Cultural Survival Announces a New Executive Director

After an exhaustive international search, Cultural Survival’s board of directors has named Suzanne Benally as the new executive director of the organization—the first Indigenous director Cultural Survival has had. She is Navajo and Santa Clara Tewa from New Mexico.

Benally, who took up her new duties on February 1, comes to Cultural Survival from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, where she was the associate provost for institutional planning and assessment and associate vice president for academic affairs. She was a core faculty member in environmental studies and a member of the president’s cabinet.

Before starting at Naropa in 1999, she was deputy director and director of education programs at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and director of the Institute on Ethnic Diversity at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. She has been a teacher at the university level and has served as a consultant to philanthropic foundations, nonprofit organizations, and many higher education institutions. Additionally, she has worked extensively with American Indian communities. Her interests, teaching, and passions are focused on the relationship between land, spirituality, and people as reflected in stories, and in environmental issues and Indigenous rights. “I think Suzanne is a great choice to lead the combined Cultural Survival and Global Response organization and expand its advocacy into the critical environmental issues facing Indigenous Peoples,” said Sarah Fuller, chair of the Cultural Survival board, on announcing the decision.

“Suzanne Benally has been at the heart of the university's transformation since my arrival,” said Naropa University president Stuart Lord. “Her clarity, compassion, and wisdom have made her a cherished member of the entire university community and a vital member of the cabinet. We are delighted for this amazing opportunity for her to lead the Cultural Survival organization and to further her lifelong commitment to Indigenous Peoples and the issues facing them. We will miss Suzanne but fully support her mission to create change in the world.”

Benally grew up in New Mexico. Her mother is Navajo and her father Santa Clara Tewa. She was raised on the Navajo Nation and at Santa Clara Pueblo. Growing up Native, she is deeply aware of the issues and concerns that face Native peoples and their environments. Her interests in Indigenous Peoples all over the world have led her to expand her thinking and work towards a global framework for environmental justice and Indigenous rights. “Development and the environmental issues affect Indigenous peoples all over the world,” she says. “At one time we understood and engaged the issues specific to our own homelands; now, with globalization and climate change, we have to understand and engage these issues from a global framework more so than in the past.”

“I am incredibly honored to be able to lead a global organization such as Cultural Survival and use my skills and heart to help address Indigenous human rights and environmental concerns in the world, which I am passionate about. The work speaks to who I am as an Indigenous person and to all of our cultural survival.”

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