Assets, Not Deficits: A Conversation With Sarah Eagle Heart

Assets, Not Deficits: A Conversation With Sarah Eagle Heart

*This interview was original published on the Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine website and was written by Madeline Streilein. This post contains excerpts of the article. To read the full interview, click here.

Sarah Eagle Heart (Oglala Lakota) grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, raised by her grandmother and extended family. Her experiences range from teen activist and journalist to advocacy organization leader, including working for several years internationally as program officer for Indigenous Peoples and team leader for diversity, social justice, and environmental justice within the Episcopal Church. Currently she is the CEO of Los Angeles and Minneapolis-based Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP), which “educates and empowers a sacred circle of Indigenous Peoples and philanthropies to create healthy and sustainable communities for all.” Cultural Survival recently spoke with Eagle Heart about her journey and leadership in philanthropy.

CS: What role does philanthropy play for Indigenous communities?
 Philanthropy can and should play a big role righting the injustices Indigenous communities face. Most of philanthropy lacks awareness and knowledge of Native issues across the board; most philanthropic efforts to improve the lives of men and women of color often overlook the distinctive needs of Native Americans, and funding to our community still remains disproportionately low. It’s imperative that we are there to build those relationships and educate. Philanthropy often follows a deficit-based model, rather than an asset-based model. One of our roles is to get more accurate research about our communities, which can also help inform philanthropy. We’ve intentionally worked with Indigenous scholars and found a way to develop research that highlights protective factors from an Indigenous worldview through our Indigenous Life Course. The limited research currently available in the philanthropic arena highlights deficits and the horrific statistics plaguing our communities like diabetes, violence, and criminalization, but doesn’t offer solutions—so we are already at a disadvantage. We also educate funders and work to create connections between philanthropy, nonprofits, and Tribal organizations. A good example of this is when we invited a group of funders to join us on a trip to Standing Rock, and this directly led to a $1.25 million donation to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from the Wallace Global Fund. We are really proud of this accomplishment because the tribe trusted us to support them and it was important to us to see action as a result of our work. We continue to engage in developing innovative partnerships to raise the visibility of Native issues.

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