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Wed Aug 9, 2017, 11:58 AM

Jennifer Easton, Founder of First Peoples Fund and Sumasil Foundation, Walked On


Jennifer Easton walked on at the age of 69, August 1, 2017.
Jennifer Easton, Founder of First Peoples Fund and Sumasil Foundation, Walked On


Easton: ‘I wanted the general public to be more aware of the incredible artistic diversity I saw among indigenous people all over this country’
Suzette Brewer • August 8, 2017

Jennifer Easton, a national leader in philanthropic support of Native interests and cultures, passed away on Tuesday, August 1, from complications after surgery. She was 69. In addition to founding the First Peoples Fund and the Sumasil Foundation, Easton also helped launch the Sundance Institute’s Native Program and supported the creation of a buffalo refuge on Cheyenne River, and many other contributions to Indian country. Notably, Easton also funded Oregon Natural Resource Council v. U.S. Forest Service in the 1980s to preserve Oregon’s old growth forests from commercial logging. The ancient forests are home to the endangered northern spotted owl and other species.

Born in 1947 in Glen Cove, New York, Easton grew up among the Mohawk people along the St. Lawrence River in Ogdensburg. Though non-Native, she formed an early appreciation and connection to the culture and its people. After her mother passed away in the early 1990s, she made the decision to contribute her inheritance to Native causes. “To my way of thinking, it all starts with the family, and in the family, the mother is the key,” Easton once said. “So the answer I came upon was simple. To make change, I needed to fund women: Individual women.” So she began the Sumasil Foundation, which means “health and happiness” in the Chumash language. Since 1992, the organization has distributed approximately $8 million in scholarships to over 3,000 women in obtaining their higher education to foster independence by improving lives and career choices.

The First Peoples Fund (FPF) was started in 1995 in Rapid City, South Dakota, with a mission to support American Indian artists and culture bearers. The organization’s Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards are given annually in recognition of Native artists who are working to keep their cultures and values alive through the arts. “I wanted the general public to be more aware of the incredible artistic diversity I saw among indigenous people all over this country. People think of Native art and they often just think of turquoise and silver and beading and that is about it,” Easton said in 2014. “I wanted to change that perception. I always had an appreciation for Native art, but there was nowhere to buy it and nowhere to see it.” The First Peoples Fund has since contributed to the careers of nearly every major artist in Indian country, including rapper and writer Frank Waln, designer Bethany Yellowtail, photographer Matika Wilbur and musician Wade Fernandez.

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https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/history/people/jennifer-easton-founder-first-peoples-fund-sumasil-foundation-walked/?mqsc=ED3902704

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