Before my mom died in 1991, she changed her will so that my sister and I could choose, if we wished, to give our inheritances charitably instead of taking them personally. Which we both did. Since then, I’ve given over 50% of my net worth, mostly to support Native American communities.
In the beginning, I pondered about what giving could be truly effective. Legislation seems powerful... but where do the forces that lead to legislation come from? To my way of thinking, it all starts with the family, and in the family, the mother is the key. So the answer I came upon was simple: to make change, I needed to fund women: individual women.
I put $4 million into a foundation I started, called Sumasil (a greeting, meaning “health and happiness” in the native language of Chumash). The money grew to $8 million, and we have paid it entirely out over the past 16 years. We gave support to 3,000 individual women with grants of about three thousand dollars each. Funders rarely give money to individuals because there is no trust. We set up a system of checks and balances and ultimately let women know they were trusted.
I’ve done other funding besides through Sumasil: including helping to revive a buffalo herd on the Cheyenne River and as the executive producer for several films on native issues. I founded the First People’s Fund to support Indigenous artists. We created Community Spirit Awards for artists nominated by their own people for helping to keep their native culture and values alive. These awards help open the public’s eyes about the vast diversity of native art in this country.
People say how unusual it is that I’ve given so much. I don’t think it’s unusual. If you have more than you will ever need in your life, why wouldn’t you share it?! I think it’s just common sense.
| Midwest | 60 plus Years Old | $1-$10M | at least 50% | Inheritance |
| Arts | Social Justice | Fairness | Impact | Passion |