Wambdi A. Was’teWinyan, law professor, legal scholar, and associate justice on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Supreme Court
Indigenous peoples have endured and kept our values, governance, ways of life, cultural practices, and spiritual knowledge protected to carry forward for future generations.
As 2020 drew to a close, many of us felt the huge weight of grief for lost loved ones from COVID-19 and other causes of death. On social media, day after day has been filled with prayer requests and acknowledging the passing of elders, changemakers, and relatives of all ages.
There is a Native saying that “the dead live on in the hearts of the women who remember those passed the longest.” While we grieve, we also go about the daily work of living and taking care of our families, communities, and tribal nations. As 2021 begins, we turn our eyes toward the new year dawning.
As we look forward to new leadership in 2021, the nomination by President-Elect Joseph Biden, Jr. of Rep. Debra Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, for the Secretary of the Interior is historic, monumental, and enthusiastically supported by Native peoples across the country.
She is well-qualified with her J.D. degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, her life experiences as a business owner, and her many leadership positions within the U.S. House of Representatives on committees and caucuses.
Glimmers of hope and relief have spread across Indian Country with this nomination and we all look forward to this historic confirmation.
We enter 2021 with a significant change in the removal of racist mascots that have targeted Indigenous peoples for decades upon decades. The work is not over, but the movement is encouraging as public places, schools and sports teams finally abandon the use of these derogatory monikers.
In Minnesota, a restorative justice process was used after the toppling of the Columbus statue from the capitol grounds. Indigenous knowledge, legal principles, and processes are available to assist in moving conversations and understandings forward as racial injustice is openly and truthfully confronted.
In the first week of the year, violent insurrectionists sieged the U.S. Capitol building putting U.S. Congresspeople, staff, and law enforcement in fear of losing their lives as they took up the scheduled task of certifying the results of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.
As Native peoples, many of our leading organizations spoke out condemning such violent action, calling for prosecutions, and upholding the rule of law. With the second impeachment of President Donald J. Trump, the U.S. House of Representatives has demonstrated a commitment to accountability and justice.
It is time for the U.S. Senate to uphold their oaths of office and move forward on impeachment to remove President Trump from office.
We have joined together as treaty partners with the United States and shared our ideas on democracy through the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Iroquois League of Nations) that influenced the early U.S. leaders.
They rejected rule by monarchy and moved towards elected servant leaders and striving for a more just society. It is this belief that we can educate and collaborate with justice-minded treaty partners to fulfill treaty promises for the good of all that motivates our Native leaders, lawyers, professionals, activists, and changemakers.
We welcome the inauguration of incoming President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris.
We look forward to 2021 and greater strides forward in the U.S. as our treaty partner to consult with our tribal nations, collaborate in our efforts to uplift all communities.
Remember: a rising tide lifts all canoes.
Angelique W. EagleWoman, Wambdi A. Was’teWinyan, is a law professor, legal scholar, an associate justice on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Supreme Court and an author. As a practicing lawyer, one of the highlights of her career was to serve as General Counsel for her own Tribe, the Sisseton-Wahpeton (Dakota) Oyate. She graduated from Stanford University with a BA in Political Science, received her Juris Doctor degree from the University of North Dakota School of Law with distinction, and her L.L.M. in American Indian and Indigenous Law with honors from the University of Tulsa College of Law. Follow her on Twitter @ProfEagleWoman