Uplift: A Conversation with Jordan Marie Daniel

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April 28th, 2021  |  Uplift, a series: Conversations to raise awareness, lift voices, inspire

(Learn more about ICRW’s work on gender-based violence, clean energy, sports for development, and youth)

Jordan Marie Daniel was born in South Dakota, where she was surrounded by family, culture, and ceremonies. When she was nine, she moved to Maine, where she experienced racism for the first time and struggled with her Indigeneity.

Jordan is a Lakota winyan (woman), runner, and an advocate. In 2013, she founded Rising Hearts, which was born out of Standing Rock and the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Rising Hearts is an “Indigenous led grassroots group devoted to elevating Indigenous voices and promoting intersectional collaborative efforts across all movements with the goals of racial, social, climate, and economic justice.” The organization’s primary focuses are “to inform, elevate, mobilize, and organize through strategic and targeted advocacy, establishing collaborative partnerships to help create a better and safer future and environment for all of our relatives who inhabit this planet, past, present and future.”

We sat down with Jordan for an interview to learn more about her running, her advocacy, and everything in between.

Thank you for joining us today, Jordan. First of all, congrats on joining the Runners Alliance ambassador network, being featured in Runner’s World, and for completing the marathon in Boston in April 2019. Could you tell us more about the ambassador network and your role within it?

JORDAN: The Runner’s World Alliance Ambassadorship is a new program, a unique opportunity to feature and uplift Indigenous BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) voices – and voices coming from the Asian, Muslim, Two-Spirit, and LGBTQ communities and People with disabilities. It’s our way to get to know each other; discuss what’s happening in our communities; what runner’s safety looks like for women, women of color, and women from the 2SLGBTQ (Two-Spirit LGBTQ) community; and share experiences we’ve had that have kept us on guard – that’s made us feel unsafe.

Now my running platform has intersected with advocacy, raising awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous relatives. I’m learning the statistics, reading reports, learning that I’m part of those statistics – and it’s heartbreaking. I’ve heard stories of the many relatives that were taken and disappeared; they were out for a walk and just vanished or were killed when they were struck by a car.

We have the opportunity now to start talking about what runner’s safety looks like for all of us – and how we can build a running community that is even more inclusive and supportive, more diverse and welcoming.

For the Boston Marathon, it takes considerable strength, conditioning, and perseverance. And less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has ever run a marathon at all. What was that experience like for you?

JORDAN: I’ve run the Boston Marathon twice, though I can’t say I got there through qualification. Both times, I had the opportunity to run for a charity – raising funds for Running Strong for American Indian Youth back in 2016 and Wings of America in 2019. Being able to run in my first marathon was an incredible experience, and it gave me so much appreciation for the runners who train for it.

The Boston Marathon has an incredible atmosphere – the support, the camaraderie, the opportunities to socialize. Sadly, I was training hard for it with my coach, and everything went well right up until a month before – and then I got injured. I probably shouldn’t have run it, but I didn’t want to let people down – especially with the funds I was trying to raise. So, I ran it anyway and finished it.

In 2019, Dustin Martin of Wings of America reached out to me about 5 weeks before the Boston Marathon and said, “Hey, we have a spot. Do you want to be a chaperone and run the Boston Marathon and help fundraise for Wings?” It was incredible to meet the Native youth in Boston – just being there to support them and seeing our next generation being so sure of what they want to do when they grow up, the programs they want to be in, and how they all want to give back to their communities.

Could you tell us more about the red handprint and the MMIW painted on you?

JORDAN: In the last couple of years at half marathon, I dedicated my bib number to Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) or Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), hoping that it would spark conversation with people at the race.

A couple people asked me about it, but it didn’t have nearly the impact that I was hoping it would. It’s just heartbreaking to see so many of the families in the communities always having to constantly relive this trauma and this pain, and the loss of their loved ones, and not being able to move forward and get justice and healing.

After talking with my partner and my family in Boston, I was just like, “Hey, Mom, can you get me face paint, and when you come to Boston, bring it with you.” I had no idea what I was doing, but I took the paint and let everything happen naturally. I started writing the letters “MMIW” on my legs and on my arms, and then painted the one symbol that I think of when I think of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, Two-Spirits, and relatives – the red handprint.

I’ve seen that at rallies and protests, when we’re talking about the violence of man camps and dirty infrastructure projects, the pipelines, and the rates of violence and sexual assault. I see the handprint represents this movement and the silenced voices.

My partner helped me with putting it over my face and covering my mouth – and instantly, everything felt super heavy and emotional and really painful. It was like I was bringing on all of the emotions of this movement and the families and the names that I had in my head. On a piece of paper were the 26 names that I was going to be running and offering prayers for. That was the turning point for me – where running intersected with advocacy on a competitive platform.

What connection did you have to the 26 women you said a prayer for while running the marathon?

JORDAN: Some of them were more recent, like Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind and Ashlynne Mike. It was probably the first time that I really became invested in learning about missing and murdered Indigenous women. Ashlynne was a little girl from New Mexico who was taken, and it was really heartbreaking, caused a national outcry, and helped push for policies and legislation to expand the Amber Alert system to Native communities.

My cousin, Brittany Tiger, was also on that list. And I did some research to try and find those that have been missing for decades because that’s how long this has been an issue. Some of them I came to know from [social media] accounts I follow, missing fliers, or stories that raise awareness.

This isn’t just women and girls, though; this is about Two-Spirits, elders, babies, men. Moving forward, I want to make sure that I am being more intentional, intersectional, and inclusive.

According to a study by the National Institute of Justice, 1.5 million American Indian and Alaskan Native women have experienced violence (physical and/or sexual). Meanwhile, the Justice Department found “women on some reservations have been killed at a rate more than 10 times the national average.” Those statistics are staggering. Why do you think the rates are so high?

JORDAN: I think it’s due to our lives being expendable – and the way this country has a relationship with and view of Native people, that we’re not recognized as being the first peoples of this continent of Turtle Island (North America). We are constantly fighting our own erasure. The fact that we have been oppressed and forced to relocate to areas within the United States has isolated us on our own reservations – deeming us sovereign nations but not really letting us exercise our own sovereignty.

This has created, I think, this superiority when these crimes are being committed – a sense of entitlement, which is due to colonization.

We’re still seeing generational racism being passed down, and our relatives, sadly, are targets. It’s what makes us expendable, more exposed to these crimes - especially when they happen on reservation lands.

It’s a loophole in the justice system, that people commit these crimes on reservation lands and are able to get away with it. We’re not able to get justice for the relatives that have been taken from their families and their communities because of these jurisdictional loopholes.

At the same time, we’re now being able to move forward – especially with the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization in 2013. It has allowed Tribes to start implementing these new policies, creating new codes in the justice system to be able to start prosecuting non-Indigenous offenders in their courts, which I think is absolutely great.

Jordan, you’re the founder of Rising Hearts. Could you tell us more about your experience at Standing Rock and your organization’s founding, mission, and current projects?

JORDAN: Rising Hearts began as a hearing the call from my relatives, and watching our youth in Standing Rock and the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Being a runner, I was asked to organize an event to welcome the Standing Rock youth who were running to Washington, DC – over 2,000 miles – to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The youth arrived. We were at the Supreme Court and ran from there a couple of miles to the Army Corps of Engineers. We had police escort. We had songs and drumming and prayer, and we had this amazing community there. It was all the youth leading the way, speaking to their lived experiences as youth, as Indigenous youth, and what they were seeing in Standing Rock. We heard their message of why we need to oppose these pipelines, why we need to uphold treaty rights, and why we need to protect our sacred resources. That’s what inspired me to start organizing.

Rising Hearts began, really, serving as a networking connector, bringing our communities together. We are a source of information and organizer of rallies, protests, marches, and session panels. At Rising Hearts, we are serving in a more collaborative role and trying to partner with a lot of different groups and organizations that are doing the heart work in our community, but the transformational change and better future that I hope we see, I don’t think can happen when we remain within our own communities. We need to start working together.

Rising Hearts is now focused on uplifting and centering Indigenous voices because that’s how we began – but also being collaborative and uplifting other voices (Black, Brown, Asian, Two-Spirit, LGBTQ, non-binary, people with disabilities, Muslims, everyone).

My whole life, I’ve been taught “Mitakuye Oyasin”, “We are all related.” You know, you can always be an advocate and serve your people and fight for them, but we also need to fight for everybody. There’s a word for it: intersectionality. Kimberlé Crenshaw came up with this theory. Being intersectional is being able to advocate for the people and the planet and everything – and that totally fits with my perspective and how I was raised.

What role do you see for non-Native people in the work that lies ahead? 

JORDAN: I see them as being a relative to us, a friend, and an ally. Commit yourself to asking questions, though not in a way where you’re bombarding people from the BIPOC community or the 2SLGTBQ community. And you have to be ready to compensate them for their voice and time.

You need to be proactive in your unlearning and relearning. We have a lot of learned behavior that we all are born with and learn as we grow up. We can’t treat this work of 'How to Become an Ally' as a check in the box.

Just because you read a book or did a land acknowledgement doesn’t mean that that’s it for you. You need to take it a ton more steps further – donating, sharing, amplifying. If you have connections to incredible resources that we can benefit from, share them. Make sure you can help in centering our voices and messages. If we don’t hear these stories, it’s part of gaslighting (“Oh, that didn’t happen that way” or “Oh, it wasn’t that bad”) and microaggressions. We need to start hearing the stories.

We need to understand white supremacy, how colonization created it and systems of oppression and racism. And understand how it’s been impacting communities that you’re not part of, and how you’re never going to feel the impacts. You’re not going to have that understanding. So, you need to come into those spaces, listen to those podcasts, listen to those panel sessions, and really come there and just sit and listen.

Get a new perspective of what life is like for so many others who don’t get the benefits of this current system that is built today, which was designed to not benefit us. It was designed to leave us out. I always look at it as kind of the continuing policy of boarding schools, of “kill the Indian…save the Man.” It’s all that tactic to eliminate who we are and how we identify with ourselves culturally and historically.

So, I would say come into these spaces with an open mind, open heart; do a lot of reading; do a lot of listening; do a lot of outreach to the local organizations in your community. Find out who are the Indigenous organizing groups. Find out who are the Black voices. And find out how you can support them, even if it’s by donating or sharing – how you can support their mission in the fight for a more just and equitable future.

Your full name is Jordan Marie Brings Three White Horses Daniel. Could you tell us the history behind “Brings Three White Horses”?

JORDAN: My family always tells me – I’m not sure if it’s fully true – that the story of Brings Three White Horses comes from my grandfather’s side, and he is from White River, South Dakota – the Sicangu Indian Reservation, Rosebud Reservation.

The story goes: a man brought three white horses to marry someone’s daughter – and that’s how they got their name. And then, as time went on, my grandfather went to the boarding schools. When he and his siblings were growing up, they split on the name. My grandfather, I think, is the only one that kept the full name. The others changed it to “White Horse” or just “Brings.” And so, we kind of lost some of that history in the name and where we came from. For my grandfather, that was his one way to keep to who we are, even when he did have to go to boarding school and not speak his language and deal with a lot of the hardships that we clearly know today of what happened at boarding schools and residential schools.

I never understood how important the name was when I was little. I always thought it was so annoying – like when the teachers would tell me, “Hey, you gotta write your name,” and I didn’t know that I could just write “Jordan” on my assignment. I always wrote out the whole thing, and I was just like: “It takes forever. I have like 7 names.” Now that my mom’s married my dad, I have 8. So, it’s super long, but knowing these stories and having this connection to who I am and going to college and reclaiming who I am, being proud and not ashamed anymore, you know, makes me super proud to have this last name. I’m definitely going to pass it down to my children when I do have them and just keep it going.

What do you hope for in 2021? What is next for you?

JORDAN: For 2021, I really hope that all of the momentum we’re seeing right now continues. I’m all about sustainability and consistency. As we saw with Standing Rock, we saw so many people, you know, come in wanting to do something. But I was always hesitant. I don’t know if it’s like the skeptic or pessimist in me, but there’s this history of everyone just leaving out Indigenous people, forgetting us. It was just like, “Everyone’s gonna forget,” and, you know, sadly that did happen. Support wasn’t there as much, but a lot of the people that I was able to meet from organizing and in the communities that I was in have still been showing up.

You know, it gives me hope. Even though we can’t visibly see that same momentum and what we saw with Black Lives Matter in 2020, the work is still happening, the support is there. It comes down to consistency.

I hope we see this momentum go into 2021 and to the future – that we’re going to continue smashing and eliminating barriers and creating a better future for our next generations.


More about Rising Hearts:

Mission – Rising Hearts is an Indigenous led grassroots organization committed to the heart work in elevating Indigenous voices and promoting and supporting the intersectional collaborative efforts across all movements with the goals of racial, social, climate, and economic justice. The organization’s primary focuses are to inform, elevate, mobilize, and organize through strategic and target advocacy, establishing collaborative partnerships to help create a better and safer future, and environment for all relatives who inhabit this planet – past, present, and future.

Vision – A socially, economically, and environmentally-just world, where all who inhabit her are safe and empowered to thrive while realizing our collective potential.

Rising Hearts’ website is https://www.risinghearts.org/, Twitter handle is @_RisingHearts, and Instagram is rising_hearts. To learn more about Jordan, visit https://www.jordanmariedaniel.com/ and follow her on Twitter at @_NativeinLA and Instagram at nativein_la.

And learn more about ICRW’s related work here: