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Footnotes to Declaration of Trust

In the “Declaration of Trust” for the Ernest C. Oberholtzer Foundation, signed by all parties in 1962 and ‘63, Ernest Oberholtzer had the following to say about his intent. These thoughts were his footnotes to the Foundation documents that set up the Oberholtzer Foundation in 1964.

This is Ober’s personal statement following the legal language of the Declaration of Trust. Ober wrote this as an addendum:


“The main purpose of this Trust is to help bridge the gap, both economic and cultural, between aboriginal Indians of the continent and the more sophisticated [sic] white inhabitants of the present day—and, it is hoped, to their mutual advantage. In order to discover, proclaim, and encourage endeavors to that end AWARDS shall be made from time to time under this Trust for significant contributions, particularly by Indians, to their own special economy or to a better understanding in general of Indian culture, talents and ideals. These AWARDS may be for exemplary leadership in these fields, for works of art or creative productions of any sort that reveal, as seldom or never before, the special genius of the Indian, or even for exceptional acts of mercy or of valor that redown to the self-respect, pride and dignity of the Indian.

“An example, among others, of the opportunity for creative leadership of this sort, which this Trust is intended to encourage, lies in the protection of primitive wilderness such as Indians knew before the advent of white men. No natural resource of the continent today is vanishing so fast or hopelessly as the original primitive scene and its living creatures. It is a basic problem of today for both white men and red. Out of the wilderness sprang the Indians. They are an integral part of it. They were its custodians for untold centuries. Today they offer a main hope for its future—one that lies above all within the scope of their genius and traditions. Their very mode of life was as creative as the wilderness itself.

“Much of the cream of the primitive American wilderness remains today on Indian tribal lands all over the continent, including Alaska. These lands present an unrivaled creative opportunity even at this late moment for the survival of the living wilderness and its creatures in a form and on a scale commensurate with future needs of all our people. These lands, however, belong wholly to the Indians and are theirs not only legally but by every tenet of justice. A plan to meet the need of all Americans for wilderness of this type, if initiated on their own lands by the Indians themselves but with just compensation by the government for the proposed use, would establish what might well be called “Universities of the Wilderness;” the Indians themselves, with their centuries of primitive wisdom, might well qualify for the faculty. Such areas, while remaining the homeland of the Indians, would not only serve the common need for primitive travel and inspiration but should prove permanent, undefiled sources for the study of the creative processes of nature.

“For the purposes of this trust Eskimos shall be regarded as the same as Indians. Moreover, nothing in the Trust shall be interpreted to prevent the granting of AWARDS to others than Indians themselves, if in the judgment of the Trustees the same or better results are likely to be achieved by so doing. Nor shall it be obligatory to grant AWARDS where none seems to be merited.

“Furthermore, whatever contributes toward solving the great problem of the American Indian and of the waste of his human gifts and of his wilderness endowment is pertinent to this Trust and worthy of scrutiny for remedies based on wiser policies. The wasteful and unseemly conflict both in human values and in the use of primitive natural resources is world-wide. Tolerance, understanding, recognition that all races, out of their special genius and experience, have something to give for the common good were never more needed. Therefore any outstanding contribution in the world that seeks recognition of primitive virtues and of their historical physical basis and thus opens new vistas for collaboration between the dominant race and the minority, submerged or outcast race, may to that extent become pertinent to the objectives of this Trust. Even such partial but highly significant work as Dr. Schweitzer’s in Africa may have value, particularly if equal or better contributions are not available in our own country.”


Ernest C. Oberholtzer, settlor

[end of Ober’s statement]

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