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Obama Foundation: Announcing the inaugural cohort of 100 Changemakers for Obama Foundation Leaders USA Program
Native advocates join inaugural class of Obama Leaders program
Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Note: This post was updated at 12:55pm Eastern on August 1, 2023, with additional information from the Obama Foundation. It was updated again at 1:15pm Eastern on August 1, 1023, with additional information from Friends of the Children.

Several Native advocates have been named to the inaugural class of the Obama Leaders program at the foundation started by the former U.S. president.

Only 100 people have been selected for the inaugural U.S. cohort. Former president Barack Obama’s foundation refers to them as “emerging changemakers” who are working to improve their communities.

“I’m inspired by this talented group of young leaders from across the United States who are working on the most pressing issues facing our world,” said Obama, a Democrat who served two terms in office.

“From an oncology resident championing health equity for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, to passionate union organizers advocating for the labor rights of educators and first responders nationwide, to the first Black woman executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama—their ideas and leadership will help strengthen democracy now and in the future. These leaders give me hope, and they deserve our support,” Obama said in a news release on Tuesday.

Jen Loren
Christina Haswood
Tasha R. Fridia
Nikki Santos
Nancy Deere-Turney
Clockwise, from top left: Jen Loren, Christina Haswood, Tasha R. Fridia, Nancy Deere-Turney and Nikki Santos. Images courtesy Obama Foundation

The Native members of the Obama Foundation’s Leaders USA program include:

Nancy Deere-Turney, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who serves as director of the Mvskoke Nation Youth Services Program in Oklahoma.

Tasha R. Fridia, a citizen of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes who serves as national director of Tribal Programs at Friends of the Children in South Dakota.

Christina Haswood, a citizen of the Navajo Nation who serves in the Kansas Legislature.

Jen Loren, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who serves as senior director of Cherokee Film, a Cherokee Nation enterprise in Oklahoma.

Nikki Santos, a citizen of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe who serves as executive director of the Center for Native American Youth in Washington, D.C.

Kekoa Taparra, a Native Hawaiian physician based in California.

Patrick Ti’a Reid, a Native Hawaiian who serves as public policy advisor for the American Samoa Government’s Office of the Governor.

“I look forward to scaling the impact of my work for Native American communities as an Obama Foundation USA Leader,” Santos of the Center for Native American Youth said in a news release on Tuesday. “Working alongside the inaugural United States Leaders, I will gain necessary insights and resources to drive systemic change and create lasting solutions to the challenges that impact our Native American youth.”

“I am honored to collaborate with leaders from diverse backgrounds to advance equity, justice, and social progress,” said Santos, who was a recipient of the “40 Under 40 award” from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development in 2013.

“I am humbled to be selected and am grateful for the opportunity to both share my experiences and learn from other leaders selected so that we can collectively have an even greater impact in our communities—especially for future generations,” said Fridia, who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

“I strive to make my ancestors proud in everything I undertake,” added Frieda, a “40 Under 40” recipient in 2020. “My most important job and greatest legacy is passing on the teachings of my grandmother Frances Wise, to my daughters.”

Haswood and Taparra are among those featured in a video released by the Obama Foundation on Tuesday. Each shared a bit about their work.

“I am passionate about Native American indigenous political engagement at all levels of government,” said Haswood, who has been a state lawmaker since January 2021. “I hope to partner with other folks on how do we get more Native American, indigenous folks, civically engaged in their current community issues.”

“As a Native Hawaiian, I’ve seen too often situations in which our indigenous voices are not being heard,” said Taparra, who also runs a research lab that focuses on Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander health issues.

Additionally, the Obama Foundation identified Meaghan McCormack, the chief executive officer of the St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation in Louisiana, as being indigenous. Following an inquiry, the organization responded via email that she is part of the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation.

The Obama Leaders inaugural cohort also includes Heather Keen, a longtime employee of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe who currently serves as chief strategy officer for Marimn Health, a wellness center owned and operated by the tribe in Idaho. She is non-Native.