Native American activist Lakota Harden, a member of Lakota and HoChunk tribes, appeared on screen and in person Monday night in Gentry, discussing her experiences with Indigenous activism alongside a film screening of the documentary “Warrior Women.” Harden and the film both highlighted the importance of women in Native American activism.
“Warrior Women” depicted the struggles of Native American women, primarily Harden’s relative and an American Indian Movement (AIM) organizer Madonna Thunder Hawk, in prominent Indigenous struggles over the last 50 years. Harden explained that the film’s original creator, Elizabeth Castle, wanted to highlight the role of women in Native American activism, when normally men get the activist spotlight.
“We’re not intimidated or threatened by women in power,” Harden said of Native American culture. “We’re matriarchal societies.”
The film depicted Thunder Hawk and others, including Harden, participating in Native American occupations of Mount Rushmore, Alcatraz, Standing Rock and Wounded Knee with AIM. Each of these occupations asserted the right of Indigenous peoples to land promised to them in treaties, or attempted to prevent the land from environmental degradation, as in the case of Standing Rock.
The protests at Standing Rock opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline and its plan to cross beneath the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This plan inspired fear that the water could become polluted.
“The land is our home and the water is our relative,” Harden said, emphasizing the connection Native Americans recognize between their land and the water and their lives.
The film showcased several Native women and activists speaking with children about water as as a grounding force and life force for everyone. The theme of education was very prominent in the film.
Thunder Hawk started what she called “Survival School” to educate Native American children from a Native perspective, outside of government-run institutions. Harden was also a member of the Survival School community.
In the 20th century, many Native American children were removed from their families and placed in boarding schools meant to whitewash them and unlearn their culture. An unnamed activist in the film mentioned that the forcible removal of children from their culture to place them in another is listed by the United Nations as a genocidal practice. Education and child welfare has been a longstanding struggle for the Native community.
Thunder Hawk demonstrated her commitment to education and to the next generation throughout the documentary, by emphasizing them as the focus of activism. The land no longer belonged to her, it belonged to her children and to the next generation. They were the ones who needed to be educated on how to steward the land, and continue the activism Thunder Hawk and her peers had started.
Besides looking forward, the film also looked back.
“Anywhere I go, I talk to the ancestors,” Harden said, explaining that ancestors don’t exist tribe by tribe, but rather everywhere, and for everyone to acknowledge and appreciate.
This was a theme that stuck out to students as well, particularly Sage Phillips, a third-semester political science major and a member of the Native American Cultural Program.
“For me, it’s just always about paying respect and giving credit to ancestors,” Phillips said. “Paying respect to the women who were the trailblazers in this movement.”
The film’s focus on women was important for many students in the audience. In the Q&A after the film, one student asked Harden how the movement was different with women at the lead, which Harden answered with a story.
When colonizers came to the Eastern Native tribes and asked to see their leaders, the tribes brought them to the clan mothers. The colonizers, confused, asked again, to see their leaders. So the tribes brought them to the elders. The colonizers were still confused, not seeing the young men that defined leadership in their own patriarchal culture.
According to Harden, women were always the leaders of Indigenous culture, and it made sense for them to lead in activism.
“The big takeaway was actually learning how in the Native community the women are in charge,” second-semester sociology major Edymar De La Cruz said. “That their men are not intimidated by strong women.”
Philips also commented on this, and why this film was important for the Native American Cultural Program to screen.
“The way colonizers’ films work is that the men get all the credit,” Phillips said. “That’s just not the case here. Men shouldn’t always get the credit, especially in our culture.”
Alex Houdeshell is the managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.