Returning the fruits of labor, land, and natural resources to the people and places from which they were taken.

Endowment Repatriation

Industrialized economies are built on a legacy of human and natural resource sacrifice. Today, we have the perspective and the ethical framework to look back on that legacy with clear eyes.

Many private endowment funds that exist today in the United States and elsewhere, including those intended for philanthropic purposes, have been built with tax-free profits earned in ways that we do not recognize as ethical in the present.

Endowment repatriation is the process of returning governance to the peoples and places who have been affected by these practices.

Four ethical questions for endowments

We invite trustees and managers of endowments in the United States to ask four questions regarding their principal or corpus, as well as the investments which have been held by the endowment:

  • Question 1: Are there funds earned directly or indirectly from the theft of land, labor, or life from native and indigenous people?
  • Question 2: Are there funds earned directly or indirectly from the labor of enslaved people?
  • Question 3: Are there funds earned from labor practices that today are recognized as exploitative, unsafe, or discriminatory?
  • Question 4: Are there funds earned from resource extraction, or activities and investments that resulted in damage to the environment?

These questions may be “localized” to other places than the United States.

Choosing Repatriation

If your endowment includes profit from exploitative labor practices, theft, or profit from activities that have harmed the environment and the people living it, consider repatriating some or all of the endowment. 

Four principles: Endowment Repatriation


  • Principle 1: Work to understand the people and places which have been negatively impacted by the accumulation of the endowment. Even small communities have subcommunities with distinct leadership and interests.
  • Principle 2: Make the endowed funds and its governance as accessible as possible to those impacted by the accumulation of the endowment, including access to meetings and information.
  • Principle 3: Consider creating several smaller endowed funds, each with majority stakeholder governance, rather than one monolithic fund that could perpetuate historical power imbalances.
  • Principle 4: Resource extraction, unsafe waste disposal, and other harms to the environment often eliminated access to land for traditional purposes including gathering food and medicine, festivals, and outdoor recreation. Consider ways of repatriating endowed funds in ways that heal and conserve the land while also balancing the need to restore public access to undeveloped, healthy landscapes.

Not Ready for Repatriation?


Four Principles: Mananging and governing endowments


  • Principle 1: Ensure the existance of the endowed funds and their governance structure is known to those impacted by the accumulation of the endowment.
  • Principle 2: Commit to meet and understand the people and places which have been negatively impacted by the accumulation of the endowment. This will be an ongoing process; even small communities have subcommunities with distinct leadership and interests. 
  • Principle 3: Locate offices, leadership, and decision-making meetings in communities that have been negatively impacted by the endowment. Make information accessible to those affected in the ways that they customarily access information.
  • Principle 4: Make equity part of the strategic plan. If your endowment makes grants: align grantmaking with the Four Principles: Endowment Repatriation. If it does not make grants, but operates programs: align programming with the Four Principles: Endowment Repatriation.

Copyright 2017-2019. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Please cite Linden Endowment Repatriation Broadside v1.3