Marilyn Youngbird, 2017
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 in
Joan painted her portrait of her dear friend Marilyn Youngbird, a Native American healer, teacher and lecturer, from a photo she took when she joined Marilyn at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to fight for their rights to their own land by shutting down the Dakota Access Pipeline.
They slept in sleeping bags in a 20-foot-tall teepee and were part of a peaceful protest by members of 200 tribes against the ecologically treacherous project.
“Marilyn was accustomed to the weather in North Dakota, and bundled herself into two sleeping bags,” Joan says. “She was concerned about my comfort. ‘Oh, I’ll be fine,’ I said in my one sleeping bag. I not only froze, but periodically slid off my little mat onto the dirt floor of the teepee. It wasn’t even winter…”
A consultant to the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation, Marilyn was there to build a safe haven home for children on the Fort Berthold Reservation. “The work is challenging and unrewarding, but she isn’t asking for rewards,” Joan says. “You can see the oil wells belching smoke and encroaching on the reservation. Some of them are owned by Native Americans themselves. They are deepening the tragedy of Native American people who live there.”
“While I was there, I saw singers from tribes as far away as New Zealand, Canada and Hawaii take the microphone to perform in their tribal languages. I saw young people ride bareback through the tall grass under hundreds of bright-colored flags, past tents and teepees. At the same time, the faces of the elders reflect the decades of suffering and resignation they have endured. I found it to be very moving. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a movement.”
Marilyn, whose tribal name is “Chief Woman Among Chiefs,” is a member of the Arikara and Hidatsa nations. She’s been one of Joan’s spiritual guides and friends for many years. Through her lectures, seminars and workshops, she’s introduced people from all over the world to Native American philosophy and medicine.
When Joan’s sister, Mimi Fariña, was ill with cancer, Marilyn led healing sweat lodges and was there, supporting Joan and her family, when Mimi died in 2001. Joan has always referred to Marilyn as a sister, and while she was in North Dakota, she was adopted into Marilyn’s tribe in a ceremony at the Arikara Cultural Center. As part of the ritual, she was given an Arikara name that couldn’t be more appropriate: Sacred Voice Eagle Woman.