Jordan Marie Brings Three White Horses Daniel, an activist for Indigenous rights and representation, spoke Tuesday at Grand Rapids Community College as part of the Diversity Lecture Pop-Up Series
Before the guest speaker started, she acknowledged and thanked the tribes who have occupied the land GRCC’s Applied Technology Center now rests on for hundreds of years. The Pottawatomie, Ojibwe, and Ottawa were here long before settlers from the western world. “Land acknowledgement is an important first step in changing the narrative in this country.”
In the crowd, there were about 50 people.
Daniel then started telling her story of trials and triumphs. She was born in South Dakota, where she lived for nine years. “That’s where my roots are. That’s where my people are,” said Daniel. She moved to Maine at 9 years old and entered a new world–the white world. “It was hard being a Lakota woman living in a society where you need to assimilate.”
Assimilate was one of the main words used throughout history in demands from the American government to native tribes. One definition, according to Google, is to “take in (information, ideas, or culture) and fully understand.” A second definition offers another context: “To cause (something) to resemble; liken.”
Daniel then spoke about her opening up to combatting injustices against indigenous people. It was while at college that she learned the specifics of injustice and more importantly, how to fight it.
With her newfound knowledge, she headed to Washington D.C. to make change.
“D.C. is supposed to be a place of change,” Daniel said.
But she found out the hard way that changes weren’t necessarily being made because of injustice. It seemed to her that the attitude about passing laws was, “What are you or your bill gonna do for me? Then I might sign your bill.”
She left D.C. because she felt she could make a more profound difference in the communities, and not the White House.
“My first protest was against the Keystone Access Pipeline.” It was there that she witnessed dogs attacking protesters and some local youth run 2,000 miles to hand President Barack Obama a petition about the pipeline.
After that, she said she felt the need to continue fighting for indigenous rights. Her first event she helped organize was a vigil for Savanna Lafontaine-Greywind. Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) is one of the focal points of Daniel’s activism.
“Pochahontas, really named Matoaka, is the first documented MMIW,” she said “And Disney sells us this Pochahottie story that reinforces the narrative.”
There is no current data on MMIW’s, though Daniel did mention someone named Annita Lucchesi who is working on compiling the first database to contain this information. This is only after a bill in Congress written to start keeping track of this information was shot down in the Senate.
Shortly after the vigil, Daniel was thinking her time for organizing protests and such was over. She was overwhelmed with all the darkness surrounding her work.
“My mind was plagued constantly, not by these people, but their stories that I carry with me,” Daniel said.. “I don’t want to look at my friends and family and wonder ‘who’s next?’”
Daniel then started running and dedicating each mile she ran in races to MMIW’s.
“It’s my way to heal, my way to educate,” she said.
She ran multiple races before getting the idea to paint a red hand over her mouth before the Boston Marathon of 2019.
“The red symbolizes our earth and the violence,” Daniel said. “The hand symbolizes the hush over these subjects.”
The image of Daniel with the face paint went viral and inspired many different college and high school students to follow her example. “I didn’t ever expect the photo to inspire what it did,” she said.
Daniel now spends her time in Los Angeles trying to make it in the film industry as an indigenous person. She also dreams to compete at the Olympic level as her parents dreamt when they were competitive runners. Even her grandfather was a runner, and Daniel hasn’t forgotten.
“One of the last things he said to me before he lost coherence was “good job, kid.” She recalled that her grandfather was proud of her for setting up the vigil for Savanna Lafontaine-Greywind. She dedicated the last fifth of a mile in the Boston Marathon to him.
In L.A., Daniel hasn’t had her big break yet, but she is working on getting funding for a film called “Running for Justice,” titled after her hashtag and foundation. If she gets her backing, she will run the entire “Highway of Tears” in Canada. During that time, Daniel would speak with families affected by the culture of indigenous disrespect.
Her backup plan is to go back to the Dakota’s/Alberta Canada area to help set up new indigenous-led medical centers around reservations, fight against land appropriation via pipelines or otherwise, and help end the MMIW crisis.