by Lauren Howland
The International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC) is honored to accept the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award 2018 along with March for Our Lives, Color of Change and United We Dream. This award is the result of many young leaders hard work and hours of dedication to our people. We could not have done it without our community support and the many individuals that answered the call to protect our Mother Earth from destructive forces such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. We want to honor all of those people with this blog so they know their work is seen and appreciated. Thank you to our elders that laid this strong foundation we can stand on in solidarity. We will not let you down!
In 1492, the first of our Indigenous people, the Taino, were massacred and the genocide of Indigenous people of the Americas started. Since then it hasn’t stopped. Even today this genocide continues in a passive, yet effective way. We, as Indigenous people, were never meant to survive this genocide to tell the tale. The oppressive systems that came in hoards starting in 1492 all had the same goal in mind. Eradicate the Indigenous way of life and ultimately solve the Indian problem. Our ancestors fought; Some survived while others fell victim to guns, germs and steel. Today, in the so-called “United States of America,” the descendants of these great warriors continue to make a stand. Though we aren’t as strong in numbers, we are still here.
The IIYC is an organization that was started and led by womxn and two-spirit peoples during the Standing Rock Indigenous Uprising of 2016, while peacefully protecting the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In April of 2016, runners from the organization Oceti Sakowin Youth and Allies (OSYA) ran from Cannonball, North Dakota to Washington, D.C. in a prayerful ceremony to deliver petitions to the Obama administration that asked for the easements for the Dakota Access Pipeline be denied and the pipeline be moved elsewhere. They demanded the pipeline be rerouted rather than through the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation and 1848 Fort Laramie Treaty Territory. Upon their return, members from OSYA and other youth members from the resistance camp banded together and formed a youth group with the original goal of amplifying the youth voice in camp. There, next to the sacred fire, the unofficial International Indigenous Youth Council had its first meeting. These “founding members” ranged in age, experience and tribal affiliations but all came together to form this council in prayer and ceremony with the common goal of protecting life, water and the Earth. Whether that be in the form of social justice, environmental justice, education reform or other issues regarding the rights of Indigenous peoples and people of the Earth, we as the Indigenous youth have chosen to stand in solidarity.
When we gathered, we started with a prayer and when we left, we ended with a prayer. We established the IIYC camp in Oceti Sakowin and lived together. We sang, we danced, we cooked, we cleaned and we took care of each other. The IIYC camp would wake each other up in our tipi and make sure we were all at the morning prayers. Everybody would gather at the South Gate every morning and we would sing the Lakota Canupa (Pipe) loading song with the Canupa carriers as they loaded their Canupas. We would smoke those Canupas as a family and pray with and for each other. We would pray for the safety of ourselves and Mother Earth. Then we would head out to whatever action we were doing that day to prevent further destruction and desecration to our people, our sacred sites and the Earth.
We began as Indigenous Youth Organizers from our respective communities and moved on to organizing as a group. We organized events in Oceti Sakowin Camp and the surrounding communities such as the run from Oceti Sakowin to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Pow-wow where the runners were honored for our active help on the front lines in Standing Rock.
We started organizing different ceremonies and events in camp. We demonstrated our power by leading actions and ceremonies such as the silent prayer march on Backwater Bridge, the medicine wheel aerial photo, the Free Red Fawn aerial photo, the forgiveness walk at Morton County Sheriff’s Office, Thanks-taking Day at Turtle Island and many more. We helped other organizations in camp organize to amplify their voices with a focus on our youth as our leaders. We also took part in the occupy inauguration march at which we did an IIYC Flash Round Dance in front of the Gala for the Oil and Gas Administration. We have also played powerful roles in leading marches such as the Women’s March '17, Native Nations March on Washington and the Equality March for Unity and Pride.
After these national marches, we then took these prayers we had made in camp and established 6 different IIYC chapters across the United States in the cities and regions of Denver, Chicago, Texas, Four Corners, South Dakota, Southern California and more recently begun building foundations in Washington D.C. and Michigan. The IIYC kept the momentum going and sent our members to the Green Peace Action Camp 2017 and 2018 where they were further trained in non-violent direct action. We’ve had members participate in the Women of Color in Solidarity Conference speaking on panels and giving workshops. We had a delegation of our members sent to Vote Run Lead's #RunAsYouAre Conference where they learned the “who, what, when, where, and how” when running for public offices in the U.S.
We had our members organizing in their local regions and from one of those regions in the Four Corners area. The #FrackOffChaco Youth Awareness Run was created in 2017 to raise awareness about the fracking near Chaco Canyon National Historic Park. The IIYC understands the importance of education, so in the summer of 2017 we organized a Youth Giveaway at Crowdog's Paradise in Rosebud, South Dakota where we gathered backpacks full of goodies and supplies to give to the local youth. During Crowdog’s Sundance, the Youth Council also re-established a prayerful running ceremony that had been started 4 years prior in resistance to the Keystone XL Pipeline. For Indigenous People's Day the IIYC chapters around the country held celebrations in honor of our Indigenous ancestors who came before us and celebrated us as descendants who still remain here today.
The IIYC then partnered with Sisters of Color United for Education (SOCUE) to develop the “Mi Vida Su Vida” curriculum where we re-educate youth and young adults about total health and wellness. These teachings come from a tradition perspective for Indigenous Youth by Indigenous Youth. The National Youth Action Summit (#YAS2018) came and yet again, our youth council members gained more knowledge and networked with youth activists from around the country. Our different chapter have worked tirelessly to spark change in in their communities all the while, in the background and silently to themselves, members of our council were also pursuing their personal dreams and aspirations. We want to congratulate Genesis Mendoza (17 y.o. - Denver Chapter - High School Diploma), Joi Junebug Lynch (17 y.o. - Denver Chapter - High School Diploma), Lauren Howland (22 y.o. SD & Four Corners Chapter - Electrical Certification), Briana Orta (22 y.o. - Texas Chapter - Bachelors Degree), Pablo Montes (25 y.o. Texas Chapter - Masters Degree) and Marleen Villanueva (28 y.o. - Texas Chapter - Masters Degree) for their recent achievement on graduating and being role models for Indigenous Youth around the world.
The International Indigenous Youth Council continues to bring in Indigenous youth around the world and fights for Mother Earth and every living being on it. We are rooted in the protection of the elements and have been brought together and continue to be guided by our need for clean water. We aspire to inspire young individuals to build bridges of solidarity and become leaders of their communities.
The International Indigenous Youth Council seeks to organize youth through education, spiritual practices and civic engagement to create positive change in our communities. Through action and ceremony, the IIYC commits to building a sustainable future for the next seven generations.
We rise to protect land, water and treaty rights. We rise to practice and protect all indigenous culture and ceremonies. We rise, as empowered youth, for social justice. We rise to act through non-violent direct action and community organizing. We rise to inspire young people, globally, to become leaders in their indigenous communities. We rise for the following virtues: Prayer, Honor, Wisdom and Love.
WE RISE! WE RISE! WE RISE!
“Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger? Know that you yourself are essential to this world. Understand both the blessing and the burden of that. You yourself are desperately needed to save the soul of this world. Did you think you were put here for something less? In a Sacred Hoop of Life, there is no beginning and no ending.”
-- Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations