The NDN Covid-19 Response Project Click here

Josué Rivas · April 5, 2019

What Does it Mean to Build Indigenous Power?

Six fierce Indigenous voices weigh in

What does it mean to build Indigenous power? Josué Rivas, Mexica and Otomi visual storyteller and educator, asked six Indigenous people to answer this question. Here is what they had to say:

Isabella Zizi, Northern Cheyenne, Arikara, Muskogee Creek

Isabella Zizi, Northern Cheyenne, Arikara, Muskogee Creek. Photo by Josué Rivas

“Building indigenous power means to acknowledge the original peoples of the lands that we occupy, acknowledge and respect Indigenous leadership, and hold on to traditions, ceremonies and practices to pass to the generations that come after us. When we keep our traditions alive, we keep our spirits alive. This how we will continue to grow power within ourselves.”

Elizabeth Hoover, Mohawk/Mi’kmaq

Elizabeth Hoover, Mohawk/Mi’kmaq. Photo by Josué Rivas

“Building Indigenous power requires reclaiming health, culture and language through supporting, rebuilding and engaging with traditional food systems – heritage seeds, and traditions of gathering, hunting, fishing, growing, processing, cooking, and sharing. It also requires rebuilding the social and family structures that are required to support and maintain these foods systems.”

Ral Christman, Kumeyaay

Ral Christman, Kumeyaay. Photo by Josué Rivas

“It is the recognition of power we already possess, a power given to us by the creator. It is continued actualization of that power as we help our future generations understand and perpetuate it. True power is the balance our ancestors were experts of living in. Our  teachings add logs to the fire our Creator placed in each one of us. “Howka” the fire within.”

Joey Montoya, Lipan Apache band of Texas

Joey Montoya, Lipan Apache band of Texas. Photo by Josué Rivas

“Building Indigenous power to me is holding space. Whether it’s through ceremony on Alcatraz or coordinating Indigenous musical artists performing at an Apple store, to even Native students gathering on a college campus. When we allow ourselves to enter these spaces we are reclaiming who we are as Indigenous peoples.”  

Norm Sands, Yaqui/Apache

Norm Sands, Yaqui/Apache. Photo by Josué Rivas

“Building Indigenous power to me means honoring our life givers. Being humble enough to realize that women are our power. Decolonize our minds, smash patriarchy. Lift up and stand beside our women warriors who are leading and protecting the sacred web of life.”

Calina Lawrence, Suquamish

Calina Lawrence, Suquamish. Photo by Josué Rivas

“Building Indigenous power means evaluating the current power dynamics that exist and dismantling the hierarchies in place that do not serve all beings morally. Once we reclaim our relationships with ourselves, others and other beings, then we will have the liberation to eliminate unnecessary suffering and provide space for the things that do serve us, mother Earth’s children.”    


Josué Rivas
Josué Rivas

Josué Rivas (Mexica/Otomi) is a visual storyteller and educator working at the intersection of art, journalism, and social justice. He seeks to challenge the mainstream narrative about Indigenous Peoples, build awareness about Indigenous issues and be a visual messenger for those in the shadows of society. Josué is a 2017 Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellow, founder of the Standing Strong Project, co-founder of Natives Photograph and winner of the 2018 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo. He is based in Portland, OR.

June 2020 Edition

Stay Informed. Take Action.
Subscribe to the NDN allies newsletter

Sign up to get our newsletter. Delivered once per month.

We care about the protection of your data and would never sell your email or share it with anyone without your permission.

Recently published on NDN

Posted 8 months ago Alcatraz Canoe Journey: Honoring 50 Years of Indigenous Resistance and Persistence

Jade Begay

"If we work to reframe Alcatraz as a symbol for Indigenous sovereignty and reposition it in people’s psyche that way, it could be a very powerful thing, especially for people who are so often forgotten overlooked and marginalized like Natives in America."
Posted 4 days ago NDN Collective Announces Black Hills Bail and Legal Defense Fund Following Mt. Rushmore Arrests
Following arrests of Indigenous Treaty Defenders blocking the road to Mount Rushmore on Friday, July 3, NDN Collective announces a bail and legal defense fund.
Posted 5 days ago NDN Collective Calls for Closure of Mount Rushmore and for the Black Hills to be Returned to the Lakota
In the lead up to President Donald Trump's visit to Lakota lands, NDN Collective calls for the closure of Mount Rushmore as a national monument.
Posted 2 weeks ago NDN Collective Announces the Radical Imagination Grant for Six Indigenous Artists
The NDN Collective Radical Imagination Grant will provide six Indigenous artists in the United States or U.S. Territories with $50k to radically imagine a new future, a better normal, and a more just world for all people and the planet.
Posted 3 weeks ago NDN Collective on Honoring Juneteenth: a Time for Action and Collective Liberation
In honor of Juneteenth, NDN Collective calls upon relatives and allies to take action and make personal commitments to unlearning the untruths of American history while learning the real truths of our past and present.
Posted 1 month ago Joint Statement: NDN Collective, IllumiNative, and Native Organizers Alliance call for justice for George Floyd
Indigenous organizations NDN Collective, IllumiNative, and Native Organizers Alliance call for justice for #GeorgeFloyd and an end to systemic racism
Posted 2 months ago Biden to stop KXL pipeline if elected- VOTE! and hold him to his word
NDN Collective calls for mass mobilization with voting in response to Joe Biden's announcement that he would stop the KXL pipeline if elected.
Posted 2 months ago SD Tribal Nations are exercising sovereignty and protecting citizens with checkpoints-- Noem should take note
NDN Collective's statement of solidarity with SD Tribal Nations exercising sovereignty and protecting citizens with checkpoints during COVID-19.
Posted 2 months ago NDN COVID-19 Response Project Awards $2.5 Million to Indigenous Communities in April
NDN has made awards to 95 Tribal Nations and Indigenous-led organizations totaling over $2,500,000 in grant awards. Selected grantees represent Indigenous communities from 23 states and Mexico.
Posted 2 months ago "We will continue leaning in": Nick Tilsen on COVID-19 Response

Nick Tilsen

NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen recaps the past month of mobilization in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Posted 2 months ago In Case You Missed It: Native Americans & COVID-19 Town Hall

Sarah Sunshine Manning

This town hall was part of IllumiNative's #WarriorUp campaign which works to shine a light on the impacts and needs resulting from COVID-19 in Indian Country.
NDN Collective
317 Main St #1
Rapid City, SD 57701
P: +1 (605) 791-3999
E: info@ndncollective.org
© 2020 NDN Collective. All rights reserved.