Dear little one on your Birthday: A letter to a future Native warrior

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.2 Comments


Today one of my best friends, who we affectionately call Bean, is having her first child. A baby girl. Last night I watched on live streams as unarmed Native protectors were mercilessly attacked by militarized police. I kept thinking about my new little niece, and the world we are leaving for her. This letter is to her, on her birthday. 

Dear Baby Bean,

Today you are being brought into this world, to a proud mama and dad who gave to you fierce genes–legacies of strength and resistance. Your San Carlos Apache, Hawaiian, and Mexican ancestors were fighters, resisting colonialism, federal policies of genocide and erasure, and filling their hearts and souls with love. Love for you, the answer to their prayers, the result of their love and survival. Years and years ago at Stanford your mama helped transform me from a shy and quiet girl from the suburbs into a loud, unafraid warrior. As co-chairs of the Native student group we sat in meetings with campus officials together and I watched her as she fought for our community, and I learned to do the same. She sat in my office in grad school and made me practice yelling bad words at her so I would start standing up for myself, even though I would collapse into giggles each time. Your mama has fought for her Native people at every turn, in the classroom, on her campuses, in healthcare, and now in the courtroom. I think about her when I think about you, and what power you already carry within your tiny heart.

Last night, I watched and was scared as men and women who are also fighting for our Native people, and for our water and our land, were hurt by men and women who are supposed to protect us. These brave water protectors stood on a bridge in the cold, saying prayers for the officers behind scary masks and big trucks. The officers sprayed water on them, even though it was freezing. They used weapons that are normally reserved for war. This morning I saw the news listing the attack as a “riot,” and reports saying many things that were completely untrue. We watched last night, little one, as they sprayed the protectors. We watched as they used those weapons. The protectors didn’t start fires. The protectors sang and prayed. We saw.

But I want you to know that last night songs were sung for you. Prayers were said for you. Our elders, your elders, knew you were coming. They asked Creator to protect you, and bless your journey. Because I’m sorry little one, with your eyes just opening to this big and new world, but this fight is now yours too. But I don’t want you to worry. I want you to concentrate on learning to breathe, to eat, to cry, to laugh, and to love. The rest will come later. The fight will come later.

You share a birthday with my Gram, and that makes me happy. She is 90 today. She grew up in rural Oklahoma on Cherokee allotment land, attended Chilocco Indian School, and somehow ended up in Southern California married to an Armenian and raising three Cherokee-Armenian kids. She has taught me a lot, about generosity, love, sewing, cooking, the importance of family, and the importance of remembering. So I will remember her journey for you, and the journey of the others that have come before her and after her. I will remember this fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the ways our people have come together in ways like never before. I’ll whisper Mni Wiconi–water is life–and I’ll remember for you.

Your Auntie Adrienne just came back from Standing Rock, my second trip. I have felt the power and joy of camp, the intensity of direct actions, and the sometimes overwhelming sadness that a big company and the US government can be so cruel. I have been changed from this fight, and know that forever into the future I will be ready to stand in ways I haven’t before. Our world is in a hard time right now, love, and it will continue to get harder. But there are people like me, and so many others that will not rest until things are better–for you, and all the little ones like you.

As you grow up, I promise to protect you. I promise to continue to fight as hard as I possibly can to ensure a future for you. To protect your water, your sacred land, and your sovereignty. Whatever your future gender identity or who you choose to love, I will make sure you can be who you are meant to be. I want you to turn on the TV or open the newspaper on your fancy-soon-to-be-invented-daily-news-device and see yourself reflected. The true you, in your complexities and complications, the multitudes you contain. and I’m sorry, Baby Bean, that we couldn’t fix this world for you before you arrived. You deserve an earth with clean water, fresh air, and a world that recognizes and honors your place and contributions as an Indigenous person. These are your lands, the lands of your ancestors, and you deserve to walk on them, pray on them, and learn from them without struggle or fear.

After I can protect you no more, I know that you will take up this fight. You will fight to protect the water for your daughters and granddaughters, and you will think of them when times become hard and it feels easy to lose hope, just as we have done for you. So whether you follow your mama into the courtroom, your dad into the world of education, your Auntie into the world of academia and activism, your innumerable Stanford Aunties and Uncles into their diverse careers, or you find your own path, your existence is our future. That’s a lot of weight to heap on you on your first day with us, but whatever you choose and wherever you go know this: You, like every Native born into this world, are a victory against colonialism and attempted genocide. You are the resistance. You are hope made flesh.

You, Baby Bean, give me hope.

With all my heart,

Your Auntie



I’ll write more about what happened last night and my recent trip to Standing Rock soon. I’m still processing. But if you want to help, from my last post, but even more necessary now:

So now, what can you do?

You can check in to Standing Rock on Facebook if you want, the awareness and solidarity is great, but know that it’s not actually preventing arrests of protectors. Other concrete actions:

Do you want to go to Standing Rock?

Protectors are asking more folks to come to Standing Rock. Native, non-Native, it doesn’t matter, there is a role for you in the fight. If you do decide to come, a few logistical tips:

  • You can fly into Bismarck and drive down to camp—just not on highway 1806. It’s about an hour or so on Highway 6, the alternative route. It puts you just south of Oceti Sakowin.
  • If you plan to camp, be prepared for very cold conditions and wind. There is food, portable restrooms, and some supplies if necessary, but seek to be as self-sustaining as possible.
  • It’s also possible to stay at “camp casino”—the Standing Rock Prairie Knights Casino is just about 15 min south of Oceti Sakowin. Rooms are about $100 a night, but reserve online before you come, they sell out every night these days. The casino is tribally owned, so you’re supporting the tribe as well.
  • At camp, default to those who are from Standing Rock, and those who have been part of this resistance for a long time. It is your place to listen, help out in any way possible, and be in the role of a supporter. That might mean washing dishes, sorting donations, picking up trash, chopping wood—not just going to the direct actions.
  • If you choose to participate in the direct actions, attend a direct action training, and listen to those leading the action. The protectors are unarmed, peaceful, and prayerful. You must adhere to these principles.
  • This is not the place for you to live out your burning-man-hippie-mystical Indian fantasies. Leave your weird fake regalia at home, no one is going to give you an Indian name or take you on a vision quest, put on your damn shoes, don’t stand at the main fire with your arms in the air “absorbing the energy,” and don’t treat the Natives at camp like you’re at a zoo. (I saw all this and worse. Will have to be another post.)
  • Update: Here is an awesome set of resources from the Standing Rock Solidarity Network–Ally Resource Packet
  • Terietta M. Ingram

    SO Awesome to organize a list of where to give. I love the insight that Dr. Adrienne Keene. Each time i have heard and interview with a 1st nation person talking about this i have learned more and more about the complexities of what is happening.

  • Brockland A.T.

    That’s so sweet.

    Arm her properly.

    The Aboriginal nations of North America were once legendary for their rhetorical skills. Oral tradition sort-of required it.