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