A Powerful, Timely Vision

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation)
Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

Photo courtesy of Jaida Grey Eagle

Photo courtesy of Jaida Grey Eagle

Jaida Grey Eagle is an Oglala Lakota artist, born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her primary mediums are photography and filmmaking. She is also a beadworker, aerial artist, and writer. Jaida received formal training in photography at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is a B.Yellowtail artist and resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.

At 11 years old, Jaida began snapping photos as the family photographer. She was given her first camera by her parents. A few years later, she set out with a vision to use her art to show the truth and beauty of being Indigenous.

Starting professionally at age 17 with little formal training, Jaida used the camera her parents had given her to take shots for newspapers, a book cover, and other works. Early on, she experienced imposter syndrome, doubting her accomplishments and fearing that she wasn’t fulfilling her purpose after all. But her mother encouraged her throughout the journey and urged Jaida to apply for the First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership (ABL) fellowship program. Jaida did, and was awarded in 2018.

Sadly, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed two weeks before the FPF artist convening in Santa Fe. But because of the fellowship, Jaida’s mom witnessed one last major accomplishment in her journey.

“Patty” by Jaida Grey Eagle

“Patty” by Jaida Grey Eagle

“With the First Peoples Fund grant, I was able to get a new camera, which I never thought would happen again,” Jaida says. “It was like being given this extraordinary gift, like I’m going down the right path. My mom got to see that before she left. She was so proud.”

Jaida used the camera and fellowship funds to boost efforts on the documentary called “Arming Sisters” she is working on with Tantoo Cardinal, Patty Stein, and several other remarkable women.

“Indigenous communities lack Indigenous storytellers and portraying our stories through an Indigenous lens, and I wish to change that with my art,” Jaida says.

Also with the ABL funds, she enrolled in classes at FilmNorth of Minneapolis. “They’ve been a really good resource for me, especially with investing back into myself,” she says.

For post-production on the “Arming Sisters” documentary, they received a Vision Maker grant. Jaida and the rest of the team flew out to the International Documentary Association’s Getting Real conference in Los Angeles, a confidence-building experience for Jaida.


“My highlight was meeting other emerging filmmakers,” she says. “They really gave a sense that I don’t need to have imposter syndrome, that we are all on the same page.”