Casey Affleck joins his friend, Pawnee Nation leader and activist Crystal Echo Hawk, in a shared commitment to Indigenous outreach and awareness.
Crystal Echo Hawk still sounds amazed as she recalls the time when, over a decade ago, Casey Affleck arrived at Oklahoma’s Pawnee Nation reservation to lend support for Nvision, a program she co-founded to curb suicide among Native American youths.
“I think what was the best thing,” she told Affleck during a recent conversation moderated by Cowboys & Indians, “is that we just thought you were this total superhero badass, because you drove 18 hours straight, with no sleep, from Atlanta. And we were just like, ‘What?’ We thought that was crazy, that you drove all the way out to our little reservation here in Oklahoma on short notice.”
That first encounter — recounted in a documentary for 4Real, MTV Canada’s award-winning reality TV series — has led to a lasting friendship. “I think she’s just amazing,” Affleck says of Echo Hawk, noting that, since their initial meeting, “Her organization has grown and changed. She’s doing more. I think she’s really helped a lot of people.”
Echo Hawk says she was driven to organize Nvision “with a bunch of other Native artists and organizers” because “we do have such high incidences of suicide and depression amongst our young people. We really wanted to find ways, through the lens of art and culture and story, to really inspire and motivate and build leadership amongst our youth.” She also is founder and executive director of IllumiNative, a Native-led nonprofit organization launched “to really look at how we can transform the way that Americans and institutions think about and engage with Native peoples, and how we can really build power for Native Americans in order to advance justice and self-determination and equity for our people.”
In April, Echo Hawk and IllumiNative kicked off the #WarriorUp campaign in partnership with Native and non-Native supporters and advocates — including Affleck, Ed Helms, Oscar-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit), golfer Notah Begay, and others — to direct attention to the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on Native communities. IllumiNative also led the #ChangeTheName campaign that resulted in the Washington NFL team name change.
The underlying inspiration for IllumiNative is the Reclaiming Native Truth Project, a research and strategy initiative Echo Hawk designed and co-led. “It was a two-year, $3.3 million research project,” she says, “where we really went out and tried to answer some very fundamental questions about what do Americans think about Native Americans. Why did they think that? Where did their perceptions come from? How did the perceptions that different Americans or even institutions have about Native Americans affect the way that we’re treated? What are the implications of that?
“So we launched that project back in 2016 — and had some pretty remarkable, some surprising, and some not-so-surprising results that really showed Native Americans are largely invisible to the American public.” In fact, according to Echo Hawk, “A pretty significant portion of the population aren’t even sure if we exist.”
Crystal Echo Hawk has dedicated her life to changing misguided and/or malicious perceptions about Native Americans. And she continues to attract allies like Casey Affleck to support her crusade.
Photography: Image courtesy Sunshine Sachs
From our April 2021 issue.