The woman setting the record straight on Native American history | Indigenous Rights


Take heed to this story:

Sarah Eagle Coronary heart is a storyteller.

The Emmy Award-winning producer can be a mom, daughter, sister, activist and CEO.

However none of those accolades has come simply to Eagle Coronary heart who, like many Native Individuals, is aware of adversity.

The 44-year-old Oglala Sioux girl from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is on a mission to revolutionise the way in which Indigenous narratives are portrayed within the mainstream.

She is set to assist set the file straight on Native American historical past and, via storytelling, convey therapeutic to her individuals.

“I believe typically individuals have a look at the historical past and perhaps they’re afraid to face it or ashamed,” Eagle Coronary heart contemplates on a February morning by way of Zoom from her dwelling in Los Angeles. “And we will’t stay within the disgrace of our historical past anymore. We now have to have the ability to deal with it and discover a method ahead as a result of if we don’t, we’re going to maintain persevering with these patterns which are killing us.”

She is referring to the brutality of colonisation that just about worn out the Native American inhabitants over the previous few centuries.

Stolen lands, the tried genocide by america and the resolve of her individuals to remain alive via ongoing oppression have been stifled by mainstream historical past, and contribute to racism, poverty and adversarial statistics for Native Individuals, she says.

As we speak, American Indian and Alaska Native households usually tend to face homelessness, whereas Indigenous ladies are murdered at a price that’s 10 instances larger than different ethnicities.

“We’re having to get well from these harms, however not solely are we having to get well from these harms, the non-Native individuals have been lied to too. So, I believe it’s vital to have the ability to simply acknowledge the reality and stand within the reality – confront it and likewise heal from it,” says Eagle Coronary heart.

“And the storytelling that I do in the present day, there may be an actionable part to it,” she says, including that lots of instances individuals are anticipated to know what motion to take. “However I don’t suppose they know. And so, you need to spell it out.”

A photo of Sarah Eagle Heart.
Sarah Eagle Coronary heart is set to convey therapeutic to her individuals via storytelling [Photo courtesy of Sarah Eagle Heart]

An Indigenous girl’s perspective

Eagle Coronary heart has lived on and off in Los Angeles for a number of years pursuing a profession within the movie trade.

She has labored with big-name stars like Anne Hathaway and John Legend and fondly remembers assembly Oprah Winfrey at a red-carpet occasion.

In 2019, she gained an Emmy Award for her position as a advisor producer on Crow: The Legend, an animated brief movie exploring self-discovery, impressed by Native American lore.

Proper now, she is working with award-winning actor and environmental rights activist Mark Ruffalo to convey the story of the battle to reclaim the Black Hills in South Dakota to the large display screen in a documentary titled Lakota Nation vs. america.

For the Lakota individuals, which incorporates the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Black Hills has lengthy been thought of sacred land.

“It was by no means ceded to america authorities. It [the documentary] is concerning the [land’s meaning] and the battle for it and the battle to proceed to have a say over this land that our individuals have thought of sacred because the starting of time. It’s the place our creation tales are from,” Eagle Coronary heart explains.

Her work is guided by prayer, an ancestral observe. Every single day she units apart time to hope and meditate – it’s an integral a part of her life and inventive course of. She takes lengthy walks by the ocean which for her gives a way of consolation. And though she is tons of of miles away from her dwelling in South Dakota, she feels she is strictly the place she must be proper now, in Hollywood, an epicentre of storytelling via cinema.

“There are such a lot of Native American tales that should be instructed and from an Indigenous girl’s perspective,” she says. “And we want to have the ability to be free to inform that perspective and to convey therapeutic, not solely to our individuals, however I really feel just like the Native American story, our historical past, isn’t just our historical past [but everyone’s].”

A photo of two children sitting in chairs next to each other.
Twins Sarah (R) and Emma Eagle Coronary heart grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation and from a younger age, have been raised by their mom’s household [Photo courtesy of Sarah Eagle Heart]

Epidemics of violence, poverty

Eagle Coronary heart grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of many poorest communities within the US.

“It’s actually widespread for any individual to have skilled or been near or seen demise. It’s actually widespread for everyone to be rising up in poverty. It’s actually widespread to have witnessed or been a sufferer of violence and it’s actually widespread to know any individual near you that’s hooked on one thing,” she says. “I imply, we’ve seen any individual die in our kitchen from knife wounds as a result of the ambulance didn’t come for 45 minutes from a city that’s like a mile away.”

Behind these horrific tales are systemic points, says Eagle Coronary heart. “There’s a motive why these are epidemics in our group and, , it’s not of our personal making both.”

Her homelands are an enormous, stunning prairie panorama surrounded by rolling badlands the place medicines like candy grass, used for therapeutic numerous illnesses and for ceremonial functions, develop wild and free.

It is usually the place the bloodbath of tons of of Eagle Coronary heart’s ancestors passed off in 1890 close to Wounded Knee Creek by US troopers searching for to eradicate them and clear the land to make method for settlers.

Rising up, Eagle Coronary heart’s household was poor, and he or she and her siblings endured trauma from a younger age.

Eagle Coronary heart is 14 minutes older than her similar twin sister, Emma, and the 2 have a brother, Troy, who is 2 years youthful than them.

When Eagle Coronary heart was seven years outdated, a drunk driver drove their mom, a police officer, off the highway. Though she survived the accident, she sustained extreme head accidents and was by no means in a position to work once more, ultimately turning to medication and alcohol to boring her bodily and psychological ache. Eagle Coronary heart’s father was absent her complete life. So, her mom’s household stepped in to assist elevate her kids.

A photo of the Badlands from the road on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Eagle Coronary heart’s homelands are crammed with prairies and rolling badlands [Stephanie Keith/Reuters]

Taking a stand in opposition to racism

Eagle Coronary heart’s normally lengthy, darkish hair is minimize to her shoulders – an emblem of mourning in Lakota tradition. She pauses as tears roll down her cheeks and her voice breaks explaining how her Aunt Mabel, a mom determine to her, handed away in November.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know I’d cry,” she says, wiping away recent tears. “She was a schoolteacher. I miss her rather a lot.”

The sisters attended Bennett County Excessive College in Martin, about 97km (60 miles) by bus, the place Indigenous college students have been a minority.

In highschool, they have been bullied just because they have been Native American. As youngsters, the Eagle Coronary heart twins confronted threats of rocks being thrown at them throughout sporting occasions and Sarah, resulting from be the cheerleading captain in her senior yr, was knowledgeable that there wouldn’t be one which yr, a choice Eagle Coronary heart places right down to racism.

On a very unhealthy day in 1994, the 17-year-old sisters discovered one another in the bathroom.

“I noticed her [Emma] within the rest room and we each cried,” says Eagle Coronary heart.

However that day was a turning level. They reminded themselves of what they’d discovered from a Native American counsellor about the place they got here from and the power this represented.

“Chris Eagle Hawk [the counsellor] instructed Emma a narrative concerning the nice leaders which have come earlier than, , like Loopy Horse and [said] that each one of that is occurring for a motive and instructed us to remain robust,” says Eagle Coronary heart.

Famed warriors and drugs males like Chief Crimson Cloud, Black Elk and Loopy Horse stay on, say the Lakota, via the spirits of those that survived colonial violence close to Pine Ridge.

Wiping their tears, they instructed themselves “OK, we’re going to make it, we will do that”, remembers Eagle Coronary heart. “And we obtained our braveness again collectively; I might return and face all the racism that we have been coping with.”

However the sisters additionally determined that they’d had sufficient and that they’d take a stand in opposition to the racism and cultural appropriation round them.

A photo of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation entrance.
Whereas rising up within the Pine Ridge Reservation, Eagle Coronary heart and her sister attended a highschool within the city of Martin the place they confronted bullying and racism earlier than in the future deciding to take a stand [File: Kristi Eaton/AP Photo]

‘Rocking the boat’

The 2 spearheaded a protest in opposition to their faculty’s Indian mascots and homecoming ceremony with a chief, drugs man and warrior princess titles that college students vied for by imitating these roles in a mocking method in entrance of an viewers and judges. Contestants would gown in mock Native American regalia yelping warfare cries and dancing to win the coveted homecoming titles.

The sisters made posters and confirmed up on the parody of their Lakota tradition to demand a boycott. The backlash from fellow college students was brutal.

They endured threats of violence, name-calling and intimidation alongside the way in which.

“It was robust,” says Emma Eagle Coronary heart, who describes herself because the introvert and her sister because the outspoken one of many two. “We felt like everyone hated us. We have been verbally attacked on the streets, referred to as prairie n*****s. It was a scary time,” she says, talking over the telephone in February.

“I believe that was one of many first instances that we have been doing one thing that was undoubtedly rocking the boat. And we have been standing up for our individuals and the way we’re portrayed,” says Eagle Coronary heart.

However they obtained help and recommendation from the native chapter of the American Indian Motion and different group members.

Their dedication ultimately paid off. 4 years later, the figures from the homecoming ceremony have been eliminated.

A photo of Sarah Eagle Heart using a bullhorn with a crowd of people behind her.
As an activist and chief, Eagle Coronary heart’s work has taken her to the Episcopal Church, seen her help Indigenous ladies within the enterprise world and assist discovered an organisation to domesticate therapeutic for survivors and households of the Indian boarding faculty period [Photo courtesy of Sarah Eagle Heart]

Storytelling rooted in ceremony

Eagle Coronary heart grew to become a mom at age 18 and raised two boys on her personal whereas attending college to check advertising and marketing and communications.

Residing in cities throughout the US, she uncovered her sons to the world off the reservation. However she additionally made certain they stayed related to their tradition in Pine Ridge.

Each grew to become Solar Dancers at a younger age by collaborating within the sacred, multiday ceremony of fasting, praying and garnering willpower, physique and spirit often called the Solar Dance.

Eagle Coronary heart credit Lakota ceremonies for equipping her with lifelong classes which assist her keep grounded.

“The primary folks that confirmed me about therapeutic have been the medication individuals on the Solar Dance ceremony. However they present it to you. They don’t inform it. And so, when you concentrate on Indigenous worldviews and our storytelling, , non-Native individuals have these very particular ways in which you’re supposed to inform a linear story … ours is rooted in ceremony and it’s not linear.”

For a couple of decade, she was workforce chief for range and social justice for the Indigenous Ministry on the Episcopal Church in New York Metropolis.

It was on the church that she developed her management expertise and advocated for Indigenous inclusion. She helped the church grow to be the primary main Christian denomination in 2009 to repudiate the “Doctrine of Discovery”, legal guidelines based on papal decree, which Europeans used to legitimise their brutal colonisation.

“That was a bizarre factor that additionally got here out of nowhere,” she says of the interval working on the church. Nevertheless it was a “calling”. Her time there taught her find out how to give herself time and area to replicate.

“I discovered to show off all of the completely different distractions after which simply kind of be with myself and my ideas after which take into consideration the connections. Then I might see, asking the Creator, OK, what am I purported to say? Like, what am I purported to do?”

The expertise helped her to faucet into her instinct, one thing that guides her each day via skilled and private life. It has not let her down but, she says, though not everybody understands it.

“There are individuals on the market that don’t perceive that you simply’re following your instinct and your spirituality. They’d be like, ‘What the heck is she doing? Like, she is operating in all places. It doesn’t make sense.’ And so, in the event that they’re coming from that area of not understanding, it may possibly look chaotic,” she says, laughing.

After a while, Eagle Coronary heart discovered herself desirous to work in an area of her personal selecting and one which was nearer to her roots. “We’re all residing in these Western colonised areas which are form of dominated by patriarchy, and we’re probably not permitting ourselves to maneuver from like a female, grounded area.”

A photo of Sarah Eagle Heart holding an award.
The Emmy Award-winning producer says her storytelling is pushed by affect and seeing a change in her communities on the reservations [Photo courtesy of Sarah Eagle Heart]

‘Change for my communities’

Then she discovered her present coronary heart’s calling – storytelling.

“In Hollywood, we’re simply having the conversations of what does it appear like to empower a local chief in filmmaking, a local artistic and empower them once we’re coping with a sector that hasn’t essentially needed to work inside our cultures and our protocols or our worldview, or the way in which that we story inform …,” she says. “I’m any individual who may be very pushed by affect and desirous to see a change for my communities on the reservations and my grandma’s life, my auntie’s life and my kids.”

For Eagle Coronary heart, storytelling is largely about tackling stereotypes and creating area for Indigenous narratives.

Whether or not via filmmaking, public talking or empowering Indigenous ladies within the enterprise world via the Return to the Coronary heart Basis, a social justice enterprise the place Eagle Coronary heart is a CEO, she desires to problem how Native Individuals are depicted within the media and in Hollywood.

“My storytelling is about telling the reality, whether or not it’s about correct historical past, social justice points or our creation tales,” says Eagle Coronary heart, who other than producing Lakota Nation vs. america is at the moment government producing a docuseries, a horror movie and writing a drama movie script.

“It could look tremendous straightforward to individuals,” she says of her success, however she has nonetheless needed to take care of “lots of completely different energy buildings and gatekeeping”.

She can be working together with her sister Emma to co-publish a memoir that has been 4 years within the making. The method of writing Warrior Princesses Strike Again: How Lakota Twins Struggle Oppression and Heal via Connectedness, due out in June 2022, has been therapeutic, says Emma, a psychotherapist working to assist kids get well from trauma. “We’re bearing our souls speaking about this stuff,” she says.

By sharing their story, the sisters hope to assist different ladies discover a method via the limitations they face.

Eagle Coronary heart has additionally tried to foster therapeutic as a founding member of the Nationwide Native American Boarding College Therapeutic Coalition. The organisation is working in direction of a nationwide technique to extend public consciousness and domesticate therapeutic for the profound trauma skilled by survivors and households of the Indian boarding faculty period.

Native American kids from throughout the US have been rounded up by boxcar, boat, wagons and on foot beginning in 1879 to attend government-run Indian training faculties. The aim was pressured assimilation. Malnourishment and neglect have been widespread at boarding faculties. Tuberculosis, trachoma and different ailments ran rampant.

By 1926, almost 83 % of school-aged Indigenous kids have been at boarding faculties, often known as Indian residential faculties. Over virtually a century, a complete of 367 boarding faculties operated within the US, run by 14 completely different Christian denominations. As of 2021, the US authorities has opened an investigation into the colleges the place many kids died. The fallout of the abuse continues within the type of intergenerational trauma on many reservations.

Sarah Eagle Heart with her two sons
Eagle Coronary heart desires her sons Branden, 22, and Aaron, 25, and future generations of her individuals to develop up feeling beloved and revered for who they’re [Courtesy of Sarah Eagle Heart]

‘Complete and wholesome’

It’s the therapeutic and restoration of her folks that drives Eagle Coronary heart.

“I would like our individuals to get again to a spot the place we simply really feel form of complete and wholesome and beloved and revered for who we’re. I actually need us to get to that place of understanding,” she says. “I actually need my son’s kids and their kids and their kids to develop up in a spot that permits them to be every little thing of who they’re and who they’re meant to be.

“Plenty of individuals didn’t count on for us to nonetheless be right here on this world.”

Her accomplice Kevin Killer, the present president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, says he’s pleased with Eagle Coronary heart.

“I worth what she has to supply the world,” says Killer, talking from the Pine Ridge Reservation the place he’s primarily based. “She is genuine and the angle she has as a local girl is required. She will discuss from a spot of knowledge about lots of issues. She’s a very good position mannequin to different ladies and has a dedication to do proper by others. We have to make room, make area and honour ladies’s voices.”

Eagle Coronary heart is at the moment juggling a number of initiatives however stands able to shake up the leisure world with no matter new alternatives come her method.

“So many instances, issues have come up, and I’m like ‘I’ve by no means finished this earlier than. I don’t know something about it, however , we’re simply gonna comply with our coronary heart’. And I believe that while you belief within the Creator and you’re feeling just like the Creator is guiding you, it offers you lots of braveness to do issues that perhaps most individuals wouldn’t do as a result of they don’t really feel like they’ve it in them. It takes religion and braveness.”

From the Afghan girl who fought patriarchy and the Soviets to the mom who taught her daughter what it means to outlive and the artwork of care, we’re telling the tales of girls – up to date, historic, within the public eye and ignored – who’re shaping different ladies’s lives. In 2022, ranging from Ladies’s Historical past Month in March, these are the tales of ladies who’re making a distinction to different ladies.

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