By Allie Young
It was a cold couple of days in January in Washington, D.C., but thousands answered the call to rally together and march on Washington for Indigenous rights and for women’s rights. Our staff and several of our board members at Native Americans in Philanthropy were present alongside the hundreds gathered for the Indigenous Peoples March, and the thousands at the Women’s March. We were there to walk with our brothers and sisters.
On Friday, January 18, we were up early, lattes in hand, gathered in front of the Building of Interior Affairs. We carried big red balloons, so that our team and partners could easily spot us. Red balloons were intentionally chosen to represent our commitment to lifting up the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, an epidemic currently happening across America. We stood and listened to speeches by leaders from across Indian Country, as well as to songs being sung by a mix of elders and youth.
As the time to march approached, we unrolled our Generation Indigenous (#GenIndigenous) banner, which would be carried throughout the march — from the Department of the Interior building to the Lincoln Memorial — by some of our youth leaders who had gathered with us. It was a beautiful moment seeing Native youth so empowered, so ready to represent and march together behind a banner that represents the future of this country — their generation and the many that will follow after them. It was emotional to watch them walk as bravely as their ancestors did; ancestors who walked hundreds of miles in forced marches like the Trail of Tears and The Long Walk. Like our ancestors, we continue to fight for survival and existence, and now visibility.
Our youth raised their fists and marched with pride to rally in front of a memorial that honors a president who ordered the largest mass execution of their ancestors, known as the Dakota 38. Though President Lincoln is praised in American History for signing the Emancipation Proclamation, finally freeing one race of people from slavery, he is also yet another president who perpetuated the genocide of another.
We must confront and acknowledge the fact that this country was built upon the brutal genocide of the first peoples of this land. Our youth are aware of this dark history, and on this day, they marched to remind us of the work that still needs to be done to enable truth and healing to happen.
The next day we again began ahead of the rising sun, getting ready to march for our sisters across the country. We lined up at the front to lead the Women’s March that Saturday morning with our sisters of color: Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Aimee Allison, and Cristina Jiménez Moreta, to name a few. We stood poised and proud, arms linked as the bullhorn was passed around for those who had something to say. As for the Native sisters representing, we held high our laminated red cutouts of indigenous women that read: ‘Friend,’ ‘Sister,’ ‘Cousin,’ ‘Daughter,’ ‘Mother,’ etc., to give voice to the thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW) and their families across the nation who have yet to find peace and/or justice for their loved ones.
The bullhorn suddenly ended up in my hands. I looked around to see if anyone else wanted to speak into it but no one would take it, so I raised it to my mouth and chanted: “No more stolen sisters!” It was heard and at least the entire front part of the march was repeating after me: “No more stolen sisters! No more stolen Sisters!” It was another beautiful moment to see women from all walks of life joining in, fists up high in support of Indigenous women and the #MMIW movement and epidemic.
Carmen Perez turned to me and asked if we could sing the Woman Warrior Song. Standing next to me was our Program Director Gina Jackson, proudly holding her drum as she chanted. I asked if she would drum and then handed the bullhorn off to someone who could lead the song — it was best for all that I didn’t lead, trust me! We sang the song in unison in honor of our stolen sisters.
As a Women’s March Advisory Committee Member, our CEO Sarah Eagle Heart was asked to open the rally with a welcome and prayer. Sarah asked Indigenous sisters to stand with her on the big stage in front of the thousands gathered at Constitution Gardens. She spoke truth and power from her heart, emphasizing that “Sisterhood is Sacred.” She reminded all that we must stand together, communities united to support each other in this fight against systems that oppress women. Then everyone joined us in singing the Woman Warrior Song. To hear thousands of people singing a song that represents such an important cause brought tears to my eyes.
Reflecting on each step taken during each of the marches, I know in my heart that they were steps toward incredible and necessary change led by youth and women. And I know I’m not alone in believing that every stride was worth it, despite the cold temperatures and distances. Tired and sore feet do not compare much to the pain our ancestors endured, so we will continue to stand. We will continue to march.