Justin Huenemann has come home.
A member of the Navajo Nation, Huenemann has joined Notah Begay III’s NB3 Foundation as its new executive director. Though he was hired in early January, Begay's first official day with the foundation was Jan. 26.
Huenemann, who had lived in Minnesota for almost a quarter of a century, is now working out of the NB3 Foundation's office in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico.
The foundation was established in 2005 by professional golfer Notah Begay III, who has Navajo, San Felipe and Isleta ancestry. Begay started the foundation in order to provide health and wellness education to Native American youth through sporting activities. The goal of the foundation is to help reduce child obesity and Type 2 diabetes among Native American children.
Huenemann replaces Crystal Echo Hawk, who had been the NB3 Foundation's only other executive director.
A graduate from the University of Minnesota, Huenemann had most recently been working as a senior program officer for the Northwest Area Foundation in St. Paul. This foundation was involved with projects striving to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable prosperity for Native American communities in eight states.Prior to that, Huenemann had been the founding president and CEO of the Native American Community Development Institute. Besides his philanthropic work, Huenemann has also been involved with government, non-profit and higher education sectors, while also serving on numerous boards.
Huenemann took time from his hectic schedule to talk to ICTMN about his return to the Navajo Nation, his golf game and what he wants to accomplish in his new position.
How did this new job opportunity come about?
A lot of it was because of my strong desire to return back home. I'm originally from Arizona. I was born and raised on the Navajo Nation. I have been working in philanthropy for a number of years now, and after being in Minnesota for so long I was looking for a way to move back home. This new job met a number of the criteria I was looking for. I'm 41 now, and this would have been my 23rd year away from home living in Minnesota.
What else appealed to you about this new job?
Over the years I have worked with a number of Native American organizations. This work will allow me to dig even further into the challenges our youth are facing.
How excited are you now with this return home?
I'm a bit numb right now. A part of me is so looking forward to returning to that area. I’m like a kid full of excitement. I'm not trying to hide it. But I also know it will be a tough transition because my family will still be in Minnesota for about five months. I'm married, and I have four children, three boys and a girl.
I have a 15-year-old boy, who is a [high school] freshman, a 10-year-old boy, a 7-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old boy. They will finish the school year in Minnesota. So I will be a bachelor for a while. That will be tough to get used to, not seeing my family for a while after seeing them every day.
How well do you know Notah?
We have met briefly, and we have exchanged some emails. But we are not long-time buddies. But I do like watching golf. And I know about the back issues he's had the last few years and some of his other issues. [Begay, whose back injury has prevented him from playing in an event on the PGA Tour since 2012, also suffered a heart attack last year.] We are just beginning our relationship now. We've got a lot of relationship building to do.
What do you want to accomplish with the NB3 Foundation in 2015?
The first thing I have to do is to learn a lot more about the foundation. Crystal Echo Hawk was pretty much its first executive director. I'm not going to come in like a bull in a china shop and change everything around. My goal is to build upon the legacy that she has created. One thing that I want to work on though is establishing a formal endowment for the foundation, which is something that it has never had.
How long do you think it would take for that to get going?
Some of the things I want to do are not short-term goals. They are part of a 3-5 year plan. But I'll be looking to initiate them and start them in conversation form this year.
What are some of the longer term goals for the foundation?
We have an interest in becoming more of a think tank organization. Right now there is very little data that is collected and analyzed [in terms of better understanding root causes and social determinants of health among youth]. We want to do more of that. And we want to become a conduit of information.
Where do you see the foundation heading?
We want to concentrate on still doing the good work the foundation has been doing. But we also want to identify where to get financial resources to allow us to grow and establish things like the endowment. And we have to forge more partnerships with tribes. We do have some relationships with tribes now, but we have to figure out how to expand those relationships.
I understand that Crystal will be staying on with the foundation for a bit. How much will she be helping you?
She'll be staying on as a consultant. It's a contract position to help me for a few months. I believe the contract is for between 4-6 months.
It's a real great thing that they did this. Crystal has been the only executive director the foundation has had. She is somebody in the organization that has developed so many relationships. I'm glad she'll continue to be here for some time, and help me, and navigate me at the start of this job. She can pass on her knowledge to me.
How much do you think you will be able to help the foundation?
There's no doubt that I bring a lot of experience and a network of relationships that will help us. I've worked in economic development with Native organizations, and in the private sector, and with governments. I've run a number of organizations, and all of these have provided me with different opportunities. Bringing these perspectives to the foundation should help us.
Are you a golfer?
I enjoy golf, and I play golf. Can I break 100? Yes. Can I break 80? No. But it's definitely a game I got addicted to about 10 years ago.
How often do you play?
I do travel quite a bit for my work, so I would be lucky if I got out to play once or twice a month this year. Because of all the travelling I was doing, I didn't get to play as much as I would have liked. But with my new job, the NB3 office is located right at the Santa Ana Golf Course. If I can't find the time to get out a bit more now and golf more, then something is wrong.