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Native women leadership and activism explored through art, film and discussion

Madonna Thunder Hawk
Madonna Thunder Hawk, courtesy Romero Institute/Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP)

"Native Women Leadership and Activism" will be the subject of an evening of art, film and discussion, Thursday at South Dakota Art Museum. The South Dakota State University American Indian Student Center is cohosting this event in conjunction with the opening of the art museum’s newest exhibition featuring works by Ojibwe artist, Rabbett Before Horses Strickland.

The evening will begin at 5-5:45 p.m. with the opening reception for “Rabbett Before Horses Strickland: Image Maker,” followed at 5:45 by a screening of the 2017 film “Mankiller,” about the life of Cherokee Nation chief Wilma Mankiller. From 6:45-7:30 p.m., Madonna Thunder Hawk, a leader in the American Indian Movement and organizer against the Dakota Access pipeline will give an informal fireside chat with opportunity for discussion.

Light hors d'oeuvres and refreshments will be served in the museum gallery during the reception and throughout the evening. This is free and open to the public.

Strickland’s large, colorful, allegorical paintings blend traditional Ojibwe mythology, the artist’s personal experiences and dreams, and Western fine art traditions. His paintings feature strong female figures as well as Nanabozho, the complex culture hero and teacher from Ojibwe mythology.

South Dakota Art Museum Exhibits Curator Jodi Lundgren said women as nurturers, teachers, leaders and carriers of tradition figure prominently into Strickland’s allegories. For both Strickland and Nanabozho, the roles of the mother and grandmother are incredibly important. He honors that in many of his paintings.

“We hope this evening will give visitors the opportunity to look at Native women leadership and activism from multiple perspectives. Rabbett was introduced to activism and became fascinated with Nanabozho mythology after his involvement with the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969-1971. Wilma Mankiller and Madonna Thunder Hawk were involved with that occupation as well. Such amazing work has sprung from the spark of activism that was ignited during that era. When you look at the incredible accomplishments of just these three individuals you realize how important that spark was,” Lundgren said.

"Mankiller" is a documentary directed by Valerie Red-Horse Mohl and executive produced by Gale Anne Hurd about Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected chief of a major American Indian tribe. She served from 1985 to 1995. In 1998, Bill Clinton awarded Mankiller the Medal of Freedom.

Madonna Thunder Hawk is a member of the Oohenumpa band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe with a long history of grassroots activism. She currently serves as a Tribal Liaison for The Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP). Her biography on the LPLP website describes her as a grandmother to a generation of Native American activists. It states: “She is co-founder of Women of All Red Nations (WARN), as well as the Black Hills Alliance—which prevented corporate uranium mining in the Black Hills and proved the high level of radiation in Pine Ridge reservation's water supply. She was a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and occupied Alcatraz and Wounded Knee in protest of the federal government's genocidal policies against Native Americans. She spent months camped in Standing Rock to oppose the Dakota Access pipeline, and to protect clean water and treaty rights. Her work with LPLP builds alliances and support for Indian child welfare among South Dakota's tribal leaders and communities.”

About the South Dakota Art Museum
The South Dakota Art Museum is located at 1036 Medary Avenue in Brookings and is open weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. Admission to the museum is free. Parking is also free in the museum’s reserved lot just west of the museum on Harvey Dunn Street. For more information call (605) 688-5423, email or visit

About the South Dakota State University American Indian Student Center

The South Dakota State University American Indian Student Center provides culturally appropriate retention advising and programming to increase recruitment and retention of American Indian students. It is located in the Lower Level of the Enrollment Service Center on the corner of Medary Avenue and 11th Street in Brookings. For more information call (605) 688-6416, email or visit