This Mom Gave Birth by Herself at Standing Rock as an 'Act of Resistance'

The sun rises over the Oceti Sakowin Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Canon Ball, North Dakota on November 26, 2016
Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images

An expectant mother will spend months preparing for her child's arrival -- and that usually includes making the important decision of where to give birth. For Zint Kala Mahpiya Wi Blackowl (Sky Bird Black Owl), this meant traveling with her family from their home in Oregon to North Dakota to show their solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and #NoDAPL protestors in the most amazing way. Yes, Sky Bird Black Owl is a 35-year-old mom who gave birth at a water protector camp -- apparently the first to ever do so -- as a powerful "act of resistance."


Sky Bird Black Owl welcomed her daughter on October 12 by herself inside her family's tipi along the Cannonball River as her husband and children (ages 3, 6, 8, 11, and 13) slept nearby. Sky Bird Black Owl's baby girl is her sixth child whose name, Mni Wiconi, holds great significance as it means "water is life."

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"I had some of my own fear around having her [Mni Wiconi] here and having her in a place of conflict," Sky Bird Black Owl reveals in Shannon King's documentary, End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock. Although Sky Bird Black Owl gave birth on her own, she was surrounded by the love and support of her sisters -- two of whom are a midwife and doula to indigenous women (they helped also with her prenatal care during her pregnancy) -- who stayed close to her tipi.

"I wouldn't have been able to be here without the support of the women who came with me and who came and joined me," the mom adds. "When I gave birth to her [Mni Wiconi], I could feel them all standing behind me."

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The mom's decision to have a baby without assistance is one that follows Lakota tradition (it's also a custom to bury the baby's placenta in the earth) and was a conscious choice that represents Sky Bird Black Owl's outrage against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the historic mistreatment of Native American women -- including years of sterilization without permission. 

Sky Bird Black Owl tells the Indian Country Today Media Network:

Having babies is my act of resistance; our reproductive rights as Native women have been taken away from us in so many ways. At one time, we were forcibly sterilized; assimilation has come down really hard on us.

This mom's desire to travel hundreds of miles to bring life at a sacred place in such a time of chaos and turmoil speaks volumes. Not only was Sky Bird Black Owl's decision one full of risks, but it represents so much power and what it means to take a stand against injustice of all kind for the sake of our children and future generations.

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As Sky Bird Black Owl says in End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock:

I firmly think that our men need our women to stand up and be strong. They need to be reminded of the world that we live in now and their responsibility to make it safe for us. They need to make it safe for our daughters and for their mothers and for their sisters and for their aunties -- for the women they don't know.

Hearing Sky Bird Black Owl's story, as I try to imagine such a beautiful life event surrounded by protestors -- and police who use water cannons in freezing temps, concussion grenades, and tear gas to combat #NoDAPL demonstrators -- gives me great pause. To think about my birthing experiences in comparison, and the calm I had surround me, only reiterates the strength this mother had.

Though Sky Bird Black Owl admits she hasn't spent much time on the frontlines (the mom wanted her children to experience life in the camp), to be present and an active voice advocating for change in such an unexpected way blows my mind.

I don't know what the future holds for Standing Rock and the surrounding water protector camps near it, but I hope the change, peace, and justice we all pray our children can experience will come very soon.


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