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Indigenous American Activist, Madonna-Thunder Hawk

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Born in1940 as Madonna Philips, Thunder Hawk was born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation. She hails from the Feather Necklace Tiospaye (extended family) & belongs to the Ochenumpa band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Thunder Hawk was raised in a strictest environment in their boarding Schools of the 1920s & 1930s. Thunder Hawk would follow in her mother’s footsteps and attend several boarding schools throughout her youth. Thunder Hawk later graduated with her graduate’s degree in human sciences.

Thunder Hawk was an early proponent of the Red Power Movement. She took part in the 1969-71 Occupation of Alcatraz with the goal of official policy of Indian self- determination. In 1970-71 Thunder Hawk was involved with the occupation of Mount Rushmore, part of the Black Hills seized by the U S Government in 1877. The occupation protests confirmed violation of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Madonna joined the AIM (American Indian Movement) in the early years and was present at the AIM’s occupation of the Wounded Knee. She was a member of the Pie Patrol, a group of women active in AIM, consisting of Madonna Gilbert, Thelma Rios, Theda Nelson Clarke & Lorelei De Cora Means & Mary Crow Dog (wife of civil rights activist Leonardo Crow Dog, who was also present during the siege of WK). The Pie Patrol Was referred to as “loud – with cityness, media conscious and hogging the limelight” as it loved the camera and took credit for what the women of AIM were doing behind the scenes. This group of women bore pathetic restraint against an individual by the name of Anna Mae Pictor Aquash. Anna Mae, a MK mag woman from Nova Scotia, was having an affair with Dennis Baker, founder of the AIM while he was fully involved in a common – law marriage with Darlene ‘Kamook’ Nichols. The affair did not sit well with the women of different tribal affiliations within the movement.

Madonna also served as a director of the WK legal defense offence committee (WKLDOC) in December 1975. Along with Lorelei DeCora she founded We Will Remember Survival School (WWRSS) meant to provide a safe place for American Indian Youth whose parents were facing federal charges or who had dropped out of the secondary education system. Specifically, the School was formed for the children of the defendants in the WK trials which followed the AIM occupation of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The alternative model was a component of the National Federation of Native-Controlled Survival Schools that were established during the Movement as a native alternative to the Government run education system.

In 1974 Madonna and De Cora, along with a handful of other Native American associations, founded Women of All Red Nations (WARN). Following the male-dominated activism of the AIM & Red Power Movement, WARN organized around Women’s issues in Native American activism. The group worked to address rising above political affiliations, the children & family rights, and meant to indigenous land-based problems.


Madonna also was a cofounder & a spokesperson of the Black Hills Alliance. The BHA was responsible for preventing Union Carbide Corporation for uranium activity on sacred Lakota Land. She fought to preserve the land in Sacred Black Hills from the developers wishing for the area and conducted analysis on the water supplies on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, proving the existence of dangerously high levels of radiation in the water supply. The result of her activism was the implementation of a new water system.

In 2004, Madonna joined with Romano Institute to form the Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP) with the goal of encouraging more vigilant enforcement & reform of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to enable more Lakota children to continue living with their families or at least on their ancestral homelands in the Reservation.

Madonna created Wasagiya Navin or “Grandmother’ group” to assist in preventing the unlawful extraction of children from tribal nations. In 2016 Madonna joined the movement against the Dacota Access Pipeline and provided an inspiring presence at a resistance camp in North Dacota. She is also a founder of the Warrior Women Project (WWP).

Source-Lakota People’s Law Project, Facebook

Madonna has acted in many films viz Incident at Oglala, Crazy House, The American Experience & Warrior Women. She has been mentioned in numerous books including The Blood on the Border, A Memoir of the Central War authored by Rosanne Dunbar Ortiz. Thus, a fearless fighter for indigenous people of America, Madonna is called Thunder Hawk. She deserves a Right Livelihood Prize, if not a Nobel Prize. At an advanced age of 82, her never say die attitude has inspired thousands of activists throughout the world to enrich the lives of downtrodden so that the haves share the riches with have nots.’

Govind Tekale

A retired teacher at Sainik School Kazhakootam, besides his lifelong reading passion he is now an avid writer.

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