2013 US Human Rights Movement Builders Award Winner: Lenny Foster

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Ki’yaa’aanii (Towering House) born for Dziltl’ahnii (Mountain Cove).  Maternal grandfather is Ta’baaha (Water’s Edge) and paternal grandfather is Hona’ghaa’hni (One who walks around).

Lenny Foster is the Program Supervisor for the Corrections Project with the Department of Behavioral Health Services for the Navajo Nation in Fort Defiance, Arizona.  He is a spiritual advisor for approximately two thousand Navajo and Native American inmates in ninety-six state and federal prisons across the United States. He has been a Spiritual Advisor for Native Americans in the criminal justice system including juveniles, and has counseled families of Native American incarcerated individuals since February 1981 when he was instrumental in the implementation of the first sweat lodge program at the Arizona State Prison in Florence. 

Mr. Foster authored state legislation in New Mexico (1983 & 1993); Arizona (1984); Colorado (1991); and Utah (1995) that allows and permits American Indian spiritual and religious practices for prisoners.  He worked on a legislative proposal in the New Mexico Legislature to hire a full-time Native Chaplain in the New Mexico Corrections Department and advocated for a Native American to be appointed to the Parole Board.

He has testified as an expert witness in U.S. District Court hearings; and provided testimony on the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearings in 1992 and 1994 in Washington, D.C.  He testified before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland in 2000-2008.  He testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Albuquerque, New Mexico on January 10, 2003.

Mr. Foster is a Board Member of the International Indian Treaty Council; is the National Coordinator for the National Native American Prisoners Rights Coalition; and a member of the American Friends Service Committee Native American Task Force.

He participated in many campaigns with the American Indian Movement including Alcatraz Island (1970); The Trail of Broken Treaties (1972); Wounded Knee (1973); The Longest Walk (1978 & 2008); and Big Mountain (1978-98).  He has traveled to Mexico, Canada, Cuba, Holland, South Africa, Switzerland, Guatemala, Chile, England, Germany, France, New Zealand and Panama with the International Indian Treaty Council.

Lenny Foster has received many accolades and honors for his groundbreaking work with Indigenous prisoners’ human rights.  These include the Dr. Martin Luther King Civil Rights Award in Phoenix, Arizona (1993) and Kansas City, Missouri (1996); the Petra Foundation Human Rights Award in Washington, D. C. (1997) and the Citizen’s Award for Commendation of the Governor’s Religious Advisory Task Force in Salt Lake City, Utah (1997). His program was awarded High Honors from Harvard University Honoring Nations 2003 Tribal Governance Excellence.  He was awarded a fellowship by the Windcall Foundation in Bozeman, Montana in June 2004.  He was the recipient of the Unsung Hero Award by the Utah Division of Indian Affairs on Indigenous Day, November 22, 2004 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  He received the Volunteer of the Year Native American Spiritual Advisor from the Federal Correctional Complex in Tucson, Arizona in April 2009

Lenny Foster has four children: Red Dawn, Warlance, Blackhorse and Arminda and has one grandson, Wiyaki Luta. He graduated from Window Rock High School in 1967.  Lenny was All Conference in Basketball & Baseball and was a member of the Arizona Western College baseball team 1968 & 69.  Mr. Foster received an Associates of Arts Degree from Arizona Western College; Yuma (1969) and a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Sociology from Colorado State University; Ft.Collins (1975).  He attended Arizona State University and worked on his Masters of Public Administration.  He is a member of the Native American Church and is a Sun Dancer.