As Us

A Space for Women of the World

Lauren Chief Elk – Save Wiyabi, Co-Founder

Interview

Editor-in-Chief Tanaya Winder interviews Save Wiyabi, Co-Founder Lauren Chief Elk

Tell us about some of the work you’re involved in. What are some of the organizations you work for and collaborate with? 

We are coming up on our year anniversary in March, and we can’t believe all of the things that we’ve accomplished and been a part of since then. Our initial goal was to become an awareness campaign for violence against Native American women, and help push for the passing of VAWA with the tribal provisions. We’ve created different image series’ with statistics, personal statements, poetry, quotes of powerful Native women, and even a template to fill out online for an easy send to your Senators and Representatives. We have also been honored to collaborate with Native Youth Leadership Alliance, 7th Generation, One Billion Rising, Operation Thunderbird…. We’ve also asked to be contributors to Women Under Siege, U.K. Guardian, and Al Jazeera. We also created “All Nations Rising” which highlights all the One Billion Rising events in Indian Country happening on VDay. We’ve even been given personal praise from Eve Ensler, which is pretty surreal! We’ve been extremely privileged to be interviewed by multiple media outlets, and invited to speak at different women’s gatherings and events.

What/who inspired you to begin this kind of work?

Both Jessa Rae and I have been friends since we were kids. We’re both Assiniboine from Montana and have kept in touch over the years as we’ve become young adults. We’re both civic minded people and care deeply about our people and culture. Sometime around August 2011 we decided we needed to start putting together some type of advocacy campaign for Native women, specifically centered around the violence that dominates our communities. We combined the work/organizing that we were already doing in our personal lives and came up with what we have now. I think we inspired each other to really put this out there, but what inspired us to get here was the stories of our ancestors and the current struggles of our sisters, grandmas, cousins, parents, and friends.

What motivates you to keep doing this kind of work?

What motivates me is the progress I see happening in Indian Country. We’ve done some on the ground community organizing for VAWA, and it was incredibly exciting and moving to see people who had never protested before, and never shared their personal stories, come out and fight for their rights. Since Jessa Rae and I are both from Montana a lot of our direct action took place there. We are proud to say today on V-Day, a jingle dress dancer from every reservation in Montana traveled to the state capital in Helena to do a healing dance for all survivors of sexual and relationship abuse. Another surreal moment that I can’t believe that we were part of creating.

What have been some challenges you’ve encountered along your path?

As much progress that we see, we also see a lot of push back from members from our own communities. When it comes to the numbers and data more Native people than non have challenged the statistics and claimed that we’re exaggerating the truth. I think what’s happening right now is that we’re finally having a really hard conversation as a people, that is long overdue, and for some it is just still too difficult to face.

Do you find people are generally supportive? Is it easy to get other motivated to join your cause? 

People are very supportive, it’s quite amazing. When we first started, one of my initial thoughts was, “Ok, how do we go about handling the racism, sexism, and the general hate that’s about to be thrown our way. Especially on the Facebook and Twitter pages.” But we’ve not only had a huge outpouring of support from Indian Country, we receive praise from all over the world. From Australia, to France, and Singapore; It’s quite fascinating and humbling.

Do you have any advice for people out there who are passionate about causes or movements? How should they get involved? What have you learned throughout your own experiences organizing that you’d like pass on?

I would say, find something you love, that you are head over heels passionate about. Find something that makes you nervous. Wake up in the morning feeling anxious to immediately get started, and go to bed feeling like you can’t wait to keep going the next day. Get creative with how you want to organize. Social media is a beautiful platform to bring awareness to just about anything you want. Never be afraid to ask questions or to reach out to others, because you will find allies in the most random and important places.

*     *     *
lce copyLauren Chief Elk is Assiniboine and Blackfeet from Fort Belknap, Montana, raised in San Francisco, California. Lauren is a community activist and political organizer. She has worked at San Francisco City Hall, planned SlutWalk and AIDS Walk, and is a legal assistant. Lauren is the co-founder of Save Wiyabi Project and the Media Coordinator of Operation Thunderbird.

 

 

One comment on “Lauren Chief Elk – Save Wiyabi, Co-Founder

  1. Pingback: With A White Gaze Upon Us | walkerwrackspurt

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