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Woonspe—Education Gives Meaning to Mni Wiconi—Water Is Life

Our education as indigenous people and as citizens of both our tribes and the U.S. is vital to our ability to navigate this complex situation in ND.

Indigenous people are gathered along the Mni Soce, the churning waters known as the Missouri River, exercising their right as citizens to protect the waters that give life to all of us. This gathering, which began in April, has blossomed into a movement, drawing Native people from across the country to join in support and putting Native peoples and nations in the national spotlight. Hundreds of people from many tribal nations are gathered together in a large camp along with people from all races. They are living in peaceful cooperation, sharing their stories, their cultures, and their resources. First and foremost they consider themselves protectors of water. They are engaged in exercising their first amendment right to participate in non-violent demonstrations. Everyone recognizes that there are significant political and legal issues as well as economic concerns at work as the environmental consequences of a pipeline running under the Missouri are explored.

My family and I visited the Sacred Stone Camp, hosted by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and later we joined the many water protectors in a celebration of our relationship with water and each other at a rally at the Capitol Building in Bismarck. The gathering of so many of our Tribes is remarkable. The outpouring of support from all over the world is inspiring.

A sign shown at the gathering at the state capital in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Our education as indigenous people and as citizens of both our tribes and the United States is vital to our ability to navigate this complex situation. The American Indian College Fund honors and supports tribal college education because it is provided through tribal people, grounding us in the cultural competencies that Native people need to give Native people and the environmental, social, political, legal, and economic knowledge necessary to serve as fully engaged citizens in our communities and to represent ourselves on a national stage. These skills are serving many of our students and graduates today as they support the position of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies in the defense of clean water and environmental protection through full participation in open development and licensing processes. A tribal college education helps this generation of Native people to engage and live in modern society by assuming the responsibilities of informed and active citizens, advocating for a safe and healthy world for ourselves and seven generations, while passionately fulfilling the dreams of our ancestors.

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An origin story of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, which make up the Lakota, Nakoda, and Dakota people, tells us that the blood of First Creation, Inyan, covers Unci Maka, our grandmother earth, and this blood, which is blue is mni, water, and mahpiya, the sky. Mni Wiconi, water is life. Our education helps us understand the meaning of this from the place of our identity and the place of our knowledge about water and our other resources. We understand the impact we have when we do not treat the water as a resource for life. We educate scientists, environmental resource management specialists, and fisheries and wildlife managers. We educate science teachers, environmental lawyers, and economists who study ways to sustainably manage natural resources on our homelands. We educate the next generation of political leaders in tribal leadership, government studies, and law so that they may work on behalf of their communities. A tribal college education gives our students the tools they need to indeed manage all aspects of their lands, which is our lifeblood, and the source of our lives.

At the American Indian College Fund we are honored to #StandwithNativeStudents so they can use their education to build a better society for all, as we are witnessing with Standing Rock, and in all of our communities as our students continue after their education to lead their communities.


American Indian College Fund staff and students are seen here #StandingWithStandingRock.

Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull, Sicangu Lakota, is President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund.