Madonna Thunder Hawk

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Madonna Gilbert
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Madonna Gilbert

1940 (age 80–81)[1]
NationalityAmerican Indian
OccupationGrassroots activist
Water Rights activist
Years active1969–present
OrganizationAmerican Indian Movement
Pie Patrol[2]
Women of All Red Nations
Black Hills Alliance[3]
Wounded Knee Legal Defense Offense Committee (WKLDOC)
Known forOccupation of Alcatraz
Wounded Knee incident
We Will Remember Survival School
Lakota Law Project
RelativesRussell Means (first cousin)[4]
WebsiteLakota Law People Project

Madonna Thunder Hawk, born Madonna Gilbert, is a Native American civil rights activist best known as a leader in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and as an organizer against the Dakota Access Pipeline. She co-founded the American Indian organization Women of All Red Nations and serves as an organizer and tribal liaison for the Lakota People's Law Project.[5]

Early life[edit]

Born in 1940 as Madonna Gilbert, Thunder Hawk was born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation. She hails from the Feather Necklace Tiospaye (extended family)[6] and belongs to the Oohenumpa band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.[3] Thunder Hawk was raised in a strict environment by her mother, who had, herself, been raised in the culturally restrictive environment within the boarding schools of the 1920s and 1930s.[1] Thunder Hawk would follow in her mother's footsteps and attend several boarding schools throughout her youth. Thunder Hawk later graduated with her bachelor's degree in human services.[7]


Thunder Hawk was an early proponent of the Red Power Movement. She took part in the 1969-1971 Occupation of Alcatraz,[8] with the goal of persuading the federal government to end its policy of termination and adopt an official policy of Indian self-determination.[9]

In 1970 and 1971, Thunder Hawk was involved in the two occupations of Mount Rushmore, a part of the Black Hills seized by the US government in 1877.[10] The occupation protested continued violations of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.[11]

American Indian Movement[edit]

Thunder Hawk joined the American Indian Movement in its early years and was present at AIM's occupation of the Wounded Knee. She was a member of the Pie Patrol, a group of women active in AIM, which also included Thelma Rios, Theda Nelson Clarke,[12] Lorelei DeCora Means,[8] and Mary Crow Dog (née Moore), wife of civil rights activist Leonard Crow Dog.

Wounded Knee Incident[edit]

Madonna took part in the American Indian Movement occupation of the Wounded Knee. She was a member of the Pie Patrol, a group of women active in AIM, consisting of Madonna Gilbert, Thelma Rios, Theda Nelson Clarke,[12] and Lorelei DeCora Means.[8] Mary Crow Dog (née Moore), wife of civil rights activist Leonard Crow Dog, who was also present during the siege at Wounded Knee, referred to the Pie Patrol as "loud-mouth city women, media conscious and hugging the limelight," who loved the camera and took credit for what the women of AIM were doing behind the scenes. This group of women bore particular resentment against an individual by the name of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash.[13] Anna Mae, a Mi'kmaq woman from Nova Scotia, was having an affair with Dennis Banks, founder of the American Indian Movement while he was still involved in a common-law marriage with Darlene “Kamook” Nichols. The affair did not sit well with the women of different tribal affiliations within the movement, and these women (as well as the Pie Patrol) viewed the relationship as a threat to AIM’s stability.[13]

Various sources have placed Madonna in the lone medical facility operated by AIM during the 20th-century Wounded Knee Siege when Ray Robinson was brought into the facility.[14] One account details how Robinson was shot in the knee, dragged outside, beaten and taken to the Wounded Knee Medical Clinic ran by Madonna Gilbert Thunderhawk and Lorelei DeCora Means, as well as several other volunteer nurses and medics. Ray was then reportedly shoved into a closet, where he died of exsanguination.[15]

Post Wounded Knee Incident[edit]

Thunder Hawk also served as director of the Wounded Knee Legal Defense Offense Committee (WKLDOC) in December 1975.[16]

Along with Lorelei De Cora, she founded and established the 'We Will Remember Survival School,' meant to provide a safe place for American Indian youth whose parents were facing federal charges or who had dropped out of the secondary education system.[3] Specifically, the school was founded for the children of defendants in the Wounded Knee trials which followed the American Indian Movement occupation of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This alternative model was a component of the National Federation of Native-Controlled Survival Schools that was established during the movement.

In 1974, Thunder Hawk and DeCora, along with a handful of other Native American women, founded Women of All Red Nations (WARN). Following the male-dominated activism of the AIM and Red Power movements, WARN organized around women's issues in Native American activism. The group worked to address sterilization abuse, political prisoners, children and family rights, and threats to indigenous land bases.

Thunder Hawk was a co-founder and spokesperson for the Black Hills Alliance. The Black Hills Alliance was responsible for preventing the Union Carbide corporation from mining uranium on sacred Lakota land.[3] Thunder Hawk fought to preserve the land in sacred Black Hills from developers wishing to raze the area, and conducted analyses on the water supplies on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, proving the existence of dangerously high levels of radiation in the water supply. The result of her activism was the implementation of a new water system.[7]

In 2004, Thunder Hawk joined with the Romero Institute to form the Lakota People's Law Project (LPLP) with the goal of encouraging more vigilant federal enforcement and reform of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to enable more Lakota children to continue living with their families or, at the least, on their ancestral homelands on the reservation.[17]

Madonna created Wasagiya Najin or, "Grandmothers' Group" to assist in preventing the unlawful extraction of children from tribal nations.[18]

[19] In 2016, Madonna joined the movement against the Dakota Access pipeline and provided an inspiring presence at a resistance camp in North Dakota.[20] Thunder Hawk is a founder of the Warrior Women Project.[21]


Year Film Role Notes
1992 Incident at Oglala Herself Documentary
1996 Crazy Horse Head Seamstress Costume and Wardrobe Department (1 credit)
2009 William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe Herself Documentary
Year Title Role Notes
2009 The American Experience Herself One Episode: We Shall Remain: Part V - Wounded Knee (PBS Documentary)
2018 Warrior Women Herself History and stories of Madonna Thunder Hawk from the 1970's to today (Documentary) [22]


Madonna has also been mentioned in numerous publications, including Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, authored by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, ETHNOGRAPHIES OF CONSERVATION: Environmentalism and the Distribution of Privilege, edited by David G. Anderson and Eeva Berglund, We Worry about Survival: American Indian Women, Sovereignty, and the Right to Bear and Raise Children in the 1970s, authored by Meg Devlin O'Sullivan, Timelines of American Women's History, authored by Sue Heinemann and American Nations: Encounters in Indian Country, 1850 to the Present, edited by Frederick Hoxie, Peter Mancall and James Merrell.


  1. ^ a b Jessepe, Lorraine (14 October 2010). "Red Power activist Madonna Thunder Hawk going strong at 70". Vermonters Concerned on Native American Affairs. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  2. ^ "Wounded Knee". Indian Country News. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d Waterman Wittstock, Laura (31 October 2012). "Elizabeth Castle and Madonna Thunder Hawk". KFAI. Archived from the original on 26 October 2014. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  4. ^ "Lakota People's Law Project's Madonna Thunder Hawk and Daniel Sheehan Remember Russell Means". PRWeb. 29 October 2012. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  5. ^ "Our Team". Lakota Law Project. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  6. ^ "Madonna Thunder Hawk to Present Cash Lecture at The U". 12 October 2007. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  7. ^ a b Noriyuki, Duane (14 October 1998). "The Women of Wounded Knee". DickShovel. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  8. ^ a b c "An Evening with Madonna Thunderhawk A Fundraising Event for the Lakota People's Law Project". Brecht Forum. 21 April 2007. Archived from the original on 26 October 2014. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  9. ^ "Alcatraz is Not an Island". Indian Activism. 21 April 2007. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Forty-Fourth Congress Session II Ch. 69, 72 1877" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-10-05. Retrieved 2017-12-27.
  11. ^ Rao, Sameer (August 2017). "47 Years Ago: Native Activists Occupied Mount Rushmore to Protest Treaty Violations".
  12. ^ a b O'Driscoll, Patrick (January 1997). "Annie Mae Pictou Aquash Time Line An Investigation by News From Indian Country". Dick Shovel. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  13. ^ a b Konigsberg, Eric (25 April 2014). "Who Killed Anna Mae?". NYTimes. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  14. ^ "Madonna Gilbert Thunder Hawk". Oneida Eye. Archived from the original on 29 September 2014. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  15. ^ Lammers, Dirk. "American Indian Movement & Wounded Knee". First Thoughts. Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  16. ^ Castle, Elizabeth. ""The Original Gangster”: The Life and Times of Red Power Activist Madonna Thunder Hawk." In The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism, edited by Berger, Dan, 267-84. New Brunswick, New Jersey; London: Rutgers University Press, 2010.
  17. ^ Morris, Dottie (21 April 2011). "Madonna Thunder Hawk and JJ Kent on Campus April 26". Keene State University. Archived from the original on 26 October 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  18. ^ Castle, Dr. Elizabeth, A. "Warrior Women Project". Warrior Women Project. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  19. ^ Castle, Elizabeth (October 2012). "Elizabeth Castle and Madonna Thunder Hawk". Archived from the original on 2014-10-26. Retrieved 2014-10-26.
  20. ^ Reuters (November 2016). "Madonna Thunder Hawk poses for a photograph while camping at a protest of the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota".
  21. ^ Castle, Dr. Elizabeth A. (2018). "Warrior Women Project". Warrior Women Project. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  22. ^ "About". Warrior Women. Retrieved 2018-10-26.

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