Wanbli Ceya

Wanbli Ceya, which means crying eagle in Lakota, joined us earlier this summer to share his experience with our Indigenous Justice Cohort lead by Candi Brings Plenty. Ceya grew up in Humboldt, Iowa, which is in the northwestern part of the state. There he was raised by his mother and father, who are Lakota and white, respectively. For the last few years, however, Ceya has called Pine Ridge home and has established a sense of community and family locally. 

What are your hobbies? 

I’ve got a few, but my main thing is music. I’m an aspiring pop star! I’ve been lucky enough to win awards for my musical talents and hope to share them with folks to make their lives happier. While performing, I’ve had the chance to see different countries like England and meet people in various states around the U.S. To me, this really is a viable career path. I love representing where I’m at in life through music, art, and other creative forms. I’ve even written a story called the “Oglala Wolf Puppy with PTSD” which is broken up into chapters of my life. 

What is one thing you’re looking forward to this week? 

This week, I’m excited to see the world calm down and live more freely. It’s time we all tapped into our potential again and begin to press onward. 

What do you hope to accomplish through the ACLU of South Dakota’s Indigenous Justice Cohort? 

My hope is that I can help people, whether it is on or off the reservation. Through the cohort, I am excited to gain more confidence in my own abilities as an advocate and community leader. Growing up in Iowa and moving to Pine Ridge has made me realize that there are things we can improve on everywhere. I’m happy to be a part of making it happen. 

What drives you to continue the work you’re doing in your community? 

Observing negative and unproductive things happening in my community drives me to keep doing this work. I know I’m not the only one who sees it, too. That’s why I hope more people realize that they can’t sit by and hope for change – we need to rise to the occasion and demand what we need. Silence won’t solve our problems. 

What is your favorite way to get involved in your community?

Sharing information with people to help them be better advocates. I think when people are more knowledgeable on how to tackle issues in their community they feel more confident to take charge. I also like to share my story with people in hopes of connecting the issues to our community and inspire more people to join in.  

Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in getting more politically involved in their community? 

First, I say calm down. We all need to remind ourselves to breathe and think about the steps we take next. There must be moments of peace amongst our chaos or we will crumble. It is also very important to own your story, whatever it looks like, because it is yours. It’s unique, and it’s special. This world doesn’t have to be a scary place if we’re intentionally there for each other. It’s high time we all became real and vulnerable in order to face whatever problems come our way. 

How has COVID-19 affected your advocacy work and how have you adapted? 

The pandemic has dramatically affected so many communities across South Dakota. It’s made me realize that things can turn to a frenzy in an instant. This cohort for example. It was supposed to begin with us working in person, but we had to adapt to meeting online or discussing ideas over the phone. Thinking about the effects the virus had on various tribes really hit me recently. Seeing the impact was jarring, but it acted as a call to action for me. I told myself I couldn’t just sit there and be scared. It made me realize the importance of centering myself and remembering to breath.

On the other hand, I do think some effects of the pandemic are positive. It made us all think about what is most important to us. Most of us had more time to spend at home with our families, and it forced everyone to think creatively about how they connect with their communities. 

What is one thing you would you tell your elected leaders to change in order to strengthen your community?

To me, it doesn’t matter the elected office title. I think we need to remove the idea from our minds that anyone elected to office is “better” than anyone else or “superior.” Associating someone with such grandeur is what leads to inflated egos and party politics like what we’re seeing now. I think it takes away from the purpose of why we have elected offices. It’s time to humanize the work they do again so everyone can be reconnected to the importance and impact of politics on our daily lives. Every action by a politician has a human toll – people can’t forget that. 

Regardless of a person’s color, gender, sexuality, or creed, we all have a right to just be. Decisions made by lawmakers should be done so with the humans they represent in mind – not the donors who bought their yard signs. There are so many inconsistencies within our current system. It shouldn’t be surprising to see decent people in elected office. It should be the norm. Politicians must stop contemplating the right thing to do and just do it.