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Lakota activist Debra White Plume

Debra White Plume (1954–2020), Lakota activist at Wounded Knee and Standing Rock

by Linnea Crowther

Debra White Plume was a Lakota activist who was one of the leaders of the protests at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Advocating for traditions

White Plume was a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, and her home at the Pine Ridge reservation was where Native American activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1973 and demanded that the U.S. government honor its treaties with their tribes. White Plume was one of the first to join the Wounded Knee movement, beginning her career as an activist who fought to protect the Oglala Lakota’s traditional way of life and lands. In 1999, she cofounded Owe Aku (“Bring Back the Way”), which works to protect treaty rights. Among White Plume’s main concerns for her people was the safety of the water supply, which became threatened by projects including the Keystone XL Pipeline and DAPL. In 2016, she helped organize protests against the pipelines and establish camps for the protestors at Standing Rock.

Notable quote

“[F]irst and foremost, I’m just a regular human being. I’m a mother and a grandmother, a great-grandmother. I’m Lakota. I’m a woman. And water is the domain of the women in our nation. And so, it’s our privilege and our obligation to protect water. So, you know, if somebody wants to label me, I guess it would be water protector.” —from a 2016 interview with Democracy Now!


Tributes to Debra White Plume

Full obituary: The New York Times

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