In Their Own Words

Jordan Marie Daniel

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Long distance runner. Advocate for Indigenous People. Climate Justice activist. New EcoAthletes Champion.

Someone who will be an important voice in the Green-Sports world.

Jordan Marie Daniel is all that…and much, much more.

Here is her story in her own words.


I. Beginnings

I was born in Mitchell, South Dakota and I’m a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, part of the Lakota Nation. My family is still there for the most part…

I didn’t realize it when I was a kid, but it was a bubble of sorts. The community protected me; the ceremonies and our language were home. Then, when I was nine and in third grade we moved to Maine; my dad had gotten a job at the University of Maine in Farmington as a professor.

It was culture shock.

By middle school I had experienced racism, bullying and many micro-aggressions. It was the parents more than the kids, tell you the truth. “She’s a bad kid…gonna steal.” 

I experienced a hate crime in 8th grade walking home from school with my friend Jeff. Some high schoolers were driving by, saw us, stopped, and got out, brandishing knives and brass knuckles. They threatened and pushed Jeff for hanging out with an Indian. Jeff told me to run, and I did, to my dad’s office.

Friends of my high school boyfriend would ask him what it’s like to date someone with dark skin.

Jordan Marie Daniel (Photo credit: Dean Whitestone)

II. Running 

I began running at 10. We would see our South Dakota family in the summers. My great grandpa, grandpa and mom were runners. I’d go for runs with grandpa, downhill for the first mile, uphill for the second. I loved running with him and then stuck with it back in Maine. I was fast and had good endurance from the beginning. The running community in Maine accepted me and I really enjoyed it in high school, outdoor and indoor track, cross-country, all of it. 

Next step was the University of Maine Orono, the school’s main campus. I was redshirted as a freshman, which was a good thing because I was having a tough time adjusting to life there, in part because I was alone and had developed an eating disorder as a junior in high school as a reaction to a toxic relationship. I did my best to keep that private, but it came to the fore in sophomore year.

My coach, Mark Lech, really stepped up, insisting that I go to a doctor. The doctors diagnosed me with anorexia. Coach Lech said, “we’ve got to get you a nutritionist to get you healthy”. Getting the help I needed was amazing. While my body was adjusting, I felt healthier and stronger and was able to begin a new relationship with running and food. Really, I fell in love with running again. 

And I began to run well my sophomore year, breaking personal and University of Maine records in the 3,000M, 800M, 1,200M, 5K and mile. My junior year was even better as I was #2 on the cross-country team. I also got into trail running. More than the results, I was running to heal, running for me. 

 


III. Advocating

Since I was 10 or 11, I wanted to lobby for Indigenous People in Washington or work for the Indian Health Service. I always felt that our people were treated unfairly and had seen much injustice. So, while at Maine, I volunteered with the Penobscot Tribe. I wanted a sense of community and missed my Tribe from home. Academically, I majored in political science with a focus on public management and Native American studies. 

Then, after my graduation in 2011 I started working with the Penobscot Tribe in human resources, a cultural preservation program, daycare as well as helping to run their Boys & Girls Club. I enjoyed trying to help my community but that was challenging since I also had much unresolved personal trauma after having witnessed violence in the home and having another toxic relationship, which continued through my move to the Washington, DC area in 2014. We finally broke up in 2015 and then my running, which had suffered, began to improve. I ran half-marathons, 10Ks and cross-country for the New Balance team and our terrific coach Dan Green.

In DC, I got a job in congressional relations for the National Indian Health Board (NIHB), which was great because I could help real people who were dealing with real problems. I run-commuted to and from work. My activism, which now included environmental advocacy also ramped up — I protested with Standing Rock and my community against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. My homeland was being harmed and I needed to do more. 

So, I also took an unpaid internship with U.S. House Rep Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st Congressional District — she’s still there. I hated it. There was a lack of people like me and a lack of knowledge about Native American issues on the part of House members. Some would say things like, ‘don’t you still live in teepees?’ More broadly, bills would always get chopped up against the interests of the people. When I was offered a paid job, I turned it down. I wanted to make a difference for Indigenous People and other marginalized peoples and Congress felt like it wasn’t the place to do it.

I ended up starting a blog, ‘Native In DC’, in 2015 about how Native American issues were being treated in Washington and what was going on in ‘Indian Country’. It served as a Cliff Notes of sorts for legislation that would impact Native Americans and it also gave me the opportunity to share my experiences. It took off. 

At around the same time, I took a job as grants manager for the Administration for Native Americans in the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), working on issues like language revitalization, business and program development, youth empowerment projects, domestic violence, and preservation of culture. I did what I could to make sure these causes had the support and funding they needed. It was challenging because many of the grantees didn’t have access to the resources or funds to have a successful grant, and thus amazing projects wouldn’t get picked. Some colleagues and I wanted to change that and had some successes along the way. 

In 2017 I moved to Los Angeles for another job with the Tribal Law and Policy Institute — I was a program assistant on an initiative to end violence against indigenous women and to end human sex trafficking. I also led climate justice rallies. Then, the Institute lost funding and I lost my position.

Then, in 2019, I got a job at the UCLA School of Medicine as a Project Manager. While it’s not a Native American job, I’ve been a connector and educator — helping out faculty with studies that have an Indigenous focus, speaking with Indigenous colleagues about Native American issues and pushing the institution to do better and fulfill justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts.


IV. Leading

Even with all the protests and advocacy work I did — I always showed up — I never saw myself as an organizer, a speaker, a leader.

As I kept showing up, I kept learning more about things that needed to change. On climate, when I was protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, I learned about Man Camps along the pipeline construction sites at the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. Violence against Indigenous Women, including sexual assault and rape, was rampant. I asked myself, ‘how can I be better?’and make more of a difference for the Native Community and others.

So, in 2016 I helped lead the Standing Rock Youth Run, a 2,000-mile journey from North Dakota to Washington, to make sure these young Indigenous voices were heard about their futures, their environments. My main responsibility was getting the permits, raising funds for food and water, getting a land acknowledgement and prayer blessing for the run in DC, especially the three miles from the Supreme Court to the Army Corps of Engineers. 

It was a great day. 

Local native leaders and actress Shailene Woodley spoke. We got a lot of press coverage. When I got home, I said, ‘I’m never doing this again.’ It was too stressful; the fundraising was high pressure. I was done. I felt that my other friends who did this more than I should be the leaders, I could go back to just volunteering and supporting.

And then my grandpa died from cancer. 

He took me on my first run; was my first running coach. He knew what I was doing with the Run; it was the last thing we talked about. He inspired me to lead Indigenous youth. But for the next two weeks, I really didn’t know what to do.

Then, on September 3, 2016, there were dog attacks on a sacred site on Tribal lands at the Dakota Access Pipeline. Young people I had seen on the run were being attacked. To honor my grandpa, I needed to do more…do what feels uncomfortable. And leading really felt uncomfortable

So, I led pop up marches on behalf of Native Americans at the White House, at the Army Corps of Engineers building and to the offices of Members of Congress. I led a group at the big climate rally.

Networking and building coalitions among different Native American groups as well as other allies was not natural to me, I was bad at it at first and hated it. But once I got the hang of it, I loved it! And I needed to love it because, with the election of Donald Trump in 2017, things were going to get a lot worse and a lot busier.

On Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, I helped lead an Occupy Inauguration protest at the Departments of the Interior and Energy. The next day, at the massive Women’s March, I helped lead a group of Indigenous women through the INDIGENOUS WOMEN RISE organization. Four days later, when President Trump expedited the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, I protested in front of the White House with my relatives. Soon after, I helped lead the Native Nations March and the People’s Climate March. Then I helped run a campaign that drew a lot of attention to pressure Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Reds***s to change the name to the Red Hawks. 

I was doing this while I had a full-time job; I funded what I could out of my pocket. When I moved to LA in 2017, I took a break from the organizing. Then, in 2019, I got back at it, producing the first panel on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. And I ran the Boston Marathon that year to honor 26 missing and murdered women, one for each mile. I only trained for three weeks but was able to run a 3:02.

Jordan Marie Daniel running the 2019 Boston Marathon. The ‘MMIW’ written on her thighs stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (Photo credit: BAA Boston Marathon)

V. Rising

Fast forward to the spring of 2020 and the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. I felt like Native American groups were not working with African American groups who were not working with Hispanic groups and so on, even though we had so many issues in common — like the need for climate justice. You see, colonialism was keeping us apart.

I asked myself, ‘How can we come together? How can we make common cause more sustainable once the furor from the Floyd and Taylor murders dies down?’

So, I launched Rising Hearts, a nonprofit that envisions a socially-, economically-, and environmentally-just world where all who inhabit her are safe and empowered to thrive while realizing our collective potential. Indigenous-led and devoted to elevating Indigenous voices, we are dedicated to promoting intersectional collaborations across all movements that are pursuing racial, social, climate and economic justice.

With the onset of COVID, Rising Hearts created virtual wellness programs, which are not always available to people of color. We brought in yoga teachers from marginalized communities to teach virtually — Lululemon made a donation.

Rising Hearts launched a ‘Running with Purpose’ Collective to get reduced entry fees for runners with financial hardships, enhance runner safety, and more. Runners from all different backgrounds were welcomed; we ended up supporting 31 Athlete Advocates. 

We also created the Running on Native Lands Initiative to get major marathons and race directors to acknowledge that those events are contested on native lands through land acknowledgements and supporting the local Indigenous communities. The Boston Marathon made its first such an announcement in 2021 on Indigenous Peoples Day

Another important initiative for Rising Hearts is No More Stolen Relatives We organize and supports all efforts on behalf of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, Two Spirits and relatives as well as those who were stolen and forced into boarding and residential schools. 

Our climate justice work includes marches, rallies, and solutions-based discussions.

Mitakuye Oyasin…We are all related, so we need to work to have all our hearts rise together. 

Jordan Marie Daniel (r) on a No More Stolen Sisters march (Photo credit: Jinghuan Liu Tervalon)

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