How Indigenous Wisdom Can Help Us Address Today’s Challenges, with Anita Sanchez

Dr. Anita L. Sanchez is an Indigenous consultant and author whose visionary work bridges Indigenous wisdom and modern life. Inspired by the rich culture of her Mexican and Aztec heritage, Sanchez is helping organizations achieve transformational, positive change around diversity, inclusion and engagement. As the author of the internationally bestselling book, The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom for Modern Times, she hopes to support individual wholeness and a collective conscious evolution in partnership with People, Spirit and the Earth.

Bioneers is honored to have Sanchez serve as one of our board members and participate in the Talking Circle Sessions at the Bioneers 2020 Conference. Register now! 

In this interview, Sanchez shares how Indigenous wisdom can help us honor the interconnectedness of life, sustain a more just and fulfilling human presence on Earth, and lead a better future together.

In your book, The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom for Modern Times, you detail the gifts of forgiveness, healing, unity, and hope. How do these gifts help create great leaders?

“The leadership systems currently in place too often look at us as our doing, and they say do differently in order to change.  But the Indian way says we’re not human doings, we’re human beings.  If we want to change the doing in leadership, I need to change my being. And the way to change my being is to change my intent.” —Don Coyhis, Mohican, founder of White Bison, 1993

Look around you. Look at your community, your town, your city, state and country. Look at the world itself. Look at our media, our politics, our businesses, our culture. You will see people acting as if they are separate, alone. You will experience people thinking and behaving in ways that cause needless suffering, further division, and reckless destruction to themselves, each other, and to our Mother Earth.  It is time for all of us, particularly leaders, to open our hearts and remember who we are: We are part of One Hoop of Life. Whether you are a leader of your life and a leader in your community, business, and family, these divisive times require decisive action.  In The Four Sacred Gifts, 27 Indigenous Elders from the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Africa share a call to action that asks all of humanity to receive the gifts that have been offered, and to embody them. The re-emergence of a vibrant community and the experience of belonging requires us to remember how to be in right relationship with people and the Earth. The promise is that when you embody these four gifts, you will create harmony, remembering how “to be” and how “to do.” 

The first gift is the power to forgive the unforgivable.
The second gift is the power to heal.
The third gift is the power of unity.
The fourth gift is the power of hope.

For more on the Eagle Hoop Prophecy and Gifts go to

Your work with Pachamama Alliance and Bioneers has focused on amplifying Indigenous wisdom to inform leadership in tackling today’s most pressing challenges. How do these organizations align with your values, and what other orgs do you invest your time & energy into?

I am honored to serve as a Board member of Bioneers and the Pachamama Alliance, who align with my values and my commitment to contribute to movements that are life-giving for all my relatives. My why is to inspire people to discover and trust their gifts so that they become a life-giving force for all, people and the earth. This starts with me. My values and my commitment are to being a “whole human being” who understands that I am part of, not separate from, this beautiful planet and all its creatures.

For more than 30 years, Bioneers has provided breakthrough solutions for people and planet. I love our value of “It’s all alive. It’s all connected. It’s all intelligent. It’s all relatives.” For 25 years, the Pachamama Alliance, empowered by our partnership with indigenous people, dedicated itself to bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet. Both organizations use insight from their work in partnership with indigenous people to educate and inspire individuals everywhere to be in right relationship with all our relatives in this One Hoop of Life. 

I ask to work with conscious business and community leaders who are committed to creating harmony and balance in the world. In addition to my clients, I share my energy with the Evolutionary Business Council, the Transformational Leadership Council and the Association of Transformational Leaders. I sit in circle and support the work of the World Indigenous Science Network, the Tipping Point System – EarthWise Centre, Wisdom Weavers, AISES – American Indian Science and Engineering Society, One Degree Network and others.

Dr. Anita L. Sanchez

What teachings do you lean on as you navigate and adapt to life during the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Every day, I am grateful for my indigenous and Mexican roots that support me to remember I am part of the earth, intimately interconnected to people and nature, not separate. My daily practices help me remember that, even in the darkness, there is light, there is much to be grateful for, while staying present to the suffering, too. Each day, it is very painful to see relatives pass to the other camp, no longer physically available to us, and to see the racial and class inequities clearer than ever in terms of access to food, health, education, legal rights, housing, and jobs, to see fear and lies embraced, to see our forests on fire, animals killed, oceans and life destroyed.   

I am an extreme extrovert, so I miss the time with my family, friends, and in being in ceremony together. I miss working with my clients to create diverse, equitable, inclusive and life-giving workplaces in different parts of the country and world. However, in our physical separation, we can choose to slow down, rediscover the power of silence – listening to what is going on in our hearts and spirit, which can include deep sorrow, gratitude, and renewed empathy and appreciation for all life around us – two-legged and all our relatives. Conscious, individual and collective, actions are necessary.

How does your unique experience as an Indigenous woman inform the way you approach leadership?

Being an indigenous female-identified person, a woman, impacts everything in how I approach leadership. This includes my world view of everything being intimately interconnected, not separate. As an indigenous woman, I see the reality of the larger society that lives in a world that is linear, separate, Time is not linear – it is circular, and what we are doing in the present impacts the future seven generations. Being a whole human being is to draw not only on the physical, but also the mental – when something shows up at one level, I know to look at all the levels to get better understanding of healing and wholeness. 

Rather than looking at everything as disparate parts, I come in and look at the wholeness. I look at the connections. They might be messy connections, but nonetheless, where do they overlap? How are they connected and how are we separating them? I also talk about ‘good medicine.’ The ‘medicine’ is anything we do or say. Good medicine in the community, and in the corporate world, is anything that’s aligning our spiritual, mental, emotional, psychological and physical selves. Bad medicine is where we are tearing that apart. I’m about bridging it, showing another way of looking at things where we are all connected. For each of us, our roles, our actions are a kind of medicine.

People look to you for wisdom, guidance, and consultation. What are some things that you are still learning to explore? Where are you still growing in your thinking? Where do you look to?    

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. Everything The Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round… and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves.” —Black Elk, Oglala Lakota, 1930 

No matter how educated we become, how many books one writes, how many seek your presence, it is an honor and a deep responsibility to be a human being in this time.

It is easy to say I’m a great listener, and many come to me for this quality. However, I continue to learn about the power of silence. My uncle always started his talks about the People and how to be a whole Human Being by saying to us children to “listen with the softest part of your ears and with an expanding heart.” He would follow with, “the toughest and most rewarding journeys in life is the journey from the heart to head and back again. I wish you many journeys from the heart to the head and back again in your life.”  

Where do I go to seek support in becoming a loving, life-giving force to myself, other people and nature? I turn to my heart, to nature, particularly eagles, mountains, and the rainforest, to my ancestors, to the indigenous wisdom keepers from the Four Directions, and to Spirit – the Great Mystery. I pause to listen and to act from my heart, listening to my spirit and to the earth. I give gratitude for being a human being and I say out loud, “I choose to learn and grow every day.” Every day, I ask for help to grow in my trust in the Great Mystery. 

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