Charmaine White Face

Oglala Lakota Activist Honored for ‘Sticking Her Neck Out’

David Rooks

In a press release originating from “an island north of Seattle,” The Giraffe Heroes Project, announced Wednesday that Oglala Lakota activist Charmaine White Face, of Rapid City, South Dakota has received their most recent commendation “as a Giraffe Hero, an award given to people around the world who stick their necks out for the common good.”

“White Face was honored for her actions on behalf of her fellow Oglala-Sioux,” the release said, adding that “she has fought against corruption that has left too many Oglala-Sioux in extreme poverty.”

Reached at her home by ICTMN, White Face said she was not aware of even being nominated. “Of course, it’s a great honor to be considered in this way. It is very humbling. I only hope it brings added attention to the fight we’re engaged in.”

In recent years, White Face has [continuously] sounded the alarm on the dangers of ambient radiation from abandoned uranium mines in the area,” according to the commendation.

White Face has long been a spokesperson for and member of Defenders of the Black Hills, an organization dedicated to resisting ongoing environmental degradation of the He Sapa, the sacred Black Hills, through uranium mining and other forms of extraction of minerals they believe are a danger to the area’s water supply and local habitat.

The Giraffe Heroes Project states that “Her efforts have been opposed by many who benefit from the corruption she’s worked to stop; White Face has been repeatedly threatened and the brakes on her car have been cut.”

The Project website spreads these hero stories to inspire more people to become active citizens, thereby fostering a healthy democracy. The Project’s motto is a quote from La Rochefoucauld, “Nothing is so contagious as an example. We never do great good or great evil without bringing about more of the same on the part of others.”

Giraffes tend to be involved in long-term efforts they’ve initiated and their in-the-moment stories of physical heroism are sent to Carnegie Heroes Commission – which specializes in such pieces.

The “sticking their necks out” factor means there’s an ongoing edge to what Giraffes do. People who are fulfilling their job descriptions or people who selflessly volunteer at the local foodbank don’t make it through the Giraffe choosing process—Giraffe Heroes have got to face some level of risk; it doesn’t have to be physical, but it does have to be a risk. People who are just famous, talented or gorgeous don’t make the cut either.

Unlike other awards, the number of Giraffe commendees fluctuates from year to year. “If all the nominees qualify, all are commended; if none do, none are chosen. There are no quotas involved and each nominee is considered in relation to the criteria, not to each other. This is not a competition—there are no bigger or best Giraffes. You just are one or you aren’t.”

A “voluntary panel of friends” that meets roughly three times a year selects the Giraffe Heroes. Currently, Giraffe Heroes estimates there are about 1,400 commendees living “heroically” around the world.

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