5 Indigenous Women & Activists You Should Know About

Indian Country Today recently highlighted the central role of women in the recent anti-fracking protests by the Mi’kmaq First Nation in Canada. Amanda Polchies famously knelt down in front of a militarized blockade of police officers with nothing but an eagle feather between her and the officers. Amanda is but one of many Mi’kmaq women that faced down a line of police and stood their ground during the protests. She is also but one of many Indigenous women and activists who have worked and currently work toward justice, including such women as:

Image of Andrea Smith
University of Central Florida

1. Andrea Smith

A Native feminist politics seeks to do more than simply elevate Native women’s status — it seeks to transform the world through indigenous forms of governance that can be beneficial to everyone. Indigenous feminism without apology

About Andrea (Cherokee)

  • Authored Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide which has become essential reading about the violences perpetrated against Indigenous women
  • Co-founded INCITE!, “a nation-wide network of radical feminists of color working to end violence against women, gender non-conforming, and trans people of color, and our communities.”
  • Co-founded the Chicago chapter of Women of All Red Nations (WARN), a group that advocates for “for social, economic, and environmental justice for Native American peoples.”
  • Co-founded the Boarding School Healing Project
  • Nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for her activist work


An image of Winona LaDuke
AEI Speaker’s Bureau

2. Winona LaDuke

It is not that the women of the dominant society in so-called first world countries should have equal pay and equal status, if that pay and status continues to be based on a consumption model which is not only unsustainable, but causes constant violation of the human rights of women and nations elsewhere in the world. To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility

About Winona (Ojibwe)

  • Co-founded the Indigenous Women’s Network which has supported and trained Indigenous women activists from all over the world and also represented Indigenous women’s interests at the United Nations
  • Co-founded Honor the Earth an environmental justice organization
  • Co-founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project which seeks to recover White Earth lands lost to the United States government and private interests
  • Ran for vice president with Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000 on the Green Party Ticket
  • Authored fiction and non-fiction pieces on Indigenous spirituality, environmental justice, and relationship between Native peoples and the United States military


Image of Leanne Simpson
As Us

3. Leanne Simpson

Our bodies should be on the land so that our grandchildren have something left to stand upon.  Elsipogtog Everywhere

About Leanne (Mississauga Nishnaabeg)

  • Authored several titles on Nishnaabeg stories and storytelling
  • Penned now very well-known piece on Idle No More during the early days of the movement
  • Co-founded a language nest to help revitalize her Indigenous language
  • Performed with A Tribe Called Red among other artists as a spoken word artist
  • Works alongside several First Nations groups in Canada on environmental issues


Image of Ada Deer
Wisconsin Historical Society

4. Ada Deer

 “The power came from the people… Now we Indian people believe we can do anything!” The Power Came From the People

About Ada (Menominee)

  • Became the first Menominee tribal member to earn an advanced degree
  • Co-founded DRUMS (Determination of Right and Unity for Menominee Shareholders) to combat Menominee Termination and control of tribal resources by a non-Tribally run corporation
  • Became the first Indigenous woman to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
  • Now retired, continues to fight for prisoner’s rights


Image of Sheelah McClean, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, and Jessica Gordon
By Marcel Petit via the Huffington Post

5. Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, and Jessica Gordon

We are moving toward continuing to assert our sovereignty and our indigenous rights and we’re going to continue to protect and defend the land and the water. We support and encourage all people to do the same, however they choose to do that. Nina Wilson

About Nina, Sylvia, and Jessica (Cree)

  • Founded, along with non-Indigenous activist Sheelah McClean, the Idle No More movement
  • Performed teach-ins about Indigenous rights violations in Canada
  • Organized webinars on issues of justice relevant to Indigenous peoples
  • Helped organize volunteers in support of Indigenous activism across Canada


This is, by no means, anywhere near a comprehensive list of Indigenous women and activists. These are just a few of the Indigenous women currently working toward their ideas of justice and dismantling oppression. I don’t necessarily agree with every aspect of their ideas and methods, but I appreciate what each woman has done for Indigenous women, Indigenous peoples, and all peoples here and globally.

By Marena

Marena recently earned her Master of Arts degree in Social Justice & Human Rights & primarily explores social justice issues in the production & consumption of popular mass media. You may find her creating fanworks, testing her hand-eye coordination with beadweaving, flailing over her fictional faves, reading everything from fanfic to theory texts, or watching low budget sci-fi. You can find her writing on Marena ni yukyats.

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