Mni Wiconi/Water Is Life

Honoring the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and Everywhere in the Ongoing Struggle for Indigenous Sovereignty

John Willis

A timely and comprehensive look at the protests at Standing Rock!
Date Published :
November 2019
Publisher :
George F Thompson Publishing
Contributor(s) :
Terry Tempest Williams, Shaunna Oteka-McCovey
Illustration :
173 illustrations, including 124 color photographs by the author
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding : Hardback
ISBN : 9781938086663
Pages : 244
Dimensions : 11 X 10 inches
Stock Status : In stock


Winner of the 2019 Foreword INDIES "Book of the Year" AwardA timely and comprehensive look at the protests at Standing Rock.

Winner of the 2019 Foreword INDIES "Book of the Year" Award

Viewing Mni Wiconi (Sacred Water of Life) and the No Dakota Access Movement as an isolated happening without acknowledging historical, cultural, and systematic circumstances leading up to it makes no sense. We cannot erase this past nor change it. In order to move forward in a better way, however, we must acknowledge the truthful foundation and recurring practices complicating what to some feel like isolated incidences. The pervasive and growing presence of extreme economic inequality in America is a worsening condition. Few situations reveal this inequality more than the conditions that Native Americans live under within their own homeland.

This book raises awareness of Water Protectors for those who were not at Standing Rock and honoring those who were, through experiences at the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the indigenous-led resistance movement by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Energy Transfer Partners project to build the Dakota Access Pipeline on sacred land. The goal is to acknowledge and better understand the dedication of the Water Protectors, as they chose to be called, standing up for the health of Mni Wiconi and so many other related causes for the seven generations representing the past, present, and future health of all.

People throughout the world, including members from between 240–300 indigenous tribes, were attracted to the cause and came to Standing Rock in full support of the protests. Even American military veterans, distressed by what they saw, came by the thousands determined to stand between the Water Protectors and police in defense of the rights for non-violent expression of resistance.

The book’s powerful photographs by John Willis are complimented by many Lakota voices and those of other allies through interviews, poetry, Lakota artwork, music through a downloadable CD, and historical ephemera. And essays by Terry Tempest Williams and Shaunna Oteka-McCovey provide new insights into age-old problems facing native people.

About The Author

John Willis is Professor of Photography at Marlboro College and a co-founder of the In-Sight Photography Project ( and Exposures Cross Cultural Youth Photography Program ( He was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fel-lowship in Photography after Views from the Reservation was first published in 2010. His photographs are in more than sixty collections, including the Amon Carter Museum, Center for Creative Photography, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, J. Paul Getty Museum, Heard Museum, High Museum of Art, Library of Congress, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, National Gallery of Art, National Museum of the American Indian, Nelson-Adkins Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Muse-um of Photography, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Yale University Gallery of Art. His other books are Recycled Realities, a collaborative effort with photographer Tom Young (Center for American Places, 2005) and Views from the Reservation: A New Edition (George F. Thompson Publishing, 2019). His Website is

Terry Tempest Williams is an environmental activist and the author of fifteen books, including Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Pantheon Books, 1991), Finding Beauty in a Broken World (Pantheon Books, 2008), and The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015).

Shaunna Oteka-McCovey, a member of the Yurok Tribe, is an environmental lawyer, writer, and poet, and the author of The Smokehouse Boys (Heyday Books, 2005).


“In Mni Wiconi, John Willis and his contributors bear witness to the sacrifice and spiritual dedication of thousands of people who supported the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s resistance to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on sacred grounds. Their pictures and words allow those of us who were not present to appreciate the perseverance of people committed to protecting the safety and sovereignty of a local community against corporate power. They honor and preserve the prophetic power of the community that came together at Standing Rock and assure that the community’s message will be heard for years to come."

- George Miles, Curator, Beinceke Rare Book Library Collection of Western Americana, Yale University

“Lest we Forget, John Willis has created an extraordinary document on Standing Rock, where the Water Protectors initiated a movement that offers a fresh indigenous model for future protests. This is an important book, a striking compendium of photographs, art, and deeply moving statements by native activists and allies that reveals the daily workings of the camps and offers spiritual and political incentives to continue the struggle. The images and texts convey the inspirational immediacy of participants' experiences, resurrecting the energy that will continue to spark resistance. Standing Rock was not a failure, as some would have it, but a beginning.”

- Lucy R. Lippard, author of Partial Recall: Photographs of Native North Americans

“John Willis’s powerful and empathetic photographs from Standing Rock are an essential and unforgettable document that let us all be witness to the injustice perpetrated on indigenous Americans who for countless generations have been the guardians and protectors of their sacred lands and waters.”

- Kevin Bubriski, documentary photographer and author of Portrait of Nepal and Power Places of Kathmandu: Hindu and Buddhist Holy Sites in the Sacred Valley of Nepal

“it has impressed me as a very important and timely book, and also one which is to be lauded for its inclusion of many voices”

- Photomonitor

"This book combines those photographs with reflections and artwork by Lakota people, essays by Terry Tempest Williams and Shaunna Oteka-McCovey, and Willis’s own brief reflections. What emerges is a deep sense of the spiritual and cultural strength the Lakota people brought to the struggle."

- Christian Century

"Mni Wiconi is a book that will stand as one of the major sources of information about the massive gathering of indigenous nations and allies that captured the world's attention and continues to resonate throughout the sovereignty and environmental movements."

- Indianz

“This inspirational book shows how powerful non-violent resistance can be and champions solidarity as a path forward to a sustainable future. A layered assemblage of contemporary and historic photos, stories, poems, quotes, and text that took Willis two years to compile, the book is both highly educational and humanizes the struggle in a poignant and powerful way.”

- Lens Scratch

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