For a woman who’s achieved so much against such odds, Native American businesswoman, activist, actress, screenwriter, director, and producer Valerie Red-Horse exudes a refreshingly humble persona. Personally successful by any measure, Red-Horse’s life story serves as a testament to many about the potential power of a life lived fully surrendered and dependent upon God.
Red-Horse’s visit to HBS last Sunday as the guest speaker for HBS Christian Fellowship’s 5:55 service represented, in some ways, the completion of a full circle in her life. Twenty-five years ago, as a senior in high school choosing amongst colleges, Valerie received a full scholarship to attend Harvard. While she turned it down in favor of UCLA, she was finally back in Cambridge years later, escorting her daughter Courtney around the ivy-lined campus.
Even though she currently owns four companies, Red-Horse shied away from linking materialism to her definition of success.
“I have the Lord in my heart, and THAT is success,” she emphasized.
Valerie Red-Horse grew up in a poverty-stricken community in Central California. Her father, a full-blooded Native American, left her family when she was three, leaving her to be raised by her English mother on $200 a month in Social Security benefits. She became a Christian at the age of nine, through the outreach efforts of a local Armenian church. Since then, in whatever circumstances she may have found herself, Red-Horse’s faith has been the centerpiece of her life.
After graduating from UCLA with a Theater Arts degree, Red-Horse hit the pavement seeking to fulfill her dream of becoming an actress. She looked back ruefully.
“There I was, an honors graduate with a 4.0 GPA and no job,” she said, “and my husband, then-boyfriend, had been a football player at UCLA, with a 2.0 GPA and he signed with the Oakland Raiders.”
After two years of pounding the pavement, taking acting classes, speaking with agents, doing all the things she was supposed to be doing, Red-Horse quit. She enrolled in the Bethel Bible course and “entrusted her career to God.”
Within two weeks, she had landed a role in two soap operas and a series.
“When you give your life to God completely,” she said, “he opens doors.”
Red-Horse was quick to point out the fallacy in thinking people will always get what they want when they turn their lives over to God. Rather, she says, doing so focuses us on trusting the Lord with our problems.
“When you pray, a door will open AND a door will close,” she said. “It’s hard.” Red-Horse cited John 15:2, which says of God, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
Being a Christian and a Native American in Hollywood have proven equally illuminating for Red-Horse. Responding to criticism of the cruel treatment Native Americans have suffered at the hands of Christian missionaries, Red-Horse says, “That wasn’t Jesus.” She underscored the distinction between the person and character of Jesus Christ and the persons and characters of those who purport to follow him.
As for the spiritual state of Hollywood, “It’s an odd place,” she said with a smile. “The people there admire any kind of religion, but you can’t project it onto the screen; you can’t spread it.” Despite her naysayers, Red-Horse has successfully addressed issues of being Native American and of being Christian in her feature film Naturally Native.
Red-Horse is convinced getting that film done was a “miracle” and “divinely led”. Turned down by every traditional funding source, her movie was eventually financed entirely by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut, the first time a tribe had ever funded a feature film.
“Within a week, the tribe must have received hundreds of screenplays,” she said with a laugh.
Today, in addition to her production company and entertainment activities, Red-Horse also owns a successful specialty advertising business, recently launched a Native hair and skincare line, and is the founder and Chairwoman of Native Nations Asset Management/Red-Horse Securities, Inc., the first Native American-owned securities brokerage and investment bank on Wall Street.
Throughout her inspiring life story, Red-Horse’s message was clear. “There is NO problem God cannot handle,” she said. “Give EVERYTHING up to the Lord.”