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Activism Is Taking Over

Chase Iron Eyes ponders the meaning of activism and the importance of activists to our everyday struggles.

What do we think when we hear the word activism? Maybe we immediately think of somebody with their fist in the air, defiantly persisting against something. Maybe we think of protestors and demonstrators visibly making their point. Maybe we think of angry people, better yet angry Indians, with loud drums. Maybe we think of the Zapatistas or the Republic of Lakotah. Whatever we consider activism, we are well advised to consider it with an open mind.

This definition of activism was pulled from the web: "Activism: a policy of taking direct and often militant action to achieve an end, especially a political or social one." However, activism for Indians requires an expanded definition as we cannot only think of activism as an indigenous response to the attempted conquest (occupation) of our land and minds. Indian activists are not only pursuing ends within this system, such as equal rights, access to religious sites, access to education, capital, etc. Indians are also pursuing their own survival on their own terms. When it comes to Indians, we recognize that our "activism" is born out of an inherently free spirit; it is not always reactionary. We are born with existing responsibilities for life on earth, ceremonial and otherwise.

We expect our activists to protect our abilities to carry out these inherent responsibilities as well as our interests in American life. Activism is taking place all around us regarding—to name just a few examples—oil development, Indian mascots, and sacred sites. This activist spirit took a strong hold on Indian people during the 1960s-70s. We are fortunate to still have living activists who were around during those times. One such activist, Beau Little Sky (Oglala Lakota), has recently begun his journey to the spirit world. Beau was recognized as a member of the Tokala society; a traditional warrior society charged with sacrificing themselves for the women and children. The Tokalas as traditional protectors were ready allies of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in forever changing Indian history. Though the activism of the AIM days was armed, riskier and more dramatic, the activism of today is no less groundbreaking in terms of shaping our future. We should take their positive contributions and move on.

Over the years activism has been given new meaning as Indigenous people evolve inside and outside “the system”. Most of our activists are actually peace loving parents wanting what is best for their kids. Activism is those same parents presenting to their kids’ local non-Indian school about the benefits of diversity; activism is a local school board deciding Columbus Day will not be celebrated anymore and in fact deciding that a native language will be taught. I say this because sometimes activists are wrongly labeled as peddlers of their own victimhood.

Our activists need no longer be pushed to the edges of what is accepted behavior for Indians in America. We should embrace our activists, be proud of our activists, showcase them at conferences, etc.; because, in order for all the "Real Indians" to thrive, we all must become the activists. I do not mean yesterday’s activists, those labeled as longhairs beating the drum of victimhood. The activists of today are not continually perpetuating or exploiting their perceived victimhood. Rather, today's activists have actually transcended the conquering wave of institutions directed at displacing their identity and erasing them from the face of this earth, forever. Today’s activists are anything but perpetuators of victimhood. Today’s activists are trying to meet the new world on their own terms. We are the teachers, coaches, school board members, council members, doctors, lawyers, language advocates, speakers, sundancers, singers, athletes, musicians, artists, writers, etc., who say by their actions that it is good to be Indigenous. We do not have to give up our language, ceremonies, and other ways to succeed today; we can succeed with these essentials as our foundation. Today’s activists are, in fact, the victors we rely on to help our people grow. Thus, as I say toksa ake (see you again) to my relative Beau and end with a quote from another activist, Steve Jobs:

“Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things... They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who DO.”

Hecegla (That is enough)

Chase Iron Eyes is an attorney licensed in the State of South Dakota and the Federal Courts of both North and South Dakota. Visit to read more of his writings.