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The woman setting the record straight on Native American history

The Emmy Award-winning producer is also a mother, daughter, sister, activist and CEO.

But none of these accolades has come easily to Eagle Heart who, like many Native Americans, is familiar with adversity.
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The 44-year-old Oglala Sioux woman from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is on a mission to revolutionise the way Indigenous narratives are portrayed in the mainstream.

She is determined to help set the record straight on Native American history and, through storytelling, bring healing to her people.

“I think sometimes people look at the history and maybe they’re afraid to face it or ashamed,” Eagle Heart contemplates on a February morning via Zoom from her home in Los Angeles. “And we can’t live in the shame of our history anymore. We have to be able to address it and find a way forward because if we don’t, we’re going to keep continuing these patterns that are killing us.”

She is referring to the brutality of colonisation that nearly wiped out the Native American population over the last few centuries.

Stolen lands, the attempted genocide by the United States and the resolve of her people to stay alive through ongoing oppression have been stifled by mainstream history, and contribute to racism, poverty and adverse statistics for Native Americans, she says.

Today, American Indian and Alaska Native households are more likely to face homelessness, while Indigenous women are murdered at a rate that is 10 times higher than other ethnicities.

We’re having to recover from those harms, but not only are we having to recover from those harms, the non-Native people have been lied to too. So, I think it’s important to be able to just acknowledge the truth and stand in the truth – confront it and also heal from it,” says Eagle Heart.

“And the storytelling that I do today, there is an actionable component to it,” she says, adding that a lot of times people are expected to know what action to take. “But I don’t think they know. And so, you have to spell it out.”

For the Lakota people, which includes the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Black Hills has long been considered sacred land.

“It was never ceded to the United States government. It [the documentary] is about the [land’s meaning] and the fight for it and the fight to continue to have a say over this land that our people have considered sacred since the beginning of time. It’s where our creation stories are from,” Eagle Heart explains.

Her work is guided by prayer, an ancestral practice. Every day she sets aside time to pray and meditate – it is an integral part of her life and creative process. She takes long walks by the ocean which for her provides a sense of comfort. And although she is hundreds of miles away from her home in South Dakota, she feels she is exactly where she needs to be right now, in Hollywood, an epicentre of storytelling through cinema.

“There are so many Native American stories that need to be told and from an Indigenous woman’s perspective,” she says. “And we need to be able to be free to tell that perspective and to bring healing, not only to our people, but I feel like the Native American story, our history, is not just our history [but everyone’s].”

It’s really common for somebody to have experienced or been close to or seen death. It’s really common for everybody to be growing up in poverty. It’s really common to have witnessed or been a victim of violence and it’s really common to know somebody close to you that is addicted to something,” she says. “I mean, we’ve seen somebody die in our kitchen from knife wounds because the ambulance didn’t come for 45 minutes from a town that’s like a mile away.”

Behind these horrific stories are systemic issues, says Eagle Heart. “There is a reason why these are epidemics in our community and, you know, it’s not of our own making either.”

Her homelands are a vast, beautiful prairie landscape surrounded by rolling badlands where medicines like sweet grass, used for healing various ailments and for ceremonial purposes, grow wild and free.

It is also where the massacre of hundreds of Eagle Heart’s ancestors took place in 1890 near Wounded Knee Creek by US soldiers seeking to eradicate them and clear the land to make way for settlers.

Growing up, Eagle Heart’s family was poor, and she and her siblings endured trauma from a young age.

Eagle Heart is 14 minutes older than her identical twin sister, Emma, and the two have a brother, Troy, who is two years younger than them.

When Eagle Heart was seven years old, a drunk driver drove their mother, a police officer, off the road. Although she survived the accident, she sustained severe head injuries and was never able to work again, eventually turning to drugs and alcohol to dull her physical and mental pain. Eagle Heart’s father was absent her whole life. So, her mother’s family stepped in to help raise her children.

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