Described in Philanthropy Magazine in 1997, Nihewan
(which means talk Cree - or more loosely Be Your
Culture) is most definitely a private and unique kind of foundation.
Nihewan was founded by Academy Award winning singer/songwriter Buffy
Sainte-Marie in 1969 to help Native American students participate
in learning. Over the past thirty years, the Nihewan Foundation
has continued to reroute money into the lives of students and Native
American studies programs across North America.
In the Sixties in the U.S., most funders were unfamiliar with the
actual circumstances of Native American students, and directed scholarship
grants to obvious frontrow winners. Since she was virtually
the only person in her life who was earning enough money to give
any away, Buffy Sainte-Marie wanted the Nihewan Foundation to address
the unique realities of grassroots Indian education.
Having the rare opportunity to travel to colleges in the great cities
of the world and also to reservations had made it obvious to Buffy
Sainte-Marie that here was a base that needed special support
- scholarships to truly needy Native American students who often
fell through the cracks of mainstream philanthropy.
Two recipients of Nihewan Foundation scholarships have gone on to
doctoral degrees and to become the presidents of Tribal Colleges
of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) group.
In the 1980s, the foundation expanded services to include K-12 education
in the United States and Canada via Curriculum Development and what
would become the Cradleboard Teaching Project. Recognizing the need
for accurate, enriching teaching materials about Native American
cultures at the grade school level, and the need in all children
for healthy self esteem, self identity and impact, in 1997 the Nihewan
Foundation initiated the Cradleboard
Teaching Project, partnering with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
who generously provided startup funds to model the Cradleboard Teaching
Project in 18 states.
In the 1990s, the foundation added a Teacher Training program and
Cradleboard 101 Teacher Training Workshops. Other
programs include Curriculum Development and the Nihewan Youth
Council on Race.