Michael Giron, “Little Feather,” is a Water Protector from the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation. Raised in Santa Barbara, California, Little Feather traveled to Standing Rock in North Dakota in 2016 to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline as part of the NoDAPL movement.
The cross-country trip was his cousins’ idea. Although he was battling a long-standing drug addiction, Little Feather was moved to join the water protector movement and embark on a journey that thousands of other Native Americans were making at the same time. His experiences at Standing Rock would change his life in ways he could never have imagined. He found sobriety, the love of his life, beautiful friendships and a new family. Then he almost lost it at the hands of the U.S. government.
An indigenous spirit is kindled
Little Feather arrived at Standing Rock with an open heart, eager to serve the community. Every day, he checked on the elders, retrieved water, chopped and delivered wood, cooked, cleaned, gave rides and assisted those in need. Little Feather created special relationships with everyone around him and they came to know his giving heart and spirit. His Standing Rock life gave him a sense of purpose and a renewed connection to his people that his mother had long ago strived to instill in him.
Battling more than a pipeline
As the pipeline construction shifted into high gear, imminently threatening the water supply of Standing Rock’s Dakota and Lakota Nations, the protests took on a new sense of urgency. Little Feather was compelled to join the demonstrations, which resulted in his arrest on October 27, 2016 and charges of Civil Disorder and Use of Fire to Commit a Federal Felony Offense. Other indigenous Water Protectors targeted and charged during the demonstrations include Red Fawn Fallis, Richard Markus “Rattler”, Dion Ortiz and James White “Angry Bird”.
Little Feather’s arrest and that of hundreds of others at the #NoDAPL uprising was just the beginning of what activists call an extremely aggressive campaign by federal law enforcement to quell indigenous and environmental movements in the U.S. Dragged-out criminal cases and hefty prison sentences were other tactics.
The major challenges for Little Feather and his legal team in North Dakota included the prospect of a hostile jury pool, limited discovery, and the likelihood of a harsh sentence. Facing a charge that could bring Little Feather up to 15 years in prison, prosecutors and defense attorneys recommend a sentence of 36 months–a non-cooperating plea agreement that would not require testimony or information about anyone else. He was sentenced May 30, 2018 and transferred to Hazelton, a maximum security federal penitentiary in West Virginia. While there, he would become a ceremonial leader among other Native American inmates and receive hundreds of letters from people all over the world, including countless law students, school children and faith groups.
A new life, a renewed purpose
Little Feather was released from USP Hazelton, WV on July 15, 2019 to a North Dakota halfway house, despite his request to be assigned closer to his family in New Mexico. Today, he lives with his life partner, Leoyla Cowboy Giron in Albuquerque, NM and is working to keep the essential message of Standing Rock and its Water Protectors at the forefront of the environmental movement.