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.