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The nonprofit Sundance Institute has been given a $4 million endowment gift from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria — the largest such endowment gift in the organization’s history.

The money will support the Institute’s Indigenous Program, which offers labs, fellowships, screenings, and gatherings around the world for Native storytellers and filmmakers, per a Sundance Institute statement. In particular, this new endowment gift will support a new fellowship for emerging and mid-career Indigenous artists with projects in development or production. 

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New fellows will receive grants of $25,000 each, yearlong creative mentorship from Indigenous Program staff, networking opportunities, and attendance at the Sundance Film Festival. Applicants for the fellowship must be from a Native tribe within California, though the press release does not specify if that designation includes both state and federally-recognized tribes. For a more global effort, the money will also support scholarships through Sundance Collab, a digital learning space.

Grafton Rancheria chairman Greg Sarris, himself an alumnus of the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters’ Lab in 1992, said his firsthand experience with the organization’s support for Native stories led him to organize the endowment award.

“We are excited to see the creative breakthroughs from future fellows and scholarship recipients,” Sarris said in a statement. “Supporting and nurturing these artists will open up pathways to success for the entire California Indigenous creative community and enable us to tell our stories.”

Adam Piron, Director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, called the Graton Rancheria fellowship contribution a “generous gift” and said the money would amplify Native storytellers’ voices in California, a long-time bastion of the entertainment industry. 

“So much of cinema’s history and the establishment of the American film industry has been created within California, but very rarely has it ever included the people on whose very land sustained it,” Piron said in a statement. “The ripple effect of the opportunities created through this endowment will be significant. Our program is dedicated to empowering a broad range of Indigenous voices, and we’re so excited to be able to expand our mission, specifically to California Indigenous tribes, with the addition of the fellowship and Collab scholarships.”

Sundance CEO Joana Vicente echoed the sentiment, calling the Grafton Rancheria endowment award an opportunity to strengthen and expand the Institute’s indigenous support. 

“It means a lot to us that so many Native talents will be provided a space to learn, connect, and create thanks to this substantial support, and we’re especially appreciative of Greg for giving back to the Sundance family he has belonged to for decades,” Vicente said in a statement. 

Applications for both the fellowship and Sundance Collab scholarships are available online here. Applications are due by August 28, and awards will be distributed early next year, per the Sundance Institute statement. 

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