The Power of Indigenous Knowledge

Lakota Law

Greetings from Pine Ridge. I’ll keep this email short and sweet — but only because I want you to spend your reading time on today’s blog! I’ve also recorded a short video, which you’ll see near the top of the blog page. What’s my topic? I’m highlighting the importance of Indigenous knowledge in tackling the climate crisis in the wake of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and convening of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Click above to watch a short video and read my blog about the importance of Indigenous knowledge when it comes to solving the climate crisis.

Please do read the blog, but here’s one of my key points. The climate crisis is real, it’s serious, and it’s existential — but that’s not a reason for pessimism. In order to win this fight, we must listen to one another, celebrate the good work being done, and tap into our resilience as human beings. We should recognize the victories we’re achieving now and incorporate both science and the understanding Indigenous communities have had for Unci Maka — our grandmother Earth — for thousands of years. 

We know about resilience, and we aren’t scared of the apocalypse. In the era of colonization, we’ve already been living through it for generations. We haven’t lost our faith or our capacity for optimism, and we’re not going to give those up now. I invite you to hear my perspective and take on this challenge with me so the generations to come can tell an inspiring story of reconnection and recovery.

Wopila tanka — thank you for caring for Unci Maka!
Tokata Iron Eyes
The Lakota People’s Law Project

California Solidarity

Lakota Law

Han, Mitakuyepi. I’ll start by thanking every one of you who supported our Oceti Vote event this past weekend. Your friendship helped to create something very special — a successful Native voter outreach campaign and also a true celebration of our Lakota culture. Today we’re submitting the many voter registrations we gathered, and we’ll have a lot more to share with you once we’ve all had a chance to look back at everything.

In the meantime, I’d like to draw your attention to something important from our sister org, Let’s Green CA! They’ve created a solidarity action to protect the Juristac — the ancestral lands of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, Indigenous People in what is now called Northern California. As Santa Clara County evaluates an environmental impact report on a proposed sand and gravel mining project, your input could help protect the sacred! So, because you live in California, today I ask you to stand with my relatives on the west coast of Turtle Island and tell the County: no mining at Juristac!

Lakota Law

The Lakota People’s Law Project and Let’s Green CA! (which also just got a climate equity bill signed into law in California) take both environmental and Indigenous justice extremely seriously. The two are inextricably intertwined, because far too often, Indigenous communities wind up on the frontlines battling extractive industry which demonstrates no regard for Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, nor for us as this land’s first inhabitants and stewards. 

The Amah Mutsun Band’s fight to protect the Juristac from being torn asunder by miners sounds a lot like our fight to stop gold, uranium, and lithium mining in our sacred He Sapa — the Black Hills. Our relatives in so-called Nevada have a similar fight on their hands with the lithium mining at Thacker Pass. And then there are all the oil pipelines — Dakota Access, Keystone XL, Line 3 — you have helped us resist. 

It’s critical that we continue to stand in solidarity with one another every step of the way, each time any project imperils Unci Maka and the future we wish to create for the next seven generations. By widening our circle, we increase our power. So, please do keep tabs on the good work of Let’s Green CA! and show your support by submitting a comment to protect the sacred at Juristac. Rest assured that together, we can and will continue to win justice — for Indigenous People and for our Grandmother Earth.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your friendship and solidarity!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Indigenous Peoples Day

The politics behind a name

On the Wednesday edition of the ICT Newscast, an Osage elder discusses sovereignty and changing tribal constitutions. There’s a new Choctaw anthology sharing stories, essays and poems. Holly Cook Macarro breaks down Indigenous Peoples Day

  • ICT
  • Oct 12, 2022

Jim Gray was the youngest ​chief to be elected to lead the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. During that time, he worked through many issues that helped strengthen his government — and ultimately the Osage people. Today he’s a consultant with Gray Consulting.

The perspective of Choctaw matriarchs is being presented in a new anthology called, “Stories by Choctaw Women.” Ten women contributed stories that range from fiction and nonfiction, some essays, family letters and even poetry. The book is edited by Leslie Stall Widener and her sister, Celia Stall Meadows.

Many states have changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. It is a movement that is decades in the making. ICT regular contributor Holly Cook Macarro weighs in on the politics of this name. She is a partner with Spirit Rock Consulting and she’s from the Red Lake Ojibwe nation.

A slice of our Indigenous world

  • The Interior Department has released a progress report sharing how it is tackling climate change. Last week, the agency’s 10-page report said it has made several investments. That includes committing $46 million in appropriations to tribal communities who are already feeling the impacts.
  • A powwow, parade and memorial walk were just a few of the events for Native American Day in Rapid City, South Dakota over the weekend. The arena for the Black Hills Powwow was full with over 15,000 dancers. This year’s parade grand marshal was Jackie Giago, the widow of the late Tim Giago. In 1989, Tim worked with Gov. George Mickelson to create Native American Day. The annual Remembering the Children memorial walk honored 50 children who died while attending the Rapid City Indian Boarding School.
  • In Canada, a Métis mother says a worker at her child’s daycare cut her son’s hair without permission. As a result, Jana Nyland pulled her son out of the daycare center. Here’s APTN’s national news team with the latest.
  • Several tribal nations in the U.S. are getting funding for internet access. The grants are coming from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and will provide thousands of people with high-speed broadband. In Alaska, the Kuskokwim region is one of the most underserved groups when it comes to internet connectivity. The Winnebago tribe in Nebraska is also benefiting from the funding. 

Aboriginal Ngarrindjeri elder Major Sumner, shown here in a 2009 photo in traditional regalia, welcomes the return of Australian Indigenous peoples remains from London. Sumner was recognized for lifetime achievement and inducted into the South Australian Environment Hall of Fame in October 2022 for his work. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special toICT

Around the world: Canada returns land to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, a Ngarrindjeri elder is honored for protecting the environment, Maasai herders lose an eviction claim, Māori women boxers rank at the top of the world, Western Australia government reviews youth offender laws.

CANADA: Minister signs deal to return Mohawk land

The Canadian government has agreed to return nearly 300 acres of disputed lands with $31 million in compensation to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte in Ontario, CBC News reported on Oct. 3.

The deal to return the lands to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory – marked in a ceremonial signing by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller – settles part of a bitter dispute over about 900 acres of land now largely held by private owners about 125 miles east of Toronto.


MBQ Chief Don Maracle told CBC News that the band has offered a financial settlement package to the adjacent town of Deseronto, but he couldn’t offer a timeline about resolving the rest of the claim.

“It’s willing seller, willing buyer,” he said, according to CBC News. “If somebody wants to sell their land, they’ll let us know.”

The disputed land, known as the Culbertson Tract, includes 448 separate parcels of land that cover most of Deseronto.

The deal will now move into the government’s complicated “additions-to-reserve” program that Miller called “morbid” and “broken.”

“The whole process itself is one that is vested in the Indian Act,” he said, according to CBC News.

The land dispute began in 1837 when the government illegally granted about 900 acres of unsurrendered Mohawk territory to John Culbertson, grandson of community founder John Deserontyon, CBC News reported.

AUSTRALIA: Elder honored for environmental work

Elder Major “Moogy” Sumner has been honored with a lifetime achievement award and induction into the South Australian Environment Hall of Fame, National Indigenous Times reported on Oct. 5.

Sumner, a cultural ambassador of traditional culture who has long fought for protection of the environment, was honored at the South Australian Environment Awards.

He has also championed the Ngarrindjeri people and other First Nations people, and campaigned against systems that allowed rivers to be drained and oil and gas drilling in the Great Australian Bight, a bay off the southern coast of Australia, NIT reported.

“Aboriginal people are very patient people, but when we see that things are being done wrong, like they are for the river, we’ve got to come together and say it’s wrong, and do something about it,” Sumner said in a statement on the Hall of Fame website.

Sumner has helped the First Nations people in South Australia, reigniting ceremonial fires along traditional Aboriginal trade routes and reconnecting the area with traditional Ngarrindjeri canoe building.

He is also an artist, with his works covering traditional dance and song, arts and crafts such as wood carving, and martial arts techniques using traditional shields, clubs, boomerangs and spears, NIT reported.

“Caring for country is a profound connection of listening and looking after our environment and people – it is healing for our spirit,” he said, according to CBC News. “We truly are a force of nature – we come from nature. To look after country is to look after community.”

Sumner was one of ten SA Environment Award recipients, five of whom received lifetime achievement awards.

TANZANIA: ‘Shocking blow’ to Indigenous land rights

A Tanzanian court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Maasai herders who are fighting government efforts to forcibly remove them from their lands to make way for a luxury game reserve, The Guardian reported on Oct. 5.

The herders are appealing the ruling by the East African court of justice, which activists said was a “a shocking blow” to Indigenous land rights, The Guardian reported.

The Maasai say the Tanzanian government is trying to evict them to make way for a United Arab Emirates company to open a game reserve, according to The Guardian.

Donald Deya, lead attorney for the herders and chief executive of the Pan-African Lawyers Union, said the ruling “disregarded the compelling multitude” of evidence presented in court.

The legal fight started in 2017, when residents of four Maasai villages in northern Tanzania went to court to stop the authorities evicting them from about 580 square miles of land in Loliondo, bordering the Serengeti national park. The lands are home to more than 70,000 Maasai.

The War for Water

Lakota Law

Hello again, and I wish you well on the eve of Indigenous Peoples’ Day! Now seems an appropriate time to examine some history. Until now, our “Water Wars” video series has largely explored the present-day conflict around the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Today, I invite you to watch our tenth chapter — co-produced again by Lakota Law, Standing Rock, and the Great Plains Water Alliance — in which we explore more of what led to this moment in time. This edition highlights the decades of sacrifice forced upon tribal nations as the U.S. government repeatedly flooded our homelands and uprooted us by building dams to block our great relative, the Mni Sose (Missouri River).

Watch me and the great Phyllis Young, Chase Iron Eyes, and others to talk about the long history of sacrifice demanded of Native nations to make way for dams along the Missouri River.

It all started with the passage of the Flood Control Act of 1944, which gave rise to the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program. Pick-Sloan would go on to wreak havoc on tribal nations over the next several decades. The Oahe Dam at Standing Rock was one of seven installed to block the river. Its construction resulted in Lake Oahe, which now sits on the northern border of the Standing Rock reservation. Today, DAPL crosses directly beneath it, posing a direct threat to the water that sustains our people.

Damming the Mni Sose changed our way of life. Before then, my mom, Lakota Law Standing Rock organizer Phyllis Young, vividly recalls living in a paradise in the bottomlands near the river’s edge. But when the verdant area where my family had lived — filled with timberlands, plants, medicines, and wildlife, all gone now — disappeared under water, my mom and many others were forced to move into starker territory with none of the natural bounty they’d always known.

All this loss is real and remembered. But, in the end, it has galvanized our spirit. When, in 2016, DAPL came to our doorstep, we created a movement — which I’m grateful you share. So now, we must stick together for justice and honor the fighting spirit of those who preceded us. In this moment, we can and we will overcome, just as we have so many times before. 

Wopila tanka — my gratitude for your solidarity!
Wašté Win Young
Legal Analyst
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Let’s Green CA! Call to Action

Lakota Law

One in six children in California’s Central Valley have asthma. It’s a clear environmental injustice, one that our sister program, Let’s Green CA!, is working hard to correct. Now, they’re on the doorstep of a big win.

Earlier this year, Let’s Green CA! partnered with legendary activist Dolores Huerta and her foundation to reduce toxic air pollution and cut greenhouse gas emissions by increasing access to clean cars. And the great news is that their clean car equity bill, SB 1230, just passed the California State Assembly; it will soon head to Governor Newsom’s desk for his signature. Today, I invite you to take a look at Let’s Green CA’s new video, which examines the human impact of toxic air pollution in California’s Central Valley, then send a message to Gov. Newsom in support of SB 1230. Newsom’s signature is the last step on SB 1230’s journey to becoming law, so it’s time to rally together and get this done!

Click the image to watch LGCA’s new video (featuring the one and only Dolores Huerta) and take action for clean air.

Toxic air pollution is making children and families sick, and the climate crisis only exacerbates this injustice. The Let’s Green CA! team understands that climate action is one of the best ways we can protect frontline communities — and all communities. So I encourage you to send your message to the governor and stand in solidarity in this fight for environmental justice today.

Wopila — my thanks for your awareness and action.
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

P.S. I’m proud of my colleagues at Let’s Green CA! Help push their bill across the finish line by urging Governor Newsom to sign SB 1230 into law today.

Standing Rock: Action

Lakota Law

As many of you know, the Lakota People’s Law Project is a proud ally of Standing Rock. We provide media, fundraising, organizing, and lobbying support to the tribal chairwoman’s team, especially on environmental causes like the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). In this capacity, we’re traveling next week to Washington D.C. to support Chairwoman Janet Alkire as she meets with key decision-makers about the ongoing injustice of DAPL.

More on that soon — but for now, we’d like to share our new video with you, made in collaboration with Chairwoman Alkire’s team, the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ, and the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance. It brings tribal leaders together from all over South Dakota to speak about the necessity to protect Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) from Big Extraction’s misdeeds, like Dakota Access.

Watch: Janet Alkire and Oceti Ŝakowiŋ camp leaders reflect on the importance of the #NoDAPL movement to protecting Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth).

The stakes of our environmental movement remain as high as ever for all humans, plants, and animals. The year 2022 is on track to be one of the hottest on record. To make a difference we must act locally while thinking globally. Local for me means the Dakotas, where Standing Rock’s water supply (and that of 17 million others) is still in jeopardy from an illegal oil pipeline without a permit.

Why is it operating without a permit? Because the company hired by the federal government to do the environmental impact statement (EIS) was among those who joined a lawsuit against Standing Rock early in the NoDAPL movement. Of course, Standing Rock’s leaders won’t accept this, so there is a standoff at the moment with the feds. The Army Corps of Engineers has now postponed the release of their flawed EIS until next year, and that gives the tribe more time to fight back and demand that a decent company conduct a new assessment.

As you’re aware, Big Oil has a stranglehold on American politics. Wind power is the cheapest energy source available today — there’s enough wind in just the Dakotas and Texas to power the entire United States. But instead of shifting aggressively to clean technologies, this nation is allowing the fossil fuel industry to bully us into greater investments in our own destruction. Indigenous voices must remain strong to counteract forces of greed and narrow self-interest that plague our nation and world at this time. We will continue doing what we can, with your support!

Wopila tanka — thank you for your ongoing determined support
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Keep Informed and Active!

Lakota Law

This week, the Supreme Court issued an odious trifecta of decisions limiting three precious things: a woman’s right to choose, the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to combat the climate crisis, and tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma. I’m here to tell you, we must battle back. Here on the frontlines of environmental racism, we know exactly how far the colonizers will go to preserve their own power and profit. Breaking or changing laws is nothing new, and neither is marginalizing Native tribes. But we can and we must restore justice.

That’s the subject of the fifth chapter in our “Dakota Water Wars” series, Ignoring Tribes and Ignoring Laws, co-produced by us in conjunction with Standing Rock, the Oceti Sakowin, and the Great Plains Water Alliance. Please give it a watch.

Watch: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier joins other leaders from the Oceti Sakowin to talk about how DAPL ignores both tribes and laws.

Over the past five centuries, since European settlers first invaded the shores of Turtle Island, our Indigenous voices have routinely been silenced. Treaties have always been broken. Despite promise after promise, we’ve been further marginalized, year by year. State and federal governments alike seemingly couldn’t care less about the dire consequences for our People when projects like the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) are railroaded through our homelands. And conservative politicians, like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, are especially eager to reduce our influence and make us invisible.

Whenever we’re the ones most affected, industry and government seem to have no qualms ignoring their own laws, too — as has happened with DAPL. During Standing Rock’s lawsuit to stop the pipeline, the presiding judge had to tell the Department of Justice it was flouting the National Environmental Policy Act with its argument that tribal input doesn’t matter.

The fact is, we do matter, and your solidarity with us ensures that our voices increasingly become part of the conversation. As Lakota Law Standing Rock organizer Phyllis Young says in the video, it’s up to us to make sure government agencies take a new approach that prioritizes “mutual respect, mutual participation, and mutual benefit.” Please continue to stand with Standing Rock and the Lakota People’s Law Project. As our rights and protections are rolled back, it’s more important than ever that we unite and fight — hard.

Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for your friendship and solidarity.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Archive: DAPL

*Note: scroll back through this blog for events that happened from 2016 and historic background regarding pipelines in North Dakota.

Lakota Law

I write today about an exciting project our team has taken on: the creation of an unparalleled online archive of DAPL-related media such as this that will make the water protector movement accessible to students, journalists, and activists all over the world. When we’re finished, anyone will be able to dig into an enormous amount of raw source material about the historic events that transpired at Standing Rock several years ago.

In coordination with various academic partners, we’re well down the road to building the infrastructure needed to launch this engine. We’re also conducting outreach to tribal community colleges to build more partnerships. The human family — for time immemorial — needs to know what happened. We’re doing our part to make that happen.

Water protectors gather on the shores of the Missouri River in 2016.

As many of you know, back in 2017, my colleague Chase Iron Eyes — an attorney and a former candidate for Congress from North Dakota — faced the potential of 6 years in prison for posting on Facebook. Chase used social media to help organize the last effective protest of the NoDAPL effort, at a place called “Last Child’s Camp.” For this, North Dakota tried to put him in prison and strip his law license. But they failed, in part because our lawyer team defended him vigorously in court.

Meanwhile, in the process of defending Chase, our attorneys gathered an enormous amount of media — everything from videos to documents, which, taken together, tell the remarkable story of a tribal nation defending itself against the world’s most powerful industry: Big Extraction.
The only way that history ever reflects the view of underdogs like Standing Rock is when people like you — like all of us — work together to document events from the perspective of those normally ignored. Our online DAPL archive will tell the story of the many water protectors who put their bodies on the line to protect air, water, and the sovereignty of tribal nations. Mni Wiconi (“water is life”)!
Wopila tanka
— thank you for standing with us as we move forward on many fronts! 
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

“Water Wars”

Lakota Law

When I was a little girl, I lived in paradise. I would roam out from my family’s cabin along the banks of the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — and drink straight from her waters. Around our allotment, the Standing Rock Nation was home to one of the most glorious forests on Turtle Island. Our gardens had every fruit tree you could want, and berries to nourish our growing bodies and souls. We were healthy in that place. Our homelands and the river provided for us — and then everything changed.

Before I tell you the rest of the story, I want to share a new video that Lakota Law has produced for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The second chapter in our “Water Wars” series, it follows the first video, which highlighted the uniting of tribes from across the Oceti Sakowin to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). This installment gives you more background and history, detailing the U.S. government’s refusal to honor the treaties that should preserve and protect our homelands. 

Watch: In the new video we produced for Standing Rock, I address other leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin to inspire #NoDAPL action.

What happened to the paradise of my youth? In 1958, I was ten years old when the government completed construction of the Oahe Dam and flooded my home to create Lake Oahe. That same lake now provides our tribe’s drinking water, and it’s under that precious resource that DAPL dangerously crosses — without an adequate leak detection system — threatening to devastate our lives once again.

After the flood, for several years, we children lived on white bread, bologna, and hard cheese. We developed vitamin deficiencies and sores on our hands. We no longer had cherries, plums, grapes, wild onions, and all the things that came from the land. We could no longer find many of the medicinal plants that used to grow wild and abundantly in the riverbed and forest. No more could we collect the mushrooms we called “ears of the tree.” When they flooded our homelands — some of the richest in the world — it was an act of pure cruelty. They took our land and the food we grew up on, and they replaced it all with a welfare state.

This was, of course, illegal under both our Indigenous laws and those of the United States. The Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868 guaranteed that we would retain our sacred He Sapa, the Black Hills, forever. Those treaties and subsequent agreements also protected 14 million acres in North Dakota. Today, we call these “taken lands,” the spoils of manifest destiny and the dam’s construction. 

That’s why we fight. DAPL is only the latest in a long line of projects meant to benefit the colonizer without regard for the original peoples of this land. But with your help, we’ll resist, we’ll sue, we’ll work to replace fossil fuels with Native-run renewable projects, and we’ll use the media to make ourselves heard. And when, at last, our lands are returned, our sacred sites respected, and our treaties honored, I will invite you to come sing with us. Because, despite everything, I still believe we can restore justice together.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with Standing Rock and Lakota Law.
Phyllis Young
Standing Rock Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Save the He Sapa (Black Hills)

Lakota Law

For generations, the He Sapa (Black Hills) have been revered by the Oceti Sakowin as sacred grounds. As Indigenous Peoples, we are the original stewards of this land, and we have never relinquished that right. That’s why it’s so important for us to take a stand against harmful extraction in our homelands — like the mining interests currently tearing up and poisoning the He Sapa. 

Will you help us eliminate these threats to our water, treaty territory, and sacred sites? Right now, please join us in asking U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to suspend all new mining claims in the Black Hills until the Lakota’s treaty rights are properly acknowledged and honored.

Click the pic to read our blog, then please take action to protect the Black Hills!

Over the past weeks, I’ve been working closely with the good people of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance to understand and help communicate the scope and urgency of the mining problem in the Black Hills. We collaborated to create a blog for you to read, which explains the situation in more detail, and the action you can take to convince Secretary Haaland and the U.S. Department of the Interior to intervene.

At present, 184,000 acres of mining claims litter the Black Hills, covering 15 percent of our sacred grounds, and water system contamination caused by mining represents the greatest threat to the area. And, of course, the mining companies routinely walk away after tearing up the land and contaminating the water, leaving waste behind — forcing taxpayers to cover the clean up costs. 

It’s long past time to return the sacred by honoring treaty rights with Indigenous nations and treating Unci Maka — our grandmother Earth — with utmost respect. So, please read our blog and then take action to protect the He Sapa. You can help make a huge difference for our homelands and our people.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your action and care!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.