A Place In History

In 2016, Lake Andes resident Faith Spotted Eagle became the first Native American to receive an electoral vote for president.  

LAKE ANDES — During a December 2016 trip across eastern South Dakota, Faith Spotted Eagle saw her Facebook page blowing up with strange messages.

“I was driving my daughter to the airport in Sioux Falls, and I began getting Facebook messages from the L.A. Times and the Seattle Times,” she told the Press & Dakotan last week in a phone interview. “They were asking for my comment about receiving an electoral vote for president.”

Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe (Ihanktonwan Dakota), had gained national attention for her environmental activism. The Lake Andes woman opposed the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Action Pipeline (DAPL), and she spoke at the 2016 protests against the DAPL at Standing Rock in North Dakota.

But Spotted Eagle still remained skeptical about the media phone calls and didn’t know what prompted their inquiries.

“At first, I thought it was ‘fake news,’” she said. “I asked, ‘Is this real?’ But my daughter checked it out (online) while I was driving, and she said, ‘Mom! You’ve received an official electoral vote for president!’”

Spotted Eagle didn’t run for president, but she had become the first Native American to receive an electoral vote. Robert Satiacum, a Democratic elector in Washington State, had cast his vote for her.

As the 2020 U.S. presidential election is held today (Tuesday), she acknowledged her historic moment from four years ago during a recent Facebook post. She noted Satiacum’s bravery in casting his vote and facing a $1,000 fine for not voting for the designated candidate — a fine he has refused to pay to this day.

“I was shocked and honored, that somebody would believe in me to that extent and vote for me as president,” she said, noting her name will forever remain part of the Congressional Record.

However, Satiacum told the Press & Dakotan in a phone interview that he paid a much heavier price than the $1,000 fine and extensive legal action when he voted for someone other than the winning candidate in his state — in this case, Hillary Clinton. He endured hate messages on social media, ostracism from both tribal members and non-Native friends, scorn from Clinton supporters and even fears for his family’s safety from unknown persons.

From the outset of the 2016 Democratic primary, he made it known he was a diehard Bernie Sanders supporter and didn’t back Clinton.

Satiacum served as a Washington State delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. When it became apparent Sanders lost the nomination, Sanders told his delegates they needed to unite behind Clinton for the general election.

However, Satiacum openly showed his continued opposition to her candidacy.

At the same time, Satiacum had become familiar with Spotted Eagle and her work. A member of the Puyallup Tribe, he lived in the Seattle-Tacoma area and had interviewed her for his radio talk show.

“We were seeking out others who were affected and afflicted by oil and fossil fuels, and we were reaching out to those who were making headlines,” he said. “I had Faith on the programs several times. I learned she was going to Standing Rock and she was part of the protest.”

Satiacum had also learned about Spotted Eagle’s work in building coalitions opposing pipelines in Nebraska as well as the Dakotas. “She showed her leadership skills by bringing together farmers, ranchers and people of different colors,” he said.

Spotted Eagle’s father had predicted his daughter’s destiny in leading their people in the fight to save their resources. While she was a young girl, they sat on the Missouri River banks where their White Swan community had been located before it was flooded by Fort Randall and the other dams.

“He told me, ‘Little girl, you need to do something about this,’” she recalled. “I thought, ‘I’m only 12 years old. What am I going to do about it?’”

However, she would eventually lead a grassroots effort to battle for the natural resources. The battle led to her to Standing Rock, where Satiacum heard her speak at the protest and met her for the first time.

When it came time to cast his electoral vote, Satiacum felt a strong spiritual message from a Native American flute player who performed just before the casting of votes.

As he took quill pen in hand, Satiacum prepared to write in Bernie Sanders’ name, but he felt moved to put in Spotted Eagle’s name as a tribute to his Native ancestry and her work in protecting the water and other natural resources.

“Among Indians, we talk about seven generations down the road. My grandchildren will be able to look it up and see how I voted. I wanted to vote for someone who supported the earth,” he said. “Faith Spotted Eagle is a woman who is a real leader and protector. She is able to join and unify people to amplify the message.”

Spotted Eagle said the elector vote has given added recognition to the ongoing work.

“My personal life hasn’t changed,” she said. “One of the reporters from CNN asked, ‘Now that Standing Rock is shut down, what do you do?’

“I just go back and work on my list of 100 things that I still need to do.”

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