Beyond the Photo: Helen “Granny” Red Feather has been a Warrior for Decades

Wounded Knee Warrior Helen “Granny” Red Feather at the Straits of Mackinac on Saturday, September 1, 2018. Photograph by Levi Rickert


Published September 2, 2018

MACKINAW CITY, Mich. —  It is said “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It was one of hundreds of photographs I took at the protest against the Enbridge Line 5. I posted several photographs from the event on my Facebook page. The above garnered the most response.

This past Saturday, waliking among hunreds of people, Red Feather held up her sign that read “Water is Sacred” on the banks of the Straits of Mackinac. She had journeyed from Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation to protest the Enbridge Line 5 that Michigan American Indians and thousands of enviromentalists are trying to get closed down. The purpose of the protest was to bring attention to the dangers of Enbridge Line 5’s two 20-inch pipelines. Built in 1953, Line 5 travels beneath the Straits of Mackinac, the body of water that separates Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas and Lake Michigan from Lake Huron. The two pipelines lie between 100 – 270 feet below the water surface and are separated by 1,000 feet.

Her warriorship goes back decades. As a teen, Helen Red Feather joined the American Indian Movement (AIM) and was on the frontlines during the AIM’s takeover of Wounded Knee in 1973. Arrested after Wounded Knee, she and her mother were charged with felonies for their roles in the takeover. The next year, they were acquiteed of the charges.

After the 71-day occupation ended, AIM members were subjected to extreme violence during a time that has been labeled the “reign of terror.” Hundreds of American Indians were beat up; some were murdered. In his autobiography, “Ojibwa Warrior,” the late Dennis Banks, an AIM leader, writes:

“During the same period, Helen Red Feather was attacked by goons. They spayed Mace in her face and brutally kicked her in the side, then she pleaded with them that she was four months pregnant.”

She became a counselor and mentor to American Indian youth, encouraging them to stay sober and get their education.

During the height of Standing Rock, as a Wounded Knee warrior veteran, she became an testimony of activitism against corporate greed.

“I’m a Lakota. I’m a freedom fighter. That’s me. I’ve got history. I come from a warrior family that protect the people…I’m a warrior. I will fight for my grandkids till I leave this world.”

A photograph of Red Feather at Standing Rock was made into a popular poster used to promote Standing Rock.

Helen Red Feather speaks at the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

Red Feather drove to Michigan from Pine Ridge to participate in an action camp and to attend Saturday’s protest. On Friday evening, she was present at a feast put on by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians at its tribal headquarters in Harbor Springs, Michigan.

“It all comes down to greed,” Red Feather said of the big oil companies, such as Enbridge. “I will fight until the day I die to protect our water. Mni Wiconi!”

When I talked to her on Saturday, she seemed reluctant to talk because she was holding up her sign as if she was on a mission. “My name is Helen, but most people call me granny,” Red Feather told me her name. She was quick to point out she was a member of the American Indian Movement, which she said with great pride.

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