Sarah Eagle Heart
Sarah knew something was wrong when she saw her high school’s annual “homecoming ceremony” about a chief, a medicine man, and warrior princesses. The medicine man lifted each princess to weigh her, then to choose the best for the chief. The cast was mostly white students from the local farming community, which had been performing this same ceremony for 57 years. Sarah and her twin sister decided to protest this racist, sexist, spiritually degrading play—and she’s never stopped rocking the boat since.
Sarah grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, near the Black Hills of the Oglala Lakota. When she was seven, her mother suffered brain damage in a car accident, so Sarah was raised by her grandmother, in extreme poverty. She was raised to think not in terms of “I,” but in terms of “we”—the Lakota “amen” translates to “we are all related and connected,” and prayer reinforced her sense of responsibility to the world.
Sarah started working for the first female Bishop of the Episcopal Church. She was sent around the world advocating for climate justice and for her people—to a church of two million. No one in the church had ever met someone who’d grown up on a reservation. No one knew about the 85 percent unemployment rate and the poverty.
Even as her advocacy career took off, Sarah didn’t value herself. One boyfriend, a tribal leader, got jealous while they were riding in a limo to a political party at the Democratic National Committee—and backhanded her. He told her to leave, and all her childhood trauma came rushing back. She called her twin sister, a psychotherapist, who told her, “Don’t pretend this didn’t happen. You are a survivor. You have to tell the truth if someone asks. Don’t hide it. That violence wasn’t about you. This is about you.” Sarah decided to go to that party.
Sarah danced and danced with all the Native girls and all the fancy celebs who would later become collaborators in her Emmy-winning storytelling. That night, she came out of the crowd all sweaty, feeling so good, and saw this guy leaning against the wall. He looked Oglala, like her. His name was Kevin and he was a state senator, a leader in her tribe, a Sundancer, spiritual, gentle, loving. “I’ve heard about you,” he said.
Her family still lives in poverty on the reservation. And Sarah still tells her stories, fighting to disrupt these harmful systems.