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Aliyah Chavez and Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard was a catalyst igniting the global movement opposing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across her people’s lands.

As the tribal historic preservation officer for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Allard alerted people to the impending plans for construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, according to Kandi Mossett White, a member of the leadership team with the Indigenous Environmental Network. White is a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations.

“LaDonna dedicated her life to the protection of the water; she never stopped that fight all the way up until the day she died,” White said.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, water protector, tribal historian and founder of the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock died on April 10, 2021 after a long battle with brain cancer. The Standing Rock Sioux citizen was 64 years old.

“LaDonna is the one who got the youth fired up to fight the pipeline,” White said.

Shortly before Allard died, Indigenous youth enroute to a rally in Fort Berthold opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline, stopped by her house placing banners and signs in her yard. The signs read, “We love you LaDonna” and “Water is Life,” according to White.

“Her son told us that LaDonna heard us chanting and knew we were there outside her house,” White said. “Even when she was sick, she told us she’d be with us in spirit; she told us not to be sad for her but to continue the fight.”

Initial resistance to the pipeline began in Allard’s basement according to Joye Braun of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe in a 2017 Indian Country Today interview.

“Juanita Lock, Josephine Thunder Shield, Honor Ata Defender, Waste Young and a handful of others met in LaDonna’s basement to talk about what we should do about the pipeline,” Braun said.

“Someone suggested we start a camp; all of a sudden LaDonna said, ‘Hey, I’ve got some land.’”

Thus, the Sacred Stone Camp began on Allard’s land in 2016 at the confluence of Cannonball and Missouri Rivers. It was the first of several water protector camps aimed at opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline project.

Standing Rock grew to become a symbol of a global movement calling attention to the role continued reliance on fossil fuel plays in increasing climate change and the importance of protecting water on the planet. People from all over the world including citizens of Indigenous nations flocked to the camps at Cannonball, North Dakota, in support of that mission.

Allard was an annual speaker at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and was a published writer in The Guardian, and Yes! Magazine.

“This movement is not just about a pipeline. We are not fighting for a reroute, or a better process in the white man’s courts,” Allard wrote in a 2017 op-ed titled, “To save the water, we must break the cycle of colonial trauma.”

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Allard also advocated for the protection of sacred Indigenous land around the world, notably standing in solidarity with Kanaka Maoli to protect sacred Mauna Kea in Hawaii in 2019.

“We are fighting for our rights as the Indigenous peoples of this land; we are fighting for our liberation, and the liberation of Unci Maka, Mother Earth. We want every last oil and gas pipe removed from her body. We want healing. We want clean water. We want to determine our own future,” she wrote.

“LaDonna was absolutely dedicated to the principles of protecting the sacred,” said Dallas Goldtooth, national campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network. Goldtooth is a citizen of the Dine and Dakota tribes.

“Even as the fight went global, she was very modest and humble about her mission.”

“LaDonna understood that this fight is much bigger than any individual person; this fight is about protecting the sacredness of mother earth and the water is a collective struggle for all life on this planet,” Goldtooth said.

“She gave so much of herself to people; she really walked the talk,” said Tara Houska, attorney and founder of Giniw Collective, a frontline group working to protect Native territory from the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Houska is a citizen of Couchiching First Nation.

Many admired, loved Allard

As news of Allard’s passing circulated on social media, many expressed condolences and prayers.

“Today the Water Protector Movement lost an elder, a leader and a matriarch,” Nick Tilsen wrote. “Her leadership and the movement in Standing Rock changed so many of our lives. My deep condolences to her family.”

“LaDonna Brave Bull Allard changed history,” Nick Estes wrote. 

Her funeral will take place next weekend according to a post on social media by her son Freedom McLaughlin.

The family says blanket, star quilts or food can be sent to Fort Yates, North Dakota.

McLaughlin messaged Indian Country Today that he would be releasing the obituary on Monday written by Allard herself before she died.

“We are grateful for the outpouring of love, support, care and concern for our mother, teacher, sister and friend, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard. She lived life courageously and humbly pointed towards new possibilities through her way of life and commitment to the land. We ask all her well wishers to please respect our privacy as we begin to process our loss. We will share information on the services once the arrangement have been made,” McLaughlin wrote. 

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