Sherry Salway Black Named 2019 Gardner Award Recipient

Sherry Salway Black, a member of the Oglala Lakota nation, has been a standard-bearer for Indian Country self-determination, asset building, community investment, and cultural revitalization for more than four decades. This November, Independent Sector will honor Sherry with the 2019 John W. Gardner Leadership Award in recognition of her precedent-setting work addressing Native causes.

Though credited widely for the development and expansion of many organizations working to lift up the sovereignty and contributions of Native communities, Black is especially celebrated for her role in the growth of First Nations Development Institute (FNDI), a Native nonprofit that works to strengthen Native control of their assets. In her 20 years at FNDI, Black was instrumental in the first research of the state of and the critical role Native nonprofit organizations play in community and economic development.

Independent Sector’s John W. Gardner Leadership Award recognizes an American visionary whose body of work has empowered constituencies, strengthened participation, inspired movements, and improved the quality of life on our planet. It is named for the founding chairman of IS, John W. Gardner, a cabinet member in the Johnson Administration and a champion of the charitable sector’s role in driving social change. In a similar vein, Black has worked across sectors, mobilizing both philanthropy and systems to effect change at scale in many communities.

“[Black] has dedicated more than 40 years to addressing issues that impact vulnerable communities, and in particular, to advancing the well-being of Native peoples and breaking down barriers that impede full realization of their right to self-determination,” said Daniel J. Cardinali, president and CEO of Independent Sector. “Of equal importance, she has been a leading force in expanding philanthropic support for Native communities and creating systemic change to help Indigenous and other disenfranchised communities thrive.”

Michael McAfee, president and CEO of PolicyLink, and chairman of the committee for this year’s award, also underscored Black’s keen ability to advocate and act decisively to bring on change. “As we look toward 2020 and celebrating 35 years of honoring leaders who exemplify the ideals of John W. Gardner, I can think of no one who better represents, through her voice and actions, the powerful role the sector can play in creating systemic change for the betterment of the communities we serve,” said McAfee.

Black was an early champion of the vital connection between access to capital, financial literacy, and economic security, advocating for establishment of Community Development Financial Institutions that now bring capital and credit services to more than 60 Native communities. She led the development of financial education curricula in the mid-1990s that is now in its fifth edition and being used by hundreds of Native organizations and communities. Black has also championed many philanthropic efforts to address Native causes, particularly tribal and Native community control of their economies, culture, lands, and other assets.

Black currently serves as a trustee for the largest Native fund in history, the $266 million Native American Agriculture Fund. She also chairs the First Peoples Fund, where she supports efforts to honor and enable the collective spirit of First Peoples’ artists and culture bearers to bring about transformational change in Native communities; and is Board Vice President of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF), which dedicates one-third of its grants and programming to Indigenous Peoples’ higher education, particularly in business.

Sherry Salway Black will accept the Gardner Award at Upswell, an annual gathering of changemakers powered by Independent Sector, this November 13-15 in Chicago. Learn more at

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Civil Rights, Data, Education, IS Board, IS Member, Leadership Development, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Upswell