The Washington Post announced in October that it was welcoming a new communications chief. The paper’s official announcement lauded Kathy Baird, a veteran of Nike and the public relations giant Ogilvy, as a “key strategic partner” positioned to “realize our ambitious vision for the publication.”
It also noted her membership in the “Rosebud Sioux Tribe” and service on the board of IllumiNative, which it described as “a nonprofit working for accurate and authentic portrayal of Native people.”
That’s one way to put it. IllumiNative is a self-described “racial justice organization” funded by a dark money behemoth that encourages elementary school students to fight for Democratic Party initiatives like universal health care. Its purpose is similar to various far-left activist groups, focusing on “breaking through systems of white supremacy” and “grassroots organizing,” according to IllumiNative’s website.
IllumiNative is funded in part by New Venture Fund, which is itself funded by the left-wing dark money behemoth Arabella Advisors. New Venture Fund recorded nearly $1 billion in donations in 2021 and was called “a leading vehicle for [dark money] on the left” by the New York Times. It is unclear how much money the New Venture Fund has given IllumiNative since its 2018 founding, and federal financial disclosure laws do not require the organization to reveal it. Other left-wing charities such as the MacArthur Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation have given IllumiNative millions of dollars over the years.
Baird’s role at IllumiNative raises questions about the place of political activism in the newsrooms—and the extent to which it undercuts a news product that is supposed to be nonpartisan. It is unclear whether Baird will recuse herself from issues surrounding the coverage of Democratic dark-money groups, including Arabella.
The Washington Post declined to comment on Baird’s affiliations. Asked whether she would recuse herself from participating in issues related to Arabella, a spokeswoman said Baird “is a member of the executive team, overseeing Communications, Events and Brand Marketing and is not a part of the editorial staff.”
The Post has almost entirely avoided coverage of Arabella Advisors, a curious editorial decision given the group’s central role as a dark money hub for the Democratic Party. The Free Beacon could only find two instances where Arabella Advisors is mentioned by the paper. Both were pieces by fact-checker Glenn Kessler targeting Republicans. In one of them, Kessler describes the dark money group as a “back-office processor.”
Educational materials distributed by IllumiNative obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show the group working to influence school children, in part through classroom posters depicting American Indians demanding “tribal sovereignty” and “pre-constitutional rights” and advocating Democratic Party policies like universal health care. IllumiNative did not respond to a request for comment or for a clarification of how the group defines “pre-constitutional rights.”
IllumiNative president Crystal Echo Hawk—who publicly congratulated Baird on her new gig—is routinely quoted in news outlets including the Washington Post, which included a comment from the “longtime activist” in a February report about the Washington Commanders’ name change.
Echo Hawk has advocated the “land back” movement on her personal Twitter account. That movement supports “the reclamation of everything stolen from the original peoples,” including “land … food … housing … [and] governance,” according to Landback.org.
The concept of “tribal sovereignty” is closely related to the “land back movement” as well and would entail transferring large swaths of federal lands to American Indians. Many “land back” proponents also say American capitalism and white supremacy must be dismantled in order to achieve full tribal sovereignty, which also includes liberating American Indians from most federal and state control. It is part of a broader effort to end “white supremacy and uplift BIPOC groups,” according to an NPR affiliate.
Baird’s new post may also provide an opportunity for some synergistic tag-teaming. IllumiNative’s goal is to use “digital organizing, media relations, [and] rapid response communications … to advance power-building and narrative and culture change goals,” according to its website.
And Echo Hawk, the IllumiNative leader, also runs a private consulting firm focused in part on “reclaiming native truth,” according to a powerpoint obtained by the Free Beacon. The goals include the creation of “new narratives in pop culture and media” to supplant coverage of “poverty, alcoholism and crime” in American Indian communities. Allies of this effort, according to Echo Hawk, include “Democrats,” “liberals,” and those in the “Northeast,” among others.
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