At Running Strong, we acknowledge and revere the strength and power of all women, particularly those Native women we work closely with and depend on to be our eyes and ears throughout Indian Country.
It is through these women that we are able to help meet the needs of Native American children, families and elders by distributing food boxes to families struggling to pay their bills, overseeing operations at summer food feeding sites so children don’t go hungry just because school is out, providing opportunities for families to produce healthy, fresh vegetables and fruits through our organic gardening programs, and much more.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, here are some of the amazing women who are helping to create positive change for Native American Youth in their communities.
Sydney Mills Farhang
Sydney Mills Farhang (Oglala Lakota) serves as Deputy Director of Running Strong for American Indian Youth, where she focuses on program development and implementation. She oversees the distribution of critical in-kind supplies including food, school supplies, dental items, etc. and cash grants to revitalize languages, preserve traditional ways of life, and increase the visibility of Native people. Sydney also steers the Dreamstarter program which empowers Native youth to make their dreams come true through a $10k cash grant and hands-on mentorship.
“I am incredibly proud of the way that Running Strong is helping to strengthen the next generation of Native leaders: fresh food, warm homes, clean water, pride in being Indigenous and speaking our languages, and an incredible network of emerging leaders who share in each other’s dreams, challenges, pain, and joy.”
Rose Fraser (Oglala Lakota) has been a staple of the Pine Ridge community for more than twenty years and counting. Between serving as executive director of the Oyate Teca Project, director of the Medicine Root Gardening Program, and running her pizza truck (JJ’s!), it sometimes seems like she has a secret extra hour in her day. Rose’s commitment to the Lakota youth of Pine Ridge shines in her work ethic and good humor
Ashley Morris (Akwesasne Mohawk) serves on Running Strong’s Board of Directors as our Youth Member delegate. Ashley provides her perspective as a young Indigenous adult to help steer Running Strong programs and guides us to be good stewards for the Native youth we prioritize in every one of our decisions. As Billy Mills often says, it is the elders who have the vision and the youth who have the dreams!
Karen Lone Elk
Karen Lone Elk (Oglala Lakota) supports our Pine Ridge field office’s many programs, from water project reports to Heat Match applications to food distribution coordination.
“My favorite part of working for Running Strong is the people we help and meet. Sometimes I get calls from women who don’t have a vehicle and ask me if I can bring them a food box. I usually have to travel to check the office mail, so I will take them a couple of boxes just to help them.”
Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook
Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook (Oglala Lakota) has been a Running Strong Board Director for many years, lending her long history of commitment to her Oglala Lakota people on Pine Ridge Reservation to guiding Running Strong’s philanthropic vision. Loretta made history when she gathered a consensus for the return of the Black Hills to the people of the Great Sioux Nation which was presented to the White House. She also assisted in passing the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act, the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act of 1978, and its subsequent amendments.
Faith Spotted Eagle
Faith Spotted Eagle (Yankton Sioux) is one of the greatest Indigenous activists of our time, most recently known for her water protection on Standing Rock and being the first Native American (and one of 2 women) to receive an electoral vote for President of the United States (2016). Running Strong is proud and humbled to work with Faith as she leads the Brave Heart Society in their mission to “call home the culture.”
Dr. Cristin Haase
2015 Running Strong for American Indian Youth Dreamstarter® Dr. Cristin Haase (Cheyenne River Sioux) was a promising dental student at the A.T. Still University (ATSU) of Health Sciences whose dream was to mentor future American Indian dentists.
Cristin’s dream was to implement a mentorship program at the Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health which entailed bringing in American Indian youth and young adults to the campus and pairing them with American Indian dental students.
In realization of her dream, Cristin established the Pre-Admission Workshop (PAW) to provide college students with a desire to become a dentist with the information they need to pass the arduous Dental Admission Test and prerequisite courses they would need to take, and ultimately successfully complete the dental school application process.
Today, Cristin’s Dreamstarter GOLD project is to continue with and expand her dream to increase the number of American Indian/Alaska Native healthcare providers who remain significantly underrepresented in the healthcare profession.
Dr. Sara Chase Merrick
2017 Running Strong for American Indian Youth Dreamstarter® Dr. Sara Merrick (neé Chase, Hoopa Valley Tribe) applied for her initial Dreamstarter grant to start a Hupa Language Immersion Camp to teach Hupa youth the language and start the process of creating new language speakers.
Today, the Hupa Language remains “highly endangered,” says Sara. “It is the ancestral language of my people and we currently have only a handful of fluent speakers left.”
Sara’s Dreamstarter GOLD dream is to prevent the loss of the language by expanding on her summer camps by holding a four weeklong Hupa Language Immersion Summer School for youth ages 5-10 and their families.