Madonna Thunder Hawk co-founded Women of All Red Nations (WARN) in 1978, organizing a health study of the drinking water on the Pine Ridge reservation. (WARN found the water to be highly radioactive, which led to the establishment of rural water supply system.) Thunder Hawk also helped organize the Black Hills Protection Committee (later the He Sapa Institute) whose goal is to protect the many sacred sites within the region’s treaty lands.
Madonna Thunder Hawk is a member of the Oohenumpa band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Her life’s work has been guided by the goals of winning justice for Native Americans. Madonna is the embodiment of courage. She was an original member of the American Indian Movement, a co-founder of Women of All Red Nations (WARN), and is currently the Lakota People’s Law Project’s principal organizer and Tribal Liaison. Madonna has been featured in several documentary films including the recent PBS series We Shall Remain. She is a grandmother, both literally and figuratively, to a generation of Native American activists. Through her work, Madonna builds alliances and support for Child Welfare among South Dakota’s tribal leaders and communities.
She is a veteran of every modern Native American struggle, including the 1969 to 1971 occupation of Alcatraz to the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee. Hailing from the Feather Necklace Tiospaye, which extends across the Lakota reservations of South Dakota, Thunder Hawk is also a long-time community organizer with a range of experience in American Indian rights protection, cultural preservation, economic development, environmental justice and Lakota social reclamation.
Born and raised on a number of South Dakota reservations, she first became active in the late 1960s as a member and leader in the American Indian Movement (AIM). In addition to involvement in the national and international arena for Native sovereignty, she anchored much of her organizing at the community level. While on the federal relocation program in San Francisco she joined the occupation of Alcatraz and has since been forever consumed by the indigenous struggle for self-determination. Once drawn into activism, Thunder Hawk has been a voice of resistance ever since.
She established the “We Will Remember Survival School” for Indian youth whose parents were facing federal charges or who had been drop-outs or “push-outs” from the educational system. This alternative home/school was part of the National Federation of Native-Controlled Survival Schools that was established during the movement as many alternative schools developed. Thunder Hawk was a co-founder and spokesperson for the Black Hills Alliance, which blocked Union Carbide from mining uranium on sacred Lakota land.
An eloquent voice for Native America, Thunder Hawk has spoken throughout the United States, Central America, Europe, and the Middle East. She was an International Indian Treaty Council delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. She also was a delegate to the U.N. Decade of Women Conference in Mexico City and in 2001 to the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa.