Jordan Marie Daniel is a Native-American activist intellectual and program and community
specialist whose academic focus is Tribal Law and Policy and working on projects and initiatives
to end violence on Indigenous women. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science,
Native American Studies, and Public Management from the University of Maine. Currently,
Daniel works for the Tribal Law and Policy Institute in Los Angeles, California.
Daniel was born in South Dakota on the Kul Wicasa Oyate/Lower Brule Indian Reservation. At
the age of nine, Daniel moved from South Dakota to Maine and remained there until her
completion of college. In a pre-interview correspondence, Daniel said, “It’s been my dream since
I was in eighth grade to move to DC and be an advocate for Indian country.” In the fall of 2013
Daniel turned that dream into a reality. In DC, Daniel worked for the National Indian Health
Board, Administration for Native Americans under Health and Human Services, and for
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME). Daniel’s philosophy is clear; she is an activist and a
beacon for all minorities experiencing injustice. Daniel stated, “My philosophy is much like my
elders and our way of life, you care for Unci Maka, grandmother earth, you inherently protectand take care of all. It’s not just Native/Indigenous issues I fight for and protect, it’s all people”
While working in DC, Daniel gained an insider’s perspective on the flaws and weakness of the
federal government and its relationship with Indian country. In response, Daniel created Native
in DC (now Native Perspectives blog), as a platform to discuss current policy, law, and
initiatives in DC that are significant to Indian country. Continuing her advocacy, at the height of
the #NODAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline) Movement, Daniel founded the Rising Hearts
Coalition to be a voice for Indian country, organize events, marches, rallies, and schedule
meetings for tribal leaders or members who came to DC to lobby lawmakers and politicians.
Daniel has continued to be an advocate for minorities organizing demonstrations at the
#OccupyInauguration events with Indigenous Leaders, People’s Climate March, Women’s
March, #MeToo March and Rally in Los Angeles, NoPotomacPipeline, and March for Racial
Justice. In addition, she has been a vocal advocate for efforts to stop the KXL Pipeline and
#ChangeTheName campaign in DC against the Washington Football team.
Daniel’s individual and academic background coupled with her work with native non-profit
groups, the federal government, and community organizations gives her a unique perspective to
answer questions concerning American indigenous thought and practice, specifically those
relating to law and policy, contemporary social movements, comparative politics, and political
behavior. Below are Jordan Marie Daniel’s responses to an email interview:
1. Who or what inspired you to study indigenous rights and culture? Why did you
decide to pursue these academic interests through the field of Political Science? What
were the main challenges you faced in undertaking your studies? Who or what offered
the main sources of support?
My family and our culture inspired me to pursue a career working on Native American issues
and initiatives. I wanted to get a minor in Native American Studies because I knew there was
more to learn, that there was more than just my Tribe, and our culture in South Dakota. Also,
it helped fill that homesick feeling in college, when living far away from my family. I was in
Maine and my home is in South Dakota. I wanted to tie together Political Science and
Native Studies, and Public Management, because I know from history that Native Americans
have been at the bottom of the totem pole, in regards to receiving quality health care,
education, and more. Laws in place often exclude Native populations. I wanted to change
that, be a voice and strong advocate for change, to ensure a better future for my relatives and
our future generations.
The main challenge I faced, was not being able to connect with other Natives in my classes,
since there were only a handful of us at the University of Maine. The professors were great
in my Native Studies classes, but professors outside of that didn’t know or understand Tribal
Law. Many of the classes I took were general, focused on American politics and such. I had
to supplement those classes and information with reading books and researching how Native
Americans are included or excluded in policies. Or finding what policies exist already that
need to be improved and enhanced to reflect long-standing systematic problems that still exist. I was lucky to be in a program that gave Native Americans an opportunity for free
tuition. It was an opportunity that changed my life for the better.
2. Do you consider yourself an activist? Why or why not? If so, how does your
scholarly work inform your advocacy and how does your activism inform your
I’m often called or labeled an “activist,” but I just love and care so much for my family, my
Indigenous relatives, and all people. I can’t stand to see people excluded, to be on the
receiving end of minimal protective legislative efforts. I can’t stand to see people of color be
treated unfairly. Growing up seeing and experiencing racism, I witnessed a long-standing
problem of misunderstanding, ignorance, and intergenerational racism. I consider myself a
lover of the land and the people. And I’ll do what I can to help make the world a better place
for us. My scholarly work was not just in the classroom and listening to my professors, it
also came from family, our culture, and my tribe. That has helped inform me and those I
speak with and work with to better move the world in the kind of direction I’d like to see for
everyone. There is no, “one size” fits all; we are a country and world of many people and
cultures. There is a way to exist and a way to support each other. So sure, I am an activist,
working to raise awareness of Native Americans and build unity among all people. I engage
the public, I participate in civil disobedience when necessary, and I do a lot of outreach and
engagement on the grassroots level, because we need to be voices and support.
3. How effective are the majority of new programs, policies and initiatives created by
the national government to “help” Native people? What are the responsibilities of the
lawmakers (national government) and states (state government) in ensuring that these
new initiatives are carried out? Where do these efforts typically fall short? Why do
they do so?
First, let’s change your question. I appreciate you putting “help” in quotes. The vast majority
of these initiatives are to address systematic neglect of and illegal activities perpetrated
against Native peoples in violation of treaty agreements and civil rights. I saw the
movie “Black Panther” and I saw a version of a utopian society that could have existed
had indigenous people, in this case African, not been the focus of aggression and the draining
of resources, both natural and human. Instead of remaining separate, many of our tribes made
agreements, in good faith, with the US government that included access to health, education,
and other essential services. Soon, we were denied these things and were the focus
of systematic government efforts to destroy our culture and disperse our people. These efforts
to steal and destroy indigenous people were, and are, ultimately unsuccessful. But, they
have taken their toll. Who knows where we would be if the US government had left us to
develop on our own or simply kept their word and dealt with us fairly?
The disparities between Native and all other groups are widely known. These programs
to “help” us after all of these efforts to destroy us can be looked at as consisting of two
categories: 1) To enforce treaty rights or, 2) to rectify the results of systematic repression and
neglect. Because not much thought is given to the implementation of the few policies we get passed on our behalf, and even less to appropriately resourcing proper implementation, most
of these efforts have marginal effects on their primary goals.
That is an easy question in one way: When legislation is passed, it is the government’s duty
to fund, resource, and enforce its own initiatives, whether it is Tribal, Federal, or State. Since
Tribal governments share a special relationship with State and Federal governments, the
executive responsibilities must be negotiated, articulated, implemented and enforced
Lawmakers have a special responsibility to Native people, beyond ensuring treaty
obligations. We are human beings. We are not on CNN overnight, Hollywood does not
reflect our lives on screens, and we do not form a huge voting bloc. So, Lawmakers should
rely upon data to guide resources and law rather than respond to loud voices, money, or
press. Where are the bigger problems? Who is suffering and how can it be relieved? If they
were simply to go by the numbers, by the need, instead of the decibels, I think
Indian Country would be much better served. Imagine how different this country would look
if resources were allocated by need rather than lobbying? I call this the difference between
Justice and Just-us. Simply having legislation based upon social justice rather than
a competitive system of issue-targeted advocacy would be a wonderful start!
They fall short at almost every level. Lawmakers are seldom thorough in the laws passed.
Many are passed with vague and non-specific language that hobbles execution. They then are
subject to interpretation that may be orthogonal to the needs of the people in need, or the
intent of the legislation itself! Many are not funded properly. And many are passed without
consideration for the preferences of the Tribes and people they are seeking to “help.”
Tribal governments are sovereign governments. That has to be acknowledged. Native people
come from a number of very diverse contexts with different cultural resources to leverage
toward particular issues. Ignoring Tribal Governments, and the needs of the people the laws
are hoping to effect, adds several challenging layers to constructive implementation across
geographically and culturally diverse populations. These layers are seldom considered or
integrated into the implication plan.
Bureaucracy is also a major impediment. At every level of bureaucracy, someone gets a cut
and inefficiencies are magnified. So, many programs are awarded via a competitive grant
system. However, some tribes have more resources than others. The Tribes with the most
need sometimes have the fewest resources. This effects the dispersion of resources when they
are available. For example, a high needs Tribe may not be able to afford to hire a
professional grant writer while Tribes that are more well-off can. Thus there are problems
when we rely upon a competitive system that assumes a baseline level of proficiency with
respect to something like just writing a grant, rather than data, need, or preference to allocate
4. To what extent are Native perspectives and people included in the contemporary
fights, including the “Lives Matter”, #MeToo, and LGBTQ movements, for social
justice and political change? How do most of the indigenous people you work with position themselves in relationship to these contemporary social movements? What are
some issues that they think merit more attention in these social movements?
I would say, in recent years, especially since #NoDAPL, that Native Americans/Indigenous
peoples are more involved. But it’s tricky. The involvement of Native Americans in
contemporary fights is either led by Natives (which is the best), or we are asked to be part of
the planning. When we are asked to be part of something, we are either part of the
conversation and organizing, or we are just asked to be sort of a “check in the box.” The
“Check in the box” happens frequently, but provides an opportunity for Natives to correct it,
and have it be a teaching moment for everyone, to not disregard us or invite us just to be the
“Natives” on the invite list. I have seen more involvement and understanding, love and
friendship, not just banding together of activists or social/climate/racial justice fighters.
Other Indigenous organizers and leaders that I have had the honor of working with are
humble and do a very good job at involving everyone. There are some who remain
segregated, which I think hurts our cause and our future. But most want to educate non-
Natives about the 500 plus years of colonization, oppression, and racism. We also want to
educate on the good of our culture and our traditions that are still practiced today, when there
have been many attempts by government and outsiders to keep us from being who we are.
We are evolving into who we are today in terms of who we are culturally. We are caretakers
of the land and all people. That outlook is how I was raised and is how my family sees it.
Some of the issues that were evident in the #NoDAPL fights are treaty rights and human
rights. Treaties that were made between our people and the government have all been
broken. Corporations, the government, and people, have violated and disregarded Treaty of
1868 in Standing Rock to make the Dakota Access Pipeline happen. We have rights, we
have a history, and most often, we are told to get over it, or have to be on the defensive
against racism and assumptions of what non-Natives think of Natives. For example, many
non-Natives think all Natives get free healthcare, that we are all rich off casino money, etc.
We, especially our Native youth today, are working hard to take the lead and change the
narrative of Native Americans in today’s society to actually resemble our successes and
struggles of today.
5. Recently, the Cleveland Indians, an American baseball club, made national
headlines for deciding to replace their longtime logo “Chief Wahoo”. To what extent
are the names and/or logos of major sport teams, such as the Washington, DC NFL
team, discriminatory, racist or bigoted toward Native Americans? What effect do these
logos have on native communities and their self-image?
First off, I’ll say I had nothing to do with this announcement! I only say that because I was
asked, along with my organizers, if we were behind another #CultureJam. According to
Forbes, Rising Hearts is responsible for one of the best parodies/spoofs on the Internet of
2017 of the #GoRedhawks Culture Jam back in December. But back to the Cleveland
Indians logo! It was great to see. It’s a small step but we have far to go to be respected and
to get the media, teams, and schoolbooks, to portray the truth about Indian Country. Chief
Wahoo is a derogatory image and negatively portrays who we are. It gives our youth a false sense of identity. It gives our youth, and our people, an identity placed on us, by people who
are not connected to us and don’t know the history. It just makes for a cool picture and
stereotypical behavior and assumptions. Professional sports teams are using some images
and names to fuel a cool sports campaign. No one in the NFL or from the fan base would
appreciate the Cleveland Indians being called “Cleveland Caucasians” or the Washington
football team being called “Washington Whities” or “Washington Crackers.” Those ideas
would never be brought up in the first place. Sadly, these corporations are glorifying and
romanticizing this imagery and telling us how we should feel about them. Especially when I
was living in DC, I was told by many, in particular from the black community, sometimes in
angry tones, “You should feel honored!” We don’t feel honored. It may not seem like a huge
deal to non-natives, but it is to most people in Indian Country. Some don’t have an opinion.
And a little group likes it, thinking “we are finally acknowledged on something!” Hopefully
we can get them changed. Hopefully we can change the narrative and educate those who may
just not know.
6. Is there a contradiction between the desires of some Native American to be left alone
and, at the same time, to be helped? For example, some Native Americans would like to
receive federal funding, grants and, to a lesser extent, welfare but also demand that
they be left alone. Are the ideas of tribal sovereignty, self-determination and federal
Again with the word “help.” Do you mean repair, support, or reimburse? We would not
“like” to receive federal funding. We do want the agreements we have made in good faith
fulfilled. Read the agreements made to us by the United States government. Realize that we
would have more accumulated wealth as a people than almost anyone else if those treaties
were properly enforced and the lands returned to us. Above that, Natives should be entitled to
all the other benefits that citizens of the United States receive, since we are citizens of and
subject to your laws. Your question intimates that federal assistance is a “give-away.” We
invented give-aways when we helped the pilgrims and the settlers. We didn’t ask for
anything in return. Empowering a people for self-determination is not a give-away. We will
never get back, as a people, what has been and is still being ripped from us. The current
system needs to empower Natives with the human dignity to flourish in a world devoid of
racism, systemic corruption, and illegal neglect of legal agreements. We have overcome
everything thrown at us. We are still here. I sometimes wonder if people are afraid to give
such a resilient people a level playing field.
7. In Custer Died for Your Sins Vine Deloria Jr. compares the plight of “the red man”
to that of the black man. To what extent are comparisons between these two groups
valid? How do the differences between ethnicity, race and nation complicate the
comparison between the two? What are the implications of your answer for forming
potential coalitions between Native and African American communities?
It’s easy. We are both groups suffering at the hands of colonization, racism, and efforts to
erase our identities so that we would be more “civilized,” more appropriate to society, from
1492 to even now. I won’t speak for the experiences African Americans have undergone
when they were enslaved in the Americas. I see their struggle today, when organizing. Theyare severely oppressed, facing racism, and their own being murdered at exponentially high
rates by trigger-happy police. However, those rates are just as high in Indian Country. We
have our sisters stolen and murdered, which led to the creation of the #MMIW, the
Missing/Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement. I have no real, concrete data to
show, but it’s been happening continuously since 1492. It is the longest standing #MeToo.
Our fights for freedom, for our human rights, to be seen as equal, are similar to those in black
communities, but how we go about it is different. The media never highlights the struggles
of Indigenous Peoples. #NoDAPL finally shed light on our efforts, but Savanna Grey Wind
and Tina Fontaine barely got national attention. Both of them were native and were viciously
murdered. Their murderers were either set free (as with Tina Fontaine’s perpetrator) or the
justice system treats white offenders lightly (as with Savanna GreyWind, although she
pleaded guilty). I think it’s important, when having our communities work together, to
understand that it isn’t a competition for who struggled the most. Sadly. I have seen that in
the grassroots organizing world. We are both powerhouse communities that band together in
time of need. We need to continue and stay together throughout it all, the good and bad.
Andrew Cain is a Master’s student in Political Science at the University of Connecticut.
He is interested in Political Theory, especially Black Political Thought, and in exploring
the freedoms and “un-freedoms” of African-Americans past and present. His research
focuses on youth advocacy in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area and
understanding the programs designed to serve, develop, and rehabilitate black
youth. He can be reached at Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org.