On Mni Wiconi, Blood Run, and The Power (and Necessity) of Youth-Led Movements

photo credit: Travis Hedge Coke

photo credit: Travis Hedge Coke

photo credit: Redhawk from Standing Rock Rising Facebook Page

photo credit: Redhawk from Standing Rock Rising Facebook Page

by Allison Adele Hedge Coke

We are proud to introduce Allison Adele Hedge Coke as a member of our Advisory Council at Penny Candy Books. Hedge Coke grew up in North Carolina, Texas, Canada, and the Great Plains region and is of Huron, Metis, French Canadian, Portuguese, English, Irish, Scot and mixed Southeastern Native heritage. She is an award-winning poet, teacher, and activist whose work the US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera recently honored with a Witter Bynner Fellowship.

Our Advisory Council members contribute their important voices to our conversations about race, diversity, and cultural awareness with the goal of helping us accomplish our mission—to create children's literature that reflects the diverse realities of the world we live in both at home and abroad—every single day.

We’re honored that Hedge Coke has raised her voice and shared this piece with us.

This Mni Wiconi movement at Standing Rock (Sacred Stone, Red Warrior, Oceti Sakowin camps), on the Cannonball, is a youth-led movement in complete step with Black Elk's prophesy, where the youth will lead in the direst times. We are in those dire times, and they are leading. For those who aren’t familiar with the Mni Wiconi movement at Standing Rock, this short animated video by native filmmaker Joseph Erb is a great introduction.

I am a grandmother. A grandmother with the strong girl heart, maybe. When I fought for protection of Blood Run on the Big Sioux River in South Dakota, I was the only adult, the only citizen, who showed up at any of the hearings to testify. I was the only person still actively lobbying for that site's protection. No matter how I tried, my well-experienced lobbying peers believed it "a lost cause."

My Sioux Falls School District Office of Indian Ed students did not. They held hope, and they sent me with their stacks of letters wanting action, justice, truth, dignity, protection, respect. They/we wanted this site to be loved and honored. I was already a grandmother during the final successful phase of hearings, and my oldest granddaughters were born ten minutes from that site.

There was nothing in the curriculum, nor in the general public spectrum to designate any of the world heritage there, nor nothing of the many peoples who had millennia of experience and lives in that place, the very large ceremonial mound city nearly destroyed by the invaders in the territorial and railroad era and continued by settler-colonist descendants there still sadly looting the ancestral graves.

There was nothing for my granddaughters and nothing for my students. There had been decades and decades of intentional destruction of the place and its significance there. It was criminal erasure.

I performed testimony in the way of my own family, through the cadence of the song, and poetry of place, the prayers left there by so many generations of Indigenous people, the rhythm of memory and the cadence of truth.

In the traditional method of laying down symbolic proof in my testimony, the letters from my students upon the bench carried their truth, their hope, their histories, their love of this place, their call for its protection, and for truthful re-education of world significance in their curriculum, in the contemporary community, and protection for the graves still there, for returning those who had been illegally taken, and for the earthworks, the river, and all living creatures there and beyond that watershed, for the rare skipper butterfly only found there, for life, and especially for the very-much-living builder nation descendants and other nations who traded there pre-invasion.

We won. South Dakota State Game, Fish, and Parks officials hearing the final testimony in the case were in tears when they were brought to understanding. They acted immediately, without hesitation. Taken to truth and powerful within it, they acted. Though it has taken years, and tenacity by the department and surrounding community, the site is now protected, and the builder nations are returning to advise and re-engage with the traditional sacred site on the river there (now preserved as Good Earth State Park), also within the watershed of the Missouri and, I must note, downstream from Standing Rock.

Who knows what madness would have occurred if DAPL, Keystone, or any other resource mongerer would have done to me, to my students (or how they may have bought off, or infiltrated the state and surrounding community), if they had eyes on whatever is left to syphon from the earth in this climate calamity we find ourselves immersed within.

Had I listened to my own peers (who were already grandparents as well then), I would have not held the hope and cherished the power of truth within me to speak authoritatively to the significance of the place and all its many people and creatures dependent upon its preservation. I would have walked away and been disgruntled, and that would have been that.

Though lifelong and historical stress, abuse, trauma, and unending disappointment would have excused me, my inaction would have been criminal as well. Because I have that youthful heart and was capable of making a difference and needed to for all the younger generation coming, for the people coming, for my grandchildren, my students, and all the creatures still living there. And, truly, for my own elders, and those before me who gave what they could when they were young enough to do so, and for those elders who are now joining the youth, supporting the youth-led movement to protect the water from this pipeline, a pipeline only proposed to run through here after mostly white communities refused it near where they live away from the waters.

Shame on the media for the virtual blackout. When media outlets like CNN and The Washington Times do cover the DAPL onslaught, rather than taking this rich opportunity to learn and to report with integrity, they instead look for a sensational and divisional angle to publicly employ divide-and-conquer tactics on the small and vulnerable community at Standing Rock.

Both outlets ignored the many elders from whom the youth have sought advice and the many other elders who stand with them and by them; instead focusing on a few older people they could use to make their public, agenda-based points with. It is shameful to make a spectacle of older people willing to be disgruntled with the youth and supportive of incoming area foreigners. Older people who can, at times, be misled, be more complacent when put upon, obviously because of never-ending decades of putting up with what appears to be inevitable oppression experienced in this and in all Indigenous communities of Turtle Island, now dubbed the United States, in all its remarkably genocidal history.

The seventh generation is here. They are protecting all of us. It’s time that we listen.