What Does it Mean to Build Indigenous Power?

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
by   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.

January 2023 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.

Doubling Down for LANDBACK: Q & A with Nick Tilsen After 2.5 Year Legal Battle Comes to an End Posted 1 month ago
In this Q & A interview, Nick shares some of his reflections and big picture takeaways from the past two and a half years. Nick faced up to 17 years behind bars after a #LANDBACK protest in the Black Hills on July 3, 2020.
NDN Collective Announces Community Action Fund Grant Partners Posted 2 months ago
“NDN Collective is honored to invest in the self-determination and leadership of these organizations, collectives, organizers, and cultural practitioners. They are on the frontlines defending our communities from resource extraction, combating the polluters fueling climate change, and standing up for the human rights of Indigenous peoples."
NDN Collective Shares Program Intention of Collective Abundance Fund Ahead of Official Launch Posted 2 months ago
“While this financial commitment is unprecedented and significant, funding alone won’t solve the racial equity gap. Movement building must continue. Policy and advocacy work must continue to disrupt, dismantle, and shift the economic systems that don’t work for us. We can all play a part in that.”
All Charges Dismissed Against Nick Tilsen in 2.5 Year Long Case Posted 2 months ago
“My case held a mirror up to the so-called legal system, where prosecutors – fueled by white fragility and fear of Indigenous power – wasted years of state resources to intimidate, criminalize, and violate me. The fact that I’ve gone from facing 17 years in prison to all charges dismissed is not a coincidence or an act of justice – it’s evidence that the charges were bogus from the start."
NDN Collective Announces 2022 Community Self-Determination Grantee Partners Posted 2 months ago
“This cohort of grantee partners represents some of the most impactful work happening across Turtle Island—defending the air, land and water; developing Indigenous economies based on regenerative principles; and revitalizing our languages, cultures and ceremonies in ways that illuminate the path for the next generations.”
NDN Collective & Rewiring America Release IRA Memo for Tribes & Indigenous Communities Posted 2 months ago
Households could save $140,000 on energy bills over 25 years with efficient energy infrastructure – which would both help build Indigenous wealth, and help families divest from the volatile oil and gas markets. 
NDN Collective Statement on COP27 Negotiation Outcomes Posted 2 months ago
"We call on nation states to sever their relationships to the fossil fuels industry, fully commit to phasing out of fossil fuels, and utilize the core tenets of a Just Transition. Anything less is a failure to all of humanity.”
NDN Collective Responds to Mass Shooting of 2SLGBTQIA+ Relatives in Colorado Springs Posted 2 months ago
"As 2 spirit and queer individuals we long for spaces that are safe. We long for spaces that we can show up in and be our unapologetic queer selves without the fear of persecution. What happened to our relatives in Colorado is a violation of that sacred space and only triggers a more profound hyper vigilance of our spaces, our communities and of ourselves."
COP27: NDN Collective's Recap of Week One at the United Nations 27th Annual Conference of the Parties (COP) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt Posted 3 months ago
"Our delegation has been participating in the Indigenous Peoples Caucus and the Local Communities Indigenous Peoples Platform, as well as tracking negotiations, meeting with government officials, and more."
COP27: NDN Collective Meets with White House Climate Advisor Posted 3 months ago
In their discussion with White House Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, NDN Collective, alongside frontline Indigenous and Black organizers touched on issue areas including IRA, mining, oil and gas leases.

United like never before, we rise together—arm in arm—to equip all Indigenous Peoples with the tools needed to become architects of our future. Through a holistic approach to infrastructure, funding, advocacy, movement building, and philanthropy we are fostering a world of justice and equity for all people and the planet.