In their own words …
Madonna Thunder Hawk & Mabel Ann Eagle Hunter
Fighter, activist, tactical strategist and most importantly respected grandma from the Cheyenne River, Madonna Thunder Hawk has fought against things that negatively affect the lives of indigenous peoples and of all peoples. She and her sister Mabel Ann Eagle Hunter are both from the Oohenumpa band of the Oceti Sakowin and were interviewed together. Thunder Hawk stated that activists just have to “get things done without any excuses.” She wants to be able to provide support and advocacy for the generations coming after her as her ancestors did for her. Eagle Hunter talked about taking on the responsibility as an elder to ensure that future descendants have the right to life.
Paulino first went to Standing Rock in September 2016 when he saw the news about the dog attacks on Water Protectors. He described the initial mood as somber, but his overall experiences at the camp were educational and healing. Everyone practiced their medicine freely and there was a large sense of community between different indigenous people. People took on responsibilities, whether by helping out in the kitchens or chopping wood for fires, and together they kept the camp functioning. The camp had grown in size to roughly 12,000 people, but by the time they were ordered to move off of the land, only 300 were left. It was very difficult for those who remained to gather what was left behind on their own, but they worked tirelessly to relocate sacred items to a new location.
After Standing Rock Paulino returned to Florida not as a student but as a full time activist. He decided that he needed to focus his activism on indigenous people. This means igniting conversations on the constructions of whiteness and actively practicing decolonization.
Paulino Mejia and Eden Jumper
Paulino Mejia and Eden Jumper are a two-spirited couple from Florida. Jumper, a native of the Seminole tribe, was a freshman in college at the time Standing Rock began. He first began his work in activism during college and decided to he needed to drop out to continue an “activist career.” Mejia, who was also a student in college at the time and a student worker, decided to go to Standing Rock where he spent several weeks at camp (Sept 2nd-30th), returned home and later joined Jumper for his second trip in February of the next year. Jumper expressed his appreciation for his time spent with elders at Standing Rock and their efforts to “teach the next generation to the best of their abilities.” Mejia asserts that his main goal moving forward is to dedicate more time to activism, especially in South Florida where, he states, “there is no space for indigenous people.” Choosing to leave behind college, because of its heavy focus on eurocentricity, he hopes to educate and spread awareness for indigenous people. Reflecting on his experience at Standing Rock, learning from elders and taking part in the resistance, Paulino exclaimed, “it’s our turn now.”
Phyllis Young is a Lakota and Dakota strategist and organizer whose self-described life struggle has been about the water, which is the great equalizer for every person no matter their creed. Putting into perspective the selflessness of fighting for a resource everyone needs, even your oppressor. Young has lived in many major cities, including Los Angeles as a part of the government Relocation program in the late 1950s and 1960s. Eventually, she moved back to the Standing Rock reservation, where she attended boarding school in the 3rd grade. Through that experience, Young saw firsthand how her people’s culture was being literally beaten out of them. While living in many different cities was at times difficult, she notes how it prepared her for all of the work that she did leading up to Standing Rock, including work in the United Nations, American Indian Movement and the Women of All Red Nations. Her travels in her young adulthood took her to Washington D.C., where she worked for the United States Department of State. In this job she worked with career diplomats, which “honed her skills in diplomacy and how to treat diplomats.” In this interview she spoke of the unforgivable crimes that have been committed against her people and the processes that she has been going through to have these crimes be acknowledged on a judicial level.
Robby Romero is a musician and activist from the Apache territory of the Southwest. Through his interview Romero shared how indigenous peoples are being exploited for their land and resources because of greed and profit. Romero discussed how the arts are important to activism and resistance. He described music as a tool that transcends the boundaries of western society, that music is everything, “It’s the sound of the birds, and their melodies in the morning, the sound of the wind carrying the voices of our ancestors. Music is the heartbeat of the earth… Music is our drums, music is our voice.” Romero emphasizes the importance of our connection through protecting mother earth and the journey we are on together and how we need to learn how to live and work together.
Sherman D. Alexander Jr. was born in Eagle Butte, SD. When he first arrived at Standing Rock he thought it would be a short term thing, maybe a week or a month long, but he ended up staying for its entirety. “There are not many times in this world where you can do something positive,” he says. One of the things that he saw at camp was the respect that elders were given, and this is something that he wants to continue. He also appreciated the kind of learning that took place, being taught by elders and family members made the educational process more down to earth. He was really surprised by the unity that he saw, because it was the kind of thing that he had only heard of from the stories that his grandparents told him.
Sherman helped out by doing a lot of manual work, such as chopping wood, and serving as an inspiration for others. He was involved in many of the actions that took place and was shot by police with rubber bullets. He explains that Standing Rock was not a failure because it was a place where people unified and got their voices heard.
Sonny “Wonase” His Chase
Sonny Wonase is from the Standing Rock Reservation where he is a tribal member and a landholder. He described his experience at Oceti Sakowin camp and what he witnessed was a universal awakening of the mind, emotions, and spirit for the people who participated. He felt that sharing the stories of camp can heal and create connections with those who were not able to be in the camp.
Vonda Long Eagle Horse
Vonda Long Eagle Horse is a Lakota activist and a fourth generation descendant of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. She praises those fighting the pipelines around the world. She described her experiences at Oceti Sakowin camp and how it affected her life.