Writing Activism: A Conversation With Danielle Miller

By: Talon Bazille Ducheneaux

With the rise in social media, activism has found its way to being more easily read and heard worldwide. In this regard, Indigenous-based activism and cross-cultural representation has made its way to this higher form of representation, one of the translating mediums being in the realm of writing.

One of the people making serious headway through this medium is Danielle Miller, a 26 year old activist and writer from the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. A powerful and eloquent writer, Miller is an alum of the University of North Dakota where she double majored in Communications and Indian Studies. Over the years, she has been the treasurer of the Indian Studies Association at UND, an editor for Last Real Indians, and a correspondent at Indian Country Today Media Network. Interested in talking more about her work, process, and origins, we had the following conversation with her:

What made you interested in being a writer?

I never really planned on being a writer. My journey began when I was attending the University of North Dakota. I was participating in a collective movement with my peers to draw attention to the Fighting Sioux logo as well as other acts of insensitivity, or racism, on campus. I had been teaching myself about issues related to social justice for a while before that, but it was after those on the ground experiences that I gained the motivation to actually apply the frameworks of social justice discourse as well as discussions and concepts I had in Indian Studies courses, to actually articulate what I was experiencing. That was when I gained the courage to address other issues like mascotry and culture appropriation in dominant culture. As a Native growing up in Maryland it was a daily reality but I never felt confident or had access to the spaces to actually develop my thoughts and address how I felt.

What made that medium of expression special to you?

There’s just something organic about how I can express myself within writing that I cannot do in spaces offline. Whenever I’m live tweeting or blogging an issue, my responses branch out like a thought map, in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily do so gracefully within daily conversation. I think that comfort in the writing medium also has a lot to do with the limited representation and spaces for Indigenous peoples to tell their stories, in general. When writing there is space to share without being simultaneously policed.

There’s also the unique cultural paradigms that come with the writing medium. Indigenous peoples have always practiced oral traditions, and collective means of passing things down “through the grapevine” or “the moccasin telegraph”. With so many new platforms in the age of social media, writing has evolved to allow that new collective dynamic of expression. That really speaks to Native identity, embracing mediums of expression where you can address a collective and build relationships.

How important is it for you to maintain legitimacy and bring forth the true (and sometimes harsh) realities at play?

Legitimacy is so essential to ensuring accurate representations of Indigenous peoples. It’s about collective thinking. Allowing everyone to share their own unique stories. Authenticity is one of those harsh issues that comes up within various context of Native identity. As someone who may be seen as a representative of their people, their legitimacy can be considered reflexive of the integrity of their writing praxis, or intent. It also points back to the process of building trust, with your audience and with new relationships you form through writing.

Ultimately I would say legitimacy and addressing those harsh issues are essential to the larger picture; whether you’re simply telling your story or aiming to decolonize and dismantle systems of oppression. Without addressing those real harsh realities how can we dismantle those systems? Native writers can bridge theory and outsiders’ perceptions to first-hand experience in order to bring understanding and unification. I think that’s what makes Native voices through any medium, so revolutionary. That’s what I attempt to do within my writing praxis by being unapologetically honest about my own experiences, to embrace that authenticity.

Do you ever get mixed up or caught up in the intricacies and complexities of writing about/for Indigineity?

Writing about Indigineity is definitely complex. Not only are we dealing with the internal conflicts of self-realization, but also with external, societal influences. On one hand we are striving for unification of Indigenous peoples but on the other we are trying to embrace the unique experiences of over 566 Tribes to prevent erasure through pan-Indianism and monolithic stereotypes. Dominant culture is constantly policing Indigenous identity and discourse. So it becomes the burden of Indigenous peoples to counter those societal misconceptions while also asserting the nuances of our own individual experiences. With the large range of issues that need to be addressed it can be difficult to find that balance and express without being limited to particular responses.

Does it ever get to be a little too much? How do you go about staying positive in these battles?

It can be exhausting, with hypervisibility comes many expectations and invasion of boundaries. Sometimes we need that reminder that it’s okay to prioritize our safety and wellbeing. I stay positive by keeping a support network of friends that I can talk about difficult issues and trauma with no judgement. I also stay positive by embracing inspiration and curiosity. You never know where you can find inspiration and I have found it in the most unexpected places. I have found new perspectives from the books I read, shows I watch or even just reflecting while out jogging. Sometimes u need a break until you gain that spark of inspiration to keep that inner fire going.

What are or who are some of the inspirations and influences you’ve had over the years in your writing?

There’s so many. My primary influences as role models have been correspondents and contributors to the various Native media out there. LastRealIndians, Indian Country Today, Native Appropriations. I’m also so inspired by the conversations going on in Native podcast or radio shows like Native Trailblazers and Native America Calling. I have learned so much about intersectionality and the complexities of structural oppression and racism from Gradient Lair. I could name countless Indigenous scholars, authors and story tellers. To be honest I feel like it’s so difficult to prioritize a few because there’s so much I have learned from so many individuals! Then of course I am always inspired by relatives, friends and peers in my own life. All of these people I can see playing their role as warriors to our people. It’s not always about credentials, sometimes inspiration really comes out of those personal relationships that foster raw emotions and positive growth.

For someone getting into writing and fighting some of these battles, what advice would you give?

I guess my best advice would be to follow your heart. When you know you are doing things in a good way then you won’t lose your way. That will be the guiding light for many dilemmas you may face.

To keep up with her work, you can check out Danielle’s twitter, tumblr page (with more info on her involvement in activism), and writing done with Last Real Indians.