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Former Mathews resident helps

Native American families

Words such as humble, selfless and compassionate don’t seem to scratch the surface in describing former Mathews resident Sharon Sun Eagle. Sun Eagle, who along with her late husband, “Sun Eagle,” decided to sacrifice for others many years ago and began Spirit Rising, an organization to help Native American families with food, clothing, furniture, utilities, dentistry and more.

Sun Eagle’s bond with her husband and “Creator” is strong. Upon walking into her home located on the Mattaponi Indian Reservation, one can instantly see the passion she has for her culture and fellow Native Americans. “It is tradition,” she said, “for lighting incense and singing songs to visitors.”

Though Sun Eagle was not born on the Mattaponi Reservation, she said its culture is “in her blood.” Her mother is of Shawnee decent, she said, and she also has some Powhatan blood. Adding to the mix, her father was Quaker.

Her husband, she said, was a Holy Man and was a traditional medicine man; she is an artist. “We were together 16 years without a day apart because we worked together as a team,” Sun Eagle said. “My husband and I decided to dedicate our lives to our people, and that’s where Spirit Rising began.

She described one story that kind of got the passion going. “It was of a woman who came and we were going to give her clothes for her children,” Sun Eagle said. “We asked her to write sizes. She wrote nothing about sizes, but wrote, ‘I have no food at all.’” Then, Sun Eagle gathered food out of her cupboards and began calling on others to help.

“Our tribal tradition is to share with our people,” Sun Eagle said. She said the larger the sacrifice, the more honor is given to “Creator.” She said that many other stories similar to the woman with no food transpired and that was how the food bank portion of Spirit Rising got started.

“We’ve been distributing food for over 20 years,” Sun Eagle said. She and her husband constructed a building behind their home on the reservation in the late 1990s. “We wanted a nice, clean place to store our food and also a place to have refrigerators and freezers.”

The food bank is just a small example of how Spirit Rising reaches out to others. Sun Eagle’s organization also sends food, clothing, blankets and school supplies to children and has begun a sponsorship program for children, families and elders in need.

The outreach expands beyond the local level to families on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation, which, according to Sun Eagle, is one of the poorest Native American reservations in the country. “There is an 80 percent unemployment rate and many issues with addictions,” she said.

If it’s not enough that Sun Eagle spearheads all of these efforts, she oftentimes goes without necessities herself in order to give to others.

Gloucester resident Dot Daniel, who has developed a relationship with Sun Eagle through her work in Mattaponi Healing Indian Clinic, described Sharon as always willing to take money she needs to pay her own bills and giving it to a child or mother who has nothing. Sun Eagle said that she is able to do that through prayer and faith in “Creator.” “I pray, ‘How can I get this, who do I call,’ and I sometimes go through three or four people, but I don’t give up…Nothing works without Creator. I’m just his pleasantly persistent person. He does the work.”

Sun Eagle is also a storyteller and an artist. She performed Saturday afternoon with the Greater Richmond Children’s Choir at St. Mary’s Whitechapel in Lancaster and recently published a children’s book, “The Grandparents Still Speak.” Her book depicts images and stories of “Turtle Island,” the Native American name for North America.

For those interested in donating to Spirit Rising, Sun Eagle said checks can be made to Sharon Sun Eagle, 84 Nee A Ya Lane, West Point, Va. 23181. For more information, she can be reached at 804-769-1854 or sharonsuneagle@hotmail.com.