lakota Language Consortium, and Ullrich is Linguistic Director and Board Member, as shown on the Lakota Language Consortium website.

NBC reports: 'Lakota elders helped a white man preserve their language. Then he tried to sell it back to them.'
Standing Rock Oyate Nation resolution

Censored News investigation into non-profits in Indian country reveals:

-- Lavish salaries and millions quietly received, with grants and contracts to executive directors' children, spouses, parents and other family members.

-- A scam that functions this way: The non-profit asks grassroots organizations, and people living on the land, if they need help. Then, the non-profit writes a grant using the peoples' cause, or need. They often hire a professional grant writer, or turn these out rapidly as a grant mill. Then, hundreds of thousands, or millions, flow to the larger non-profit from foundations. The grants in Indian country in recent years ranged from $100,000 to $50 million.

Most often, locals receive only a small percentage of the funds, if any. Sometimes they are never told that their information was used to obtain a grant from a foundation.

The entire system thrives on the secrecy of the non-profit. The perks enjoyed by non-profit staff include nice hotels, restaurant meals, rental cars, donated vehicles and more. Some give themselves homes. Many executive directors give salaries, grants or contracts to children and family members, averaging $40,000 to $200,000.

Executive Directors: Wannabes and Tricksters -- Some non-profits are operated by non-Indians, who fill the board with Native Americans, and then claim to be "Native governed." Meanwhile, others are operated by frauds claiming to be Native American, and others are operated by individuals who have suddenly become "Indians," most often identifying as Cherokee, Yaqui or Apache.

Removal of Founding Native Elders from Boards -- Some executive directors have removed the traditional founding board members who were Native elders, and then replaced them with their own hand-picked governing boards. Then they gave themselves and family members salaries and expense accounts.

The Great Magician of Social Media -- Social media campaigns by non-profits often deceive the public with self-promotion and deception.

Code of Silence Protects Tribal Governments -- Non-profits often enter into agreements with tribal governments which prevents the non-profit from exposing the truth of the most crucial issues of human rights abuses, and environmental pollution.

These issues include coal mining and power plants on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo government leases the land to outside corporations, such as Peabody Coal, which results in lease payments and royalties. Yet, 30 percent of Dineh live without running water, and more suffer from the pollution of coal mining and coal-fired power plants.

The non-profits have failed to expose the role of the elected tribal government in the abuse and militarization of the Tohono O'odham Nation. The elected government allows out-of-control U.S. Border Patrol agents to continue to abuse O'odham.

The tribal government-approved Israeli spy towers constructed by Elbit Systems in traditional O'odham communities, on O'odham burial places. Jets in fighter training for war overhead endanger O'odham. The sonic booms are forceful enough to crack the adobe walls in O'odham homes.

Bullying keeps executive directors in power

Many directors of non-profits stay in power by bullying, according to Native board members who said they were kept unaware of revenues and spending.

Some directors are non-Indians, others are frauds, and still, others have suddenly become "Indian," most often suddenly claiming to be Cherokee or Yaqui.

Non-profits are required to list on tax documents any family members receiving financial benefits, but some are not doing this.

Federal Grants Quietly Received: Meanwhile, other non-profits, such as those created for housing development, claim to be funded by grassroots fundraising, while actually receiving million-dollar grants annually from the U.S. government.

Triple Dipping: One non-profit focused on healthy kids received a multi-million dollar grant. Then the non-profit staff charged parents to attend the conference in the Pueblos, and sold advertising to corporate sponsors for a third source of revenue.

Cash Awards -- Non-profits in Indian country have accepted awards of large sums of money for a successful effort, such as halting a toxic dump, without ever telling the grassroots Native people who actually carried out the actions.

Literary Exploitation -- Some non-profits publish books using other writers' work, and claim they can't pay authors for their work. However, their tax documents show millions in revenues and assets and huge salaries.

Executive directors not only bully but threaten lawsuits if people attempt to expose them. That's how they stay in power: By keeping secret the financials; carrying out social media campaigns; and by bullying and threatening lawsuits.

Some non-profits in Indian country work for the good of the people. Still, the tax documents tell more of the story.

One of Censored News Dine' readers said, "Brand them hang around the Fort Indians, they speak with fork tongues, pimps are alive and well."

Update: The Nature Conservancy

A new comment on this article led us to examine the salaries at the Nature Conservancy. It received more than $945 million in 2020.

The salaries are astronomical, with the top salary of $1.2 million, followed by a series of annual salaries of $400,000. Here's a partial list, (there are too many huge salaries to fit into one screenshot.) See the full tax document at 

The new comment below involves the Wild Horse Sanctuary, land returned to Lakotas, and also the Taos Ski Valley.

Itlatol said, "The average american doesn't even know whose territory they are now living on, nor the history of colonization, nor do the research about who they are donating $ to. When I think about it, tourism and non-profits are symptoms of colonization."

Oshana Katranidou said Nature Conservancy is carrying out deceptive carbon capture, a fake green solution that allows the most polluting industries to continue polluting.

"The so-called 'Nature Conservancy' is a tricky public manipulation entity. They approve of and allow the use of toxic herbicides on their land holdings."

"They were also in charge of negotiating with governments in South America to purchase rainforest 'carbon reserves' that then disallow the indigenous people from subsistence harvesting and gathering."

"The carbon reserves legitimize pollution in the United States by large entities like General Electric, But when the rainforest are burned and the carbon reserves are decimated in wildfires, there is no accountability by either the industry or the nature conservancy. It's a total fiasco, their "Nature Conservancy" name is a linguistic mind trick," Oshana said.

The Nature Conservancy, on its website, advocates for this fake green solution.

"The Nature Conservancy has been developing, testing and implementing REDD+ activities around the world for more than a decade to protect forests, combat climate change and benefit local communities."

The Mexico REDD+ Program is an led by The Nature Conservancy in conjunction with the Rainforest Alliance, the Woods Hole Research Center, and Espacios Naturales y Desarrollo Sustentable. It is financed by the Global Climate Change Program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)," the Nature Conservancy states.

End Notes:

Cris Franco's letter to the editor, Ajo Copper News, Arizona: 'Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture is Not What It Should Be'


Christensen Fund

Interior Department: Christensen gains coal-fired power plant lease in 1957

Christensen Fund grant search on its website

Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture receives a federal grant for a new food bank

Southwest Indian Foundation (SWIF), a charity in Gallup, NM, is not a church but still doesn’t have to make its financial statements available because it was founded by a Catholic priest, reports Colorlines.

'Charity Scams Making Big Business out of Native American Poverty' Read more about Princess Pale Moon:

To find tax documents, search at ProPublica using keyword, person's name or the name of the non-profit.

*National Congress of American Indians, NCAI states, "The median household income in 2017 for American Indians and Alaska Natives was $40,315. This compares to $57,652 for the nation as a whole.

Censored News is in its 17th year, with no ads, grants, salaries or revenues. 

Copyright Censored News.


Anonymous said...

Ready to have your mind blown? Look at the principal officer listed on the 2018 - 2020 990s for Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Mara Branson is a Latvian citizen currently living in Latvia. And who was the principal officer listed prior to that? Katarina Sajovec Altshul, the Executive Director. The principal officer is the person who signs a 990 and attests that it's accurate. So, this is a "Native American Governed Organization" with a non-Native executive director, a non-Native principal officer, and Native American board members who don't get regular financial updates...where does the Native governance come in?

Need more proof this is a shady group? Charity Navigator gives them a failing score based on Finance and Accountability: Who the f*ck is supporting groups like this?

~ ITLATOL said...

As always, your reporting and journalism is impeccable Brenda. I was there when Dayton Hyde and his family agreed the Wild Horse Sanctuary would be given back to the Lakota people. I was there when Dayton was honored in the recognizing someone as relative ceremony. I was there when Dayton sued the the Biggest land grab non-profit - The Nature Conservancy - for stealing the land. I was there when after Dayton's death, the Lakota were kicked off the ceremonial grounds. The Nature Conservancy is one of the biggest international non-profits that buys, sells, trades, Indigenous lands called "public lands" auctioned off by the US & other colonial govts.

The Nature Conservancy and other "environmental billionaires" like Mr. Bacon who bought and owns the town of Taos Ski Valley - love to pretend they are "protecting Indigenous lands" when it is really moving so called "public lands" under control and dominance of so called "non-profit" corporate billionaire ownership. "The Nature Conservancy is a global environmental organization, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, United States. As of 2021 it works via affiliates or branches in 79 countries and territories, as well as across every state in the US".

The average american doesn't even know who's territory they are now living on, nor the history of colonization, nor do the research about who they are donating $ to. When I think about it, tourism and non-profits are symptoms of colonization.

Anonymous said...

Nina Sajovec, the executive director for Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture (ACSA), is an abusive manager and highly unethical. She likes to describe herself as a Native ally, but her actions of those of colonizer and culture vulture. She uses needs (or perceived needs)in the community to justify more and more grant funding, but the funds are used for self-enrichment. She said ACSA would temporarily house a food pantry at their retail cafe while another local non-profit (Ajo Community Market) prepared a permanent space. But once the food pantry grant funds started coming in, she decided to keep the food pantry in a tiny and unsanitary backroom of the cafe. She takes emergency food relief money and turns it into vouchers for use at ACSA's own cafe. Talk about having your cake and eating it too. That's basically money laundering. And who are the highest paid people at ACSA? Herself and her boyfriend, who works for her...Talk about nepotism.