Changing the Narrative at UNITY and Southern California Grantmakers

By Allie Young, Executive Assistant

Native Americans in Philanthropy CEO Sarah Eagle Heart has definitely begun conference season! She has been on the road since the beginning of September, serving on panels and addressing conference attendees with powerful presentations. On September 19th, Sarah was in the queue of a morning Ted-X-style talk series at the UNITY Summit in New Orleans, entitled “Brilliance in Resilience.” UNITY is a conference that brings together foundations and organizations invested in fighting for a change in the philanthropic sector to include equity, justice, and intersectionality as part of its overall functionality. During this special presentation, she shared her personal story of resilience that has greatly influenced her advocacy work. On this same day, Sarah also took part in the “Keeping our Sons and Brothers” session with Board Chair Edgar Villanueva, to ensure the inclusion of the Native voice in the boys and men of color space. Throughout this day and the duration of the conference, she was a constant reminder that we cannot forget about Indigenous peoples and in particular, our Indigenous youth, because they, too, are a vital part of the present and the future.

On September 26th, Sarah spoke in a breakout session, “Changing the Narrative through Arts and Culture,” at the Southern California Grantmakers Conference in Los Angeles, where she discussed the influence of artistic expression on the Native community’s drive to reclaim and correct our narrative. The Southern California Grantmakers conference is an important gathering of very successful foundations in the Los Angeles area, including corporate foundations, which rarely hear the stories of smaller organizations working with marginalized communities to elevate their voices. This year’s theme was about recognizing the crossroads that philanthropy is at today, which calls for finding intersections for greater impact through sharing experiences and learning stories from authentic perspectives. During the morning session, Sarah highlighted Native American fashion designer, Bethany Yellowtail, whose Woman Warrior scarf design inspired over 1,000 Native Americans to join Indigenous Women Rise at the Women’s March on Washington in January of this year. Later that same afternoon, she spoke on the mainstage on a panel, “Inclusivity: Speaking a Common Language of Opportunity,” about being an agent of change within the Native American community and what drives her to continue the fight to keep Indigenous peoples visible.

In each of these speaking engagements, Sarah has been on a mission to hold other communities and allies accountable, to ensure that Native Americans are not left out of the conversation. She has worked tirelessly and continues to work tirelessly to educate and reeducate both Native and non-Native peoples about why it is paramount that we are present in these circles that power change in our communities across Indian Country. These sessions and presentations are enlightening attendees about the history of Native Americans, about the importance of accurate representation and how our youth see themselves, and about the need for healing within our communities. Sarah challenges participants to take the time and effort to learn about Indigenous peoples from the Indigenous worldview; to think about us, to remember us, as they continue their work on intersectionality and inclusivity. The continuous approaches by attendees after Sarah delivers her powerful words, to thank her for challenging them to learn a history they are entirely unfamiliar with, is a testament to her impact and resiliency.

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