On a warm afternoon in the summer of 2020, Sally Auger, Abenaki, stood on the newly-purchased land that was growing the Dream of Wild Health farm into a 30-acre center for Indigenous foods and Native youth programs. As the founder, this was Sally’s dream come true; a vision that had begun 20 years earlier with a handful of rare seeds and a leased half-acre garden in Farmington, MN.
A few months after her visit, Sally passed away on November 19, 2020. Sally was a visionary whose legacy helped spark the early food sovereignty movement that is today restoring the health of Native families.
Sally dedicated much of her life to building programs and organizations that served the needs of urban Native people in the Twin Cities, especially those dealing with addiction.
Together with her husband, John Eichhorn, an Odawa from Michigan, Sally started Peta Wakan Tipi in 1986, a non-profit that provided transitional housing to Native people in recovery. Recognizing that their clients needed to reconnect with their culture, they launched Dream of Wild Health in 1999 as a program to help rebuild a relationship with the land, traditional medicines and Indigenous seeds. Dream of Wild Health now protects one of the largest collections of Indigenous seeds in the Upper Midwest, produces thousands of pounds of organic food each season, and offers innovative programs that teach Native youth how to garden, cook, and develop job skills.
“With the creation of Dream of Wild Health, Sally’s hope was to reverse the negative health trends in our people by teaching our young ones about plants, food and culture,” said Neely Snyder, Executive Director for Dream of Wild Health. “Sally was overjoyed to learn that we had four youth alumni return to the farm as staff last year. We are honored to carry Sally’s legacy forward.”
Sally knew firsthand the struggle of poverty and addiction, an understanding that shaped her life work. She was born on December 18, 1938, in a poor, struggling Abenaki community near the Canadian border in New Hampshire. Her grandmother was a medicine woman whose gift with plants laid the foundation for Sally’s later work. After attending college out East, Sally worked for the postal service in New York, and developed an addiction to alcohol. She moved to Minnesota to enter the recovery program at Hazelden around 1985. Shortly after, she met John Eichhorn, who was also a recovering alcoholic.
With little money, living in a modest house in St. Paul, Sally and John launched Peta Wakan Tipi. “Sally was an initiator in the Twin Cities,” said Joy Persall, consultant, who worked for the Headwaters Foundation in the 1990s. “Sally was a strong advocate. Had she not had that fierce passion, Peta Wakan Tipi would not have taken off. She educated me fiercely. She didn’t need to prove anything or tell her story. She was there to educate through the medicines.”
Board member Pauline Danforth remembered Sally as one of the strong women leaders who were making significant change at that time. “Sally was one of the founding mothers who were active along with other Native women back then. They were founding organizations and helped build the community we have today.”
In 2000, Sally received a life-changing letter from Cora Baker, a Potawatomi Seed Keeper, who entrusted her lifetime collection of 200+ varieties of Indigenous seeds to Dream of Wild Health. Thanks to her grandmother’s training, Sally understood the responsibility that came with this gift.
“Sally knew the ancestral memory of those seeds, the genetic memory that is part of us,” said Hope Flanagan, DWH Cultural Teacher and Community Outreach. “She understood that when you’re doing the work, the seeds will do the best they can to help you. No one else was taking on that responsibility back then.”
By 2003, the program had outgrown the half-acre at Farmington. Together with Nora Murphy, a grantwriter who worked with Sally for a decade, Sally began searching for a permanent home for the seeds, and purchased a 10-acre farm in Hugo, MN. In addition to growing out the seeds, youth programs provided intergenerational sharing of cultural knowledge that would help them develop self-respect and strong identities. Sally wanted Native youth to become warriors--Garden Warriors--who would fight to survive and give back to their communities, just as she had. Within three years, Sally had completely paid off the loan on the farm.
“An important part of Sally was her strength as a leader of a nonprofit,” said Murphy. “She could navigate the challenges while remaining true to the vision. She never wavered.”
Long-time collaborator, Craig Hassel, Associate Professor & Extension Specialist in Food & Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, first met Sally in 1999 when she invited him to tea to discuss her project to bring traditional foods back to Native people.
Twenty years later, Craig described the Hugo farm as “an embodiment of Sally’s vision.” On many occasions, he recalled Sally saying, “This farm is for everyone,” a testament to her generosity.
In 2011, Sally retired and moved back East to Seabrook, New Hampshire, to be near one of her two sons and grandchildren. Several years later, she returned to Minneapolis and eventually moved into the Bii Di Gain Dash Anwebi Elder Housing, with her beloved cat, Oscar. Before long, Sally was finding ways to help other residents, organizing a garage sale to raise funds, and driving friends to the nearby grocery store.
Sally renewed her connection to Dream of Wild Health, visiting the farm and attending events. “People like Sally are on this earth to show us what we need to do for our relatives,” said Jessika Greendeer, Seed Keeper and Farm Manager. “They show us how to do right by the plants and connect younger people with them. They need these gifts to know who we are…She was an amazing seed protector.”
For those of us who knew and loved Sally, she was a mentor, a teacher, a loving grandma, a fierce advocate on behalf of those in need, and a tough-minded woman who knew how to get things done. Since first meeting her in 2000 when I volunteered at Dream of Wild Health, and then working with Sally until she retired, she has been a role model whose life demonstrated the values she lived by: integrity, service to community, and a sense of hope that is embodied in our seeds. Most of all, she wanted to see our children thrive.
Pidamaya ye, Sally, for sharing your wisdom with all of us.