LAKE ANDES - A South Dakotan as president? Maybe not. But one South Dakotan earned a vote from the Electoral College on Monday.
Lake Andes resident Faith Spotted Eagle, 68, entered Monday as a nationally recognized opponent of major oil pipeline projects, a longtime grief counselor for the nation’s veterans and a lifelong political activist. She capped off the day as a proud winner of one of the nation’s 538 electoral votes to become president of the United States.
“I think I’m totally shocked,” Spotted Eagle told The Daily Republic on Tuesday. “I wasn’t certainly expecting anything like that.”
Spotted Eagle, who entered the national political spotlight during the protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s proposed path under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, received the vote from Washington state Democratic elector Robert Satiacum. According to The Seattle Times, Satiacum called Spotted Eagle “a real leader.”
Spotted Eagle recently returned to Lake Andes to retire following years of working throughout the country to help military service veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, but she said she’s been as busy as ever during her retirement years. And amid an election year marked by division and tumult, the enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe suspects she earned the honor bestowed by Satiacum for the ubiquitous appeal of her ideas in today’s political landscape.
“I think it’s the time that we live in,” Spotted Eagle said. “I think that I just happen to be a door to concerns that are relevant to everybody, not just Native people.”
While Spotted Eagle has been a noteworthy player on the environmental activism scene recently, she said her interest in public causes dates back to her birth.
“Probably since I was born, since my first home was taken by the Army Corps of Engineers when they flooded White Swan community when I was born,” Spotted Eagle said. “And so I’m 68 years of age, so I’ve done this for 68 years.”
And, Spotted Eagle said, she even served as an intern to one of South Dakota’s most prominent politicians in the state’s short history, U.S. Sen. George McGovern. With her one electoral vote, Spotted Eagle earned just 16 fewer votes than the famed senator and 1972 presidential candidate. Like McGovern, however, she did not receive a vote from any of South Dakota’s presidential electors.
Having received recognition on the national stage and a sudden increase in attention due to Satiacum’s vote - and in preparation for what could be an ensuing push from President-elect Donald Trump’s administration to renew talks to build the Keystone XL pipeline - Spotted Eagle’s focus remains committed to protecting the environment.
Spotted Eagle also hoped her fellow South Dakotans would wake up from their “sleepful state” and recognize the importance of protecting water sources like the Missouri River.
“I think the equation that people miss is that environmental equals life,” Spotted Eagle said. “You can’t compartmentalize it, and say, ‘Oh, that person is an environmentalist.’ Being an environmentalist means that we love life and all the gifts that Mother Earth gives in order to live that life.”