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2018-01-11 / Front Page

Lakota Woman On Nobel Foundation Indigenous Rights Panel


At the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Oslo, Norway (from left) HolyElk Lafferty, Rigoberta Menchu’ – 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Mayan K’iche activist, Grand Chief Edward John of the Tl’azt’en Nation from Canada and President of the Sami Parliament in Norway Aili Keskitalo. Photo by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff Oslo, Norway – It’s 4,000 miles from Cannonball, N.D. to the Norwegian Nobel Institute headquarters. But the distance isn’t large enough to separate members of Indigenous nations from around the world who share a common bond in trying to preserve their traditional cultures amid the continual encroachment of ever-expanding dominant societies.

And it was this commonality that convinced HolyElk Lafferty to travel from her home in Minnesota to take part in the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Forum this past December.

Entitled “Across Dividing Lines”, the international gathering coincided with the 25th anniversary of Rigoberta Menchu` receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to promote social justice and ethno- cultural reconciliation in Guatemala.

Lakota activist and water protector HolyElk Lafferty (right) was invited to attend the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Oslo, Norway. Photo Angela Bibens The goal of the Forum was to focus on two recent examples of Indigenous peoples involved in conflicts over cultural and environmental resources. Speakers discussed and compared the protest at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) from April 2016 to February 2017 – a situation the Norwegian Nobel Institute noted “led to warzone like conditions within the United States”, with a similar situation between the Sami Nation of the Arctic and the Norwegian state over protecting the reindeer and their traditional way life from copper mining.

“The idea was to talk about how we can cross the divide and about our experience at Standing Rock,” explained Lafferty. “They wanted us to focus on hope, where do we find the hope in this situation and how do we cross that divide? In our case it would be the divide between us and the government or us and the oil industry.”

Lafferty was pleased to have the opportunity to bring the DAPL issue to the forefront on a world stage and hoped to be a voice not only for the Lakota people, but all those who were and are a part of the “Water Is Life” movement.

“There are many ways we can cross the divide,” she observed. “But before we can even begin that work, the American government needs to acknowledge us as the sovereign, intelligent and capable people we are. We deserve to be taken seriously when we do not give consent to the violation of our lands and when we demand that agreements made in the treaties be honored.”

HolyElk Lafferty took part in the Dakota Access Pipeline protest and still has charges pending against her in Morton County, N.D. after being arrested while in prayer.

She noted that the fight begun at Cannonball continues to this day.

“My hope in going there was to relay where we’re at,” advised Lafferty. “And despite all of the glorification of all of the hardships that we experienced there…which is important…we need to let people know the reality of what we went through, what we experienced. All of the human and civil rights violations. All of the injuries and the harm…the mental, emotional, spiritual things that happened that created this huge trauma that we all carry. We need people to know about that.”

Tha Lakota activist also feels It’s important to let the world know that the water protectors of all nations have not given up.

“Hundreds of thousands of people globally are now carrying this courage and this inspiration,” Lafferty observed. “And they’re back in their own communities and they know that all they have to do is get up and do something. Anything… is going to bring hope and bring goodness and bring healing for their people. Each of us has this belief now in ourselves. And it’s something that, for generations, we’ve forgotten. We’ve had it brainwashed out of us by the system that we live in… that we are not powerful individuals. We have to just resign ourselves to the way that this country operates.”

But all that’s changed, added Lafferty, as a result of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest and the Water Is Life movement.

Besides being given the opportunity to attend the

2017 Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies with her 11- year old daughter Shayla

Tilsen, Lafferty was invited to lunch with Nobel laureate

Rigoberta Menchu`. It was an experience she described as “amazing.”

“I was able to sit right next to her,” Lafferty recalled. “And she was just passing on these pearls of wisdom. It was really mindblowing.”

Menchu` advised Lafferty that as important as it is to have a global presence, it’s critical to do the work in your community, and healing your people.”

The only sour note to what was otherwise a wonderful and rewarding experience, according to Lafferty, was the attempt by a secondary contractor with the Norwegian Nobel Institute to broker a solution to the Dakota Access Pipeline issue by trying to set up a meeting between other Native Americans present at the Forum and the chairman of the Morton County Commission.

Lafferty’s associates were willing to discuss the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, but requested that the individual from Morton County not be present during that meeting – and he was not.

It’s hoped by Lafferty that the Norwegian Nobel Institute will wait to receive approval from her or whomever is in attendance on behalf of the Lakota people at any future forums before scheduling such a meeting.

Notwithstanding, added HolyElk Lafferty, the opportunity to connect with Indigenous people from around the world who are in the same struggles as Lakota people are here in America was significant, since she believes that the shift which has to take place now in order to create change must be on a global scale.

Standing Rock Sioux tribal member Tim Mentz and Santee Dakota attorney Angela Bibens also attended the forum.

Jim Kent can be reached at

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