DALLAS, TX — In 2000, Yolonda Blue Horse suffered perhaps the worst kind of catastrophe that could befall a parent; her 2 and half-year-old daughter was murdered. The Rapid City native and member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe was blamed, along with her then-husband. It was the first time they had to stand up and defend themselves. “It was the first time I had to fight for something,” she recalls now. Five years later justice was served when the family babysitter was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.
For Blue Horse, though, it was the beginning of her journey down a path of resistance, one that has led to her recent honor; as the recipient of the 2017 Justice Seeker of the Year award hosted by the Dallas Peace and Justice Center in Texas.
After the devastating tragedy that so deeply impacted her and her family, Blue Horse found herself connecting to her community in Dallas, Texas, in new ways. She got involved in support networks for other homicide survivors and families, and in doing so, she asserts, learned that going to the media actually helps. Herself a veteran of the United States Army, she became part of a Native American Veterans group in Dallas which both gave her a deeper connection to her people, and empowered her to believe she “could be a voice.” She co-founded the Society of Native Nations – an all-indigenous group in Texas with – according to their website – an impassioned mission; “to fulfill the express mission of: Helping to protect, preserve the way of life, culture, spirituality, teachings and medicines of the Native indigenous people of North and South America.”
When the group became aware of the Dakota Access Pipeline issue in North Dakota, Blue Horse was determined to get involved. “It infuriated me to watch what our distant relatives – my distant relatives – were going through,” she remembers, and when she found out the company behind the project; Energy Transfer Partners was headquartered in Dallas, she showed up at their offices. “I got on the elevator and just started hitting buttons.” She wasn’t sure where the office of CEO Kelcy Warren was, but she intended to find it. “I wanted to talk to him, to ask ‘why are you doing this? You’re hurting my people.’” She was escorted off the property and later informed that she would be arrested for criminal trespassing if she set foot on the Energy Transfer Partners property again.
Undeterred, Blue Horse regrouped, and began rallying for media attention to raise awareness of the situation. Her group, the Society of Native Nations, joined forces with local environmental groups, including the Dallas Peace and Justice Center and, according to her interview with Green Source Dallas Fort Worth, “We held over 15 [events] in the span of four of five months, from protests to rallies, prayer vigils to divestment actions… right in front of the [ETP] headquarters.” If they couldn’t rally at Standing Rock, they would gather in Texas and “do what we could from down here, to combat what was going on up there.”
In these efforts, Blue Horse had inadvertently established herself as a leader against injustice, environmental and otherwise. For her, the most powerful weapon in her arsenal is awareness, and the education brought by efforts like hers. “The more we talk about the environment, the more we educate, the more people come on board.” She considers “keeping people aware up here in the Dallas area,” a cornerstone of her activism and attributes a great deal of the respect she received from other environmental groups to her indigenous heritage. “We are the stewards of the land,” she asserts, “We know how sacred water is, how sacred mother earth is.” Her hope for her message, for the future of her people, is that they can come together to work on the forefront as leaders of the environmental fight against corporations and oil companies.
For Blue Horse, the time for her people to stand up and be heard, has come. “We’re taught to listen and not be chatty” she muses, “but there comes a time… a point… where we have to stand up and speak out,” something she’s hoping her Just Seeker of the Year award will support.
“It is an honor to be able to receive an award like this,” she acknowledges, humbly. “But it’s also hard. It’s not just me. [This work was possible because] a lot of people came together; organizing and planning, to make sure we could do this, to bring more awareness to people. If anything comes out of this I hope it is [the awareness] that if a group of non-native people can recognize a native person, native people [will receive] more recognition… so we have a platform to stand on.” “We’re having our voice now,” she proclaims, “for indigenous people. It isn’t just for me. If I can do it, you can too.”
“I’m grateful for the opportunities to be heard,” Blue Horse concedes, “but I hope others can start to do the same and we can be recognized.”
The Society of Native Nations has been asked to participate in another divestment action coming up next year. In the meantime, however, the group is co-sponsoring a Dallas area Native Americans Veterans Group, teaming up with several environmental groups to help supply baskets of food that will be distributed this holiday season.
For more information about Yolonda Blue Horse and the Dallas Peace and Justice Center, visit their website at www.dpjc.org. Information on the Society of Native Nations, too, can be found online at societyofnativenations.org and on Facebook.
(Contact Jaclyn Lanae at AuthorJaclynLanae@gmail. com)