At 8 a.m. on a cold Friday morning, participants in the Indigenous Peoples March gathered on the steps of the U.S. Department of the Interior and began prayers and songs to open the event. The smell of sage circulated in the air as Indigenous leaders and participants fanned the smoke throughout the crowd.
“Sage is a plant medicine and used for cleansing,” said Wayne Snow from Saskatchewan, Canada. “We cleanse our eyes to see clearly, our mouths to speak the truth, and our hearts to spread love.”
Cliff Matias from New York City is part of the Kichwa/Taino tribe and a main organizer of the event. He directed the crowd at the first-ever Indigenous Peoples Movement in Washington D.C. through a red bullhorn, the same one he used during the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
Matias is also a member of the Redrum Motorcycle Club, an Indigenous-based club that works to support Indigenous people around the world.
Joseph Jordan of the Meherrin tribe waved the Meherrin Nation flag while sporting his Redrum Motorcycle Club jacket. “We are here fighting for tribal rights just like we did in Standing Rock and we are fighting for Indigenous peoples,” said Jordan.
After opening songs and prayers, at 9 a.m. Indigenous leaders, elders, activists, and participants faced Virginia St. NW ready to march towards the Lincoln Memorial for the rally. Some participants showcased handmade banners and animal skins while others chanted, sang, and drummed from Constitution Ave. to 17th St. NW and through the National Mall.
Tayler Gutierrez from Salt Lake City, Utah, is registered with the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and marched to redirect the same message from her ancestors. “I’m here for my ancestors because I am fighting for the same thing they were when they were alive,” Gutierrez said.
Darren Thompson, an organizer and media facilitator of the march, shared the struggles and highlights of putting together the Indigenous Peoples March. “Financials were our biggest obstacle, said Thompson, “asking the general public through emails, GoFundMe, Facebook, and other crowdfunding resources to help make this a success.”
On the snowy steps of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, activists delivered their messages to the crowd. Some spoke of the dwindling environment, missing Indigenous women, the controversial name of Washington's NFL team and the government’s role in granting Indigenous rights.
“It is sad that we [Indigenous People] have to go to the government to be recognized on stolen land –– stolen land that is now depleting and people need to learn to give back to Mother Earth,” said Rick Watts from Ashburn, Virginia and the Meherrin tribe.
Nichol Dennis-Banks from Southampton New, York held a red dress in the air and a drum in her other hand. The red dress has become a symbol for the missing Indigenous women throughout the U.S. “So many of our women are missing or lost and we want the government to open an investigation to find our children, our sisters, our daughters, our cousins, our mother and our grandmothers,” said Dennis-Banks.
Although the March for Life rally began to overlap the Indigenous Peoples Movement among the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, the rally continued as Indigenous elders shared their speeches and Indigenous participants and leaders shared their musical talents.
“No one is illegal on stolen land,” said Bhie-Cie Ledesma of the Western Shoshone/Washoe tribe. “You’re on Indian land.”