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The School of UnLearning: Activism

Restoring Communities with Return to the Heart

All proceeds of the Balancing the Biome Summit support Return to the Heart Foundation. Read on for more information on their vital mission transforming Native communities with Indigenous women-led initiatives.


You've had an incredible journey; tell us a bit about yourself!

I am Oglala Lakota and was raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I am an Emmy-award winning social justice storyteller, non-profit leader, activist, author, media strategist, and producer focused on advocacy on behalf of Indigenous people’s rooted worldview. I have a diverse professional background working with tribal, corporate and nonprofit organizations, including current National Board Member for Women’s March and former CEO of Native Americans in Philanthropy.


What prompted the creation of Return to the Heart?

Return to the Heart Foundation was a dream of Gina Jackson, Red Dawn Foster and I to create an organization by Native Women for Native Women. We recognized that the contributions and issues of Indigenous women and girls were not being acknowledged or significantly included in contemporary social issues and initiatives. We focus on empowering and uplifting Indigenous women and their projects that offer help and healing to their communities, because we believe Native women are the foundation of their communities.


Reproductive justice can often be left out in conversations about community care and sustainability, but a number of the Traditional Helpers & Healers micro-grant recipients are focused on work supporting pregnant women, young children, and parents. Can you tell us a bit more about them? Was there always that intention to invest in those kinds of projects?

We believe in a post-COVID world, the essential workers are traditional helpers and healers who safeguard and sustainably cultivate our medicines, as well as protect Mother Earth. We have funded projects who aim to give support, resources and knowledge to help pregnant families raise happy and healthy babies, and to successfully foster the parent-child relationship.

Our intention is to invest in diverse projects that serve all in Indian country, including babies and pregnant families. The stages of pregnancy and bringing new life into this world involves significant changes, some that many may not be prepared or well equipped for. This is where these projects step in to provide much needed services.


The Balancing the Biome Summit is all about exploring our innate interconnectedness and interdependence with nature and, ultimately, each other. What does interconnectedness look like in Return to the Heart?

At R2H, our interconnectedness includes connecting Indigenous women through our sisterhood and continuing to stay connected to ourselves, our culture and the land we come from. Indigenous women are the center of their communities and when you help one Indigenous woman you are most likely helping not only their tribe, but their surrounding community and other sister tribes.


So, we're now a year into the pandemic, but that hasn't stopped you. If anything there's more work to be done, yes? Return to the Heart just turned one and you're featured in the upcoming anthology "This is How We Come Back Stronger," a collection of essays edited by the Feminist Book Society. What else is on the horizon for 2021?

I shared an essay in the feminist writer anthology “This is How We Come Back Stronger” about my experience traveling to Ghana, Africa for the 400 Year Return. I reflected upon the strengths of my own upbringing as an Oglala Lakota, as well as a post-COVID world. This book is available in the UK on March 23 and the US on April 6. I am also co-writing a self-help memoir with my identical twin sister and psychotherapist Emma Eagle Heart to be published by Feminist Press in January 2022.

Return to the Heart Foundation has many plans for growth in our second year. We will host a second Summer Solstice Livestream fundraiser event and are gearing up to fund a new group of Society Fellows focused on post-COVID recovery with traditional healing, as well as restorative and regenerative development.


Is there anything else you'd like to share about Return to the Heart?

You can follow Sarah on Instagram and Twitter at @ms_eagleheart. You can also follow Return to the Heart Foundation on Instagram at @return2heart and Twitter at @return2heartfdn.


Join us in supporting Return to the Heart Foundation’s mission by attending the Balancing the Biome Summit on April 6. During the summit, we’ll be diving into the world of the microbiome and its role in human health and sustainability with panel discussions, fireside chats, hands-on DIY sessions and more! Through conversations with experts and advocates across industries, we’ll connect the dots on biodiversity and intersectionality, exploring new ways of renewing and restoring our intelligent bodies and planet by harnessing the wisdom of the natural world.

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