January 21, 2017 will stand in history as a day when millions of women and men linked arms, minds and hearts across the globe to take a stand against the policies and positions of President Donald Trump that they view as harmful. Indigenous woman played a special role, taking the lead in the protest march on Washington, D.C. that ended up comprising of at least 500,000 people, according to event organizers.
The Native American portion of the protest, billed as “Indigenous Women Rise,” saw Indian women from across the country unite to protect what they hold dear. Some wore silk turquoise scarves designed for the occasion by renowned Native fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail. Others donned the traditional dress of their tribes. Still others carried uniquely Indian signs, with slogans like “Defend the Sacred,” “Decolonize Your Medicine,” and “We the Resilient” blazing.
All were peaceful, but at the same time forceful in saying there is much to protect during Trump’s time in office.
"An attack on our land is an attack on indigenous women’s bodies,” said protestor Ashley McCree, a citizen of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. “Now that Donald Trump is president, everyone is going to get a taste of what Oklahoma has been experiencing for the last 30 years, which is a lack of respect for indigenous sovereignty and human rights, a lack of respect for the Earth, and a lack of respect for water.”
Chanting, "Mni Wiconi, water is life," one woman from the Osage Nation captured another component of the indigenous participation: "We are here today to march so that people know that we are still here and that we will remain to be here and that we will stand for our water rights no matter what."
"We're here today to demonstrate because Native American land is...under siege right now,” added another tribal protestor. “We are here because we have a voice, and we are not gone, we are still here....We are here standing together in solidarity...because more voices are bigger than one."
Sarah Eagle Heart, CEO of Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP), which helped organize the Native participation, said that next steps are already materializing. "We need to bring women together in a circle of prayer, but also to organize for afterward—how to come together to develop a platform and prioritize research efforts,” she said, adding that the ultimate plan is to create an issue-driven strategic agenda that will have positive impact on communities nationwide.
According to Eagle Heart, the purpose of forming a distinct group of indigenous women to march was to put forward a list of rights and policies that they are concerned about, which were numerous and varied. They included: the need to highlight tribal sovereignty, as well as self-determination, representation, education, healthcare access, violence against women, violence against the Earth, solidarity with all marginalized groups, protection of Native land, pipeline issues, resources, nutrition and sacred sites amongst others.
Chrissie Castro, who managed march logistics for NAP, added, "....indigenous women were not marching about partisan politics. This is more about rights and the need to hold public officials accountable regardless of party. We also need to ensure key posts are accountable on Indian issues."
Long politically sidelined, indigenous women took their place near the front of the march where others fell in to lend support on the many Indian issues spotlighted throughout the day. In total, approximately 1,000 Native women took part in the protest, according to organizers. Native activist LaDonna Harris, a member of the Comanche Nation, president of Americans for Indian Opportunity, and original co-convener of the Women’s Political Caucus, served as co-chair of the national march.
A Lakota-Oneida woman at the rally with her daughter who lives in the D.C. metro area, said that she had never before seen such a large gathering of Indian women come together to support a cause in the nation's capital.
"Now is the time that we have to speak up, because if we are not speaking up, we are taking a stand back,” she said. “We do not accept this situation. It is not normal. We are endangered. The current administration doesn't support any kind of equality for women, for Indigenous Peoples, for minorities, for ethnic groups, and if we don't come out and support each other in unison across tribes, we are going to continue to get mistreated."