When Brenda White Bull, Marine, 1989 – 2009, Lisa Jendry, Army, 1998 – 2006, and Kella With Horn, Army, 1986 – 1988, founded the Lakota Women Warriors, they had multiple goals in mind. Seeking to care for the elderly, inspire the youth, and empower young women were near the top of the list, but according to Lisa Jendry, “The most important thing is to better understand what women have gone through in the military, and the pride we take. Elders have come up to me and say they are so proud, and that Native women veterans aren’t recognized enough. Recognition is very healing and we dance for all women warriors.”
After almost two years of discussions, the Lakota Women Warriors, who hail from Cheyenne River (With Horn), Standing Rock (White Bull), Pine Ridge (Jendry, Oglala), made their debut at the 2014 Black Hills Pow Wow. “The Black Hills are sacred to all Lakota people, and is home for all of us,” Brenda said.
Seeking a common vision, the group sees the color guard as a continuation of their oath of enlistment. “We want to visit the elderly, the homeless, and we want to be mentors to our youth and children. We want to serve our communities and all of our veterans, men and women,” White Bull said.
Performing these services as warriors is based in the tradition of being a Lakota woman. White Bull’s great-great grandmother Mary Crawler, also known as Moving Road Woman, fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Recalling her story, White Bull said, “She was back at camp when she found out her brother was killed. There was no doubt in her mind but to get back out there and fight in his honor, to literally get the horses reins and ride out there and fight.”
“The Lakota took care of their own, and we want to continue that tradition. We want to inspire the youth to be wherever assistance is needed,” White Bull said.
Their Lakota traditions even figures in the outfits they wear as a color guard. At the Black Hills Pow Wow, the women wore their Class A military dress jackets with their regalia skirts. They were surprised at how many compliments they received. “The reaction was amazing. It had an effect on people. They are so used to seeing what is on television, the usual GI Jane,” Lisa said.
White Bull said the group is also creating a jingle dress in a new way by using dog tags instead of the usual cones. “This dress is in honor of our brothers and sisters, past and present, who have served and are still serving. We want to bring honor to them. If a family wants to provide us with information, we will put it on a dog tag and add it to the dress,” she said.
An estimated 200 dog tags will be sewn onto each dress, and more dresses will be made as names are received. “They don’t necessarily have to be Lakota. All veterans, all eras, everybody is welcome,” Brenda said.
Hoping that their efforts will encourage the youth to join the army, With Horn said that being in the army changed her life in so many ways. “It takes a certain strength that you have to pull out from inside of you. It was first time I was on a plane, an escalator, in other areas of the country. It showed me that I can do anything I put my mind to. The military makes you who you are, gives you a lot of order and structure.”
“When I put my uniform on, it is such a good feeling,” Lisa Jendry said proudly. “There is power in it. It makes me feel close to that camaraderie, that family again. It is such a beautiful feeling, whether you served 2 years or 30 years, we are there representing our family, our branches of service, and being a warrior.”