I trust that, as a supporter of Lakota sovereignty, you believe in justice and equity for all people. So I hope you’ll join me in standing with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. My experience as a lifelong activist gives me insight into what a moment that shifts society looks like. It can look messy, it can look dangerous — it can look just like this.
As you are no doubt aware, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police on a Minneapolis street, our nation is on fire. This follows the recent murders of Breonna Taylor by police in her home and Ahmaud Arbery by white vigilantes on a Georgia street.
Now, every day and every night, thousands march and kneel and vocalize to end police brutality and demand a new respect for Black bodies, lives, and communities. A few days back, Lakota Law’s Chase Iron Eyes and his daughter, Tokata, helped lead one such protest in Rapid City.
As a nation, many of us are listening to, and gaining further understanding of, the pain suffered by communities of color for centuries in this land. With that understanding, hopefully we will feel compelled to offer support and advocacy in whatever ways are most appropriate or asked of us. Whatever lane each of us occupies, we can find our role in the struggle.
I and many people of the Oceti Sakowin and other Indigenous nations can empathize with the pain wrought by institutional racism. Seeing the young people of today demonstrating and standing up for what is right takes me back to my own youthful days organizing for Red Power — once upon a time, right there in that same place, the Twin Cities. It reminds me of our American Indian Movement, born from Lakota, Dakota, and Ojibwe activism in that northern midwest metropolis.
And, of course, it reminds me of the #NoDAPL protests at Standing Rock. Anyone surprised to see the president unleash militarized police, security forces, and tear gas on peaceful protesters wasn’t paying attention in 2016 and ‘17. For decades, from Sitting Bull to MLK, from the American Indian Movement to Black Lives Matter, Black and Brown communities have taken turns leading the movement for understanding, equality, and justice.
The struggle is now being live-streamed, and it’s not easy to watch. We know that a few irresponsible people on our side and, more often, counter-protesters with hate-filled hearts are infiltrating, looting, and trying to paint legitimate civil disobedience with the brush of violence. But we know the difference. We know that we are not terrorists, and neither is anyone who truly seeks justice and calls out tyranny.
The world is changing, and it’s long overdue. I hardly need to remind you that Black and Native people die at the hands of police and are incarcerated at far higher rates than white folks. So yes, I empathize. And I offer you my deep gratitude for your compassion. Thank you for standing with us through our struggle. I hope we can all say we also stand arm-in-arm with Takomni Hesapa Wiconi Heĉha — #BlackLivesMatter.
Wopila tanka — Thank you for your friendship and your support,
In solidarity, always,
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project