Jordan Marie Daniel Is Running for Change

Jordan Daniel wears a grey shirt and looks into the camera.

Some people run for alone time, others for stress relief, some purely for fitness and some simply for fun. Jordan Marie Daniel runs for all the above, as well as to give voice to Indigenous people. Daniel is a fourth-generation runner and Kul Wičasa Lakota, and a citizen of the Kul Wičasa Oyaté, a reservation in central South Dakota. She comes from a family of Brings Three White Horses runners who run for relatives past and present.

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we sat down with Daniel to learn about how she combines running and activism in the climate and Indigenous community spaces.

Experiencing Adversity

The first nine years of Daniel’s life were spent living on or near the reservation.

“When I moved outside of my culture bubble, I gained perspective that not every Indigenous person gets,” says Daniel. “I was exposed to racism and adversity and saw the inequity and inequality in healthcare. I had a cultural identity crisis.”

These early experiences inspired Daniel to pursue a degree in political science with a double minor in public management and Native American studies. During college, she worked with Penobscot Indian Nation near her school. Then, she took her degree and personal experiences to Washington, D.C., where she worked with the National Indian Health Board on healthcare initiatives, interned for Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, and finally landed with the Administration for Native Americans. While on the Hill, Daniel observed a lack of Indigenous presence and overall lack of diversity in the hallways of Congress.

“It was disheartening,” she recalls.

A Call to Action

Jordan Daniel smiles with her arms crossed in front of her.

In August 2016, a friend reached out for Daniels’ help to organize a running event in D.C. for the Standing Rock youth in North Dakota to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“I had just dipped my toes in the community-activism world for climate justice and other advocacy opportunities, but I was uniquely suited to organize this event for my background in advocacy, and as a fourth-generation runner and fellow Native American,” she says.

Daniel went on to organize the Water is Life Rally and dozens more the following year, which is what inspired her to become a water protector and community organizer. In her role, she invited youth to deliver personalized messages to the Obama administration, Army Corp of Engineers leadership, and key personnel on the Hill using letters and signatures to oppose pipeline access. An incident involving young people being attacked by dogs is what inspired Daniel to be an advocate and organizer. She steadfastly inserted herself into activist groups and co-founded multiple coalitions, working her way into a leading role co-organizing the 2017 People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., which drew 200,000 people. These and other rapid-response events were organized with the goal to bring communities together and give voice to marginalized communities.

Daniel has since traded coasts and is now based out of Los Angeles. Today, she is the organizer and founder of Rising Hearts, an advocacy organization that continues to organize marches and rapid response efforts, aims to make land acknowledgments common practice during trail and road races held on native lands, and uses running to advocate for social change personally as well as supporting athlete advocates, specifically for missing and murdered Indigenous Relatives. She is also a founding member of The Outdoorist Oath, an advisory member with Portugal. The Man Foundation, a council member with Runners for Public Lands, and a founding board member of ReNew Earth Running.

Rising Hearts Initiatives

Jordan Daniel holds a fist up in the air as she prepares to run the Boston Marathon with a red hand print on her face.

Daniel uses running for prayer and advocacy to support a variety of initiatives, including the Running with Purpose community run club, a cohort of 33 athletes at the intersection of sport and advocacy. Athletes represent a diverse group of people and communities, including people of color, adaptive athletes and allies who use running as a platform for action. One athlete is Jocelyn Rivas—read about her goal to be the youngest woman and Latina to run 100 marathons here.

Running on Native Lands, a Rising Hearts initiative, seeks to connect race directors with native communities to make land acknowledgments at trail and road races, with the goal of making these acknowledgments common practice and giving back to the communities which the land is borrowed from.

“We try to help bridge those conversations to help Indigenous people see themselves in the running and outdoor communities in a way that is safe and visible for everyone,” says Daniel. “Our first successful initiative was at the Boston Marathon, then the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Our partnership with Gu Energy Labs to send an Indigenous athlete to the race and support the community while keeping people fueled was special.”

Jordan Daniel running the Boston Marathon.

Rising Hearts has worked with race directors on events large and small. The land acknowledgment is a mandatory part of partnering with the organization, and they offer insight into other ways to continue efforts, build relationships and connect with the community to create safe spaces where people can feel represented.

Rising Hearts also seeks to give voice to missing and murdered indigenous people through their No More Stolen Relatives initiative. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs, more than 1.5 million American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports the murder rate for women living on reservations is ten times higher than the national average.. With alarming statistics like these, it is no wonder Daniel uses running to give voice to missing women and relatives.

“I’m a survivor of violence,” states Daniel. “Sadly, I don’t know anyone outside of my group that hasn’t also experienced violence in some way. That’s what brought me into advocacy.”

She uses her platform to give voice to those who no longer can speak for themselves, and notably ran the 2019 Boston Marathon in honor of 26 missing Indigenous girls and women.

“Going into the Boston Marathon I was frustrated and sad, and very aware that indigenous people need allies. My race story went viral, and I was quickly thrown into the spotlight. I learned to adapt and figure out how to use my platform, which grew from 3,000 followers to 50,000 very rapidly. I had to address how I could use this space intentionally to share about my life, but also the things I care about. It was important for me to be transparent and honest while educating this growing audience and provide ways to take action,” recalls Daniel. “That experience restored my faith in humanity.”

Finding Balance

Integrating climate and social justice with running has created some challenges. “I’m trying to balance how I use running for advocacy with my own wellness,” says Daniel. “I’m actively working to establish some boundaries so that I can prioritize my mental health while still supporting my community.”

The outdoors is her favorite place to be, and she loves stroller runs with her son. “Any time he goes outside he is a different human—so calm and curious.”

She has been able to reclaim some freedom with running, and recalls her first postpartum race at the Kodiak Half Marathon on the trails at Big Bear Lake.

“I dedicated that race to Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, a missing Indigenous woman. I wasn’t the fittest I’ve ever been, but it was the most fun I’ve had at a race,” recalls Daniel. “There were no expectations. I knew who I was running for and the space I was creating, and I simply enjoyed the running. The feeling of attacking hills, flying down single track, being in those pine trees and knowing the creation story from the local Indigenous community connected me to the experience and with Unči Maka, Grandmother Earth.”

How to be an Ally to Indigenous Communities

Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic caused some opportunities to pivot, resulting in the chance to build an online community in a meaningful way. Rising Hearts created a virtual, donation-based membership program called Indigenous Wellness Through Movement to decolonize wellness and support Indigenous, 2SLGBTQ+, POC instructors, advocates and allies.

Active and aspiring allies and advocates can head to the Rising Hearts website and subscribe to the newsletter for stories, information and updates on events to participate in and resources to tune into.

An easy, underrated and very important way to activate is to participate in events and virtual runs to support course cases and families fighting for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as rallies for climate justice. The Rising Hearts newsletter promotes its own events, as well as those of like-minded organizations.

Additional resources

Check out these organizations for additional education and advocacy opportunities:

Sovereign Bodies Institute

Urban Indian Health Institute

National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center

Native Lands Specific Claims Group and Community Planning Association

Native Women Running

The Running Diversity Industry Coalition

Runners for Public Lands

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