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6 Indigenous Activists You Should Know In 2017

As Trump’s latest actions outrage #NoDAPL, these individuals are fighting to better their communities

The ongoing fight between the U.S. government and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe over the Dakota Access Pipeline Project (DAPL) reminding us that the cycle of displacement and oppression against indigenous people dates as far back as Christopher Columbus and Manifest Destiny—and is far from over. The proposed 1,172-mile oil pipeline would snake across four states, cutting through sacred tribal grounds, wildlife habitat, and farmland. It also posed a threat to the Missouri River, the tribe’s sole water source. Thousands of activists, encamped in North Dakota since April, protested preparatory construction, forcing the governor to declare a state of emergency and catapulting the conflict into mainstream consciousness. On December 4, the Department of the Army denied a permit essential to the completion of the pipeline, stating the need “to explore alternate routes.” It was a rare win for the indigenous community, but a potentially impermanent one. The pro-DAPL Donald Trump may reverse the decision once in office, according to policy experts and historical precedent.

The U.S. has upheld all treaties made with sovereign nations, yet broken or amended approximately 500 treaties with Native American tribes—DAPL violates the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. Activists, like the six featured here, are fighting for improved indigenous education, health care, LGBTQ (or “Two Spirit”) rights, and cultural sensitivity across the country.


Vincent Schilling

The Scribe

This prominent journalist uses his pen to speak out against indigenous cultural appropriation and is currently championing a bill to create a commission to solve challenges facing Native children.

Cierra Fields

The Young Warrior

Still a high school senior, Fields is working with Cherokee tribal Attorney General Todd Hembree to raise the Cherokee Nation’s age of consent from 14 to 16 in Oklahoma.

Amanda Blackhorse

The Game Changer

A “No DAPL” supporter and licensed clinical social worker, Blackhorse was instrumental in the landmark case Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse, which could cancel the federal trademark registrations of the Washington Redskins.

Layha Spoonhunter

The Future POTUS

The highly respected Two-Spirit advocate helped the Human Rights Campaign implement their first Two-Spirit blogging initiative, and is fighting to end same-sex marriage bans in some indigenous tribes.

Nicolle Gonzales

The Healer

A nurse midwife and founder of the Changing Woman Initiative native health center, Gonzales works with tribes to support birth centers that meet the growing needs of indigenous communities.

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