Jordan Marie Whetstone Returns to the Boston Marathon to Run for Justice
The Lakota advocate will be running in prayer while making a new film about her experience as an Indigenous leader in the climate justice movement
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This article is part of Outside Run’s complete 2023 Boston Marathon race coverage.
Jordan Marie Brings Three White Horses Whetstone is a fourth-generation citizen of the Kul Wicasa Oyate (federally known as the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe), an advocate, filmmaker, and runner, and she’ll be returning to toe the line at the 127th Boston Marathon on April 17, running 26 miles to honor 26 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), girls, and relatives with 26 prayers.
Since running her first Boston Marathon in 2016, Whetstone’s life has transformed into full-time advocate, driven largely by her nonprofit Rising Hearts, which has collectively raised over $330,000 for MMIW and community-driven initiatives. Rising Hearts is an Indigenous-led organization committed to elevating Native and community voices through movement.
From Heartbreak Hill to Capitol Hill
In 2016, Whetstone received a Boston Marathon charity bib through Running Strong for Indian Youth, an organization founded by Billy Mills, the Oglala Lakota who earned a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics, in the 10,000-meter race. She ran the race in 3:37:24 that year, a solid effort for a debut marathon. “That was the first time I’d ever run a marathon, and Boston, of all places!” said Whetstone. Mills has since become a grandfather to Whetstone and her family.
The race set the tone for Whetstone to further explore the intersection of being a sponsored athlete while doing advocacy work in Washington D.C. for Indigenous rights. To turn her love for running into something purposeful catalyzed a new way of seeing and taking real action.
Her 2016 Boston Marathon coincided with the Indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota. “It motivated me to become an actual community organizer, to literally be the one standing on the soapbox, organizing these marches and rallies, bringing the community together for Standing Rock. My life really changed.”
Though Whetstone gained valuable experience working on the policy side of things in D.C.—with the National Indian Health Board and interning for congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine—she was disillusioned by how slow and how predominantly white the Hill was. “I was literally met with a congressman who said to me, ‘you guys still live in teepees, right?’” she said.
Eventually, Whetstone landed a job at the Administration for Native Americans as a grants manager, to support Indigenous grantees with their projects, which offered an avenue not only to fight injustice, but to support Indigenous peoples’ flourishing. And this confirmed what she’d always known made her happiest: being in direct relationship with people.
This led to organizing the first Run, Walk, Prayer for the Standing Rock youth, running over 2,000 miles to D.C. The efforts at Standing Rock connected the dots for Whetstone, between climate change and the injustices incurred by Native peoples, particularly women. When fossil fuel extraction projects are permitted on Indigenous lands, many human right violations follow, defining a direct relationship between extraction and exploitation of both land and humans.
After establishing Rising Hearts in January 2017, Whetstone has partnered with several organizations, including the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, and has helped donate over $70,000. “It’s great that we show up for our own things because we care that it’s happening to us, but we need other people outside of our community to learn about this, to understand, to protect us, to advocate with us, to advocate for policy and for change,” said Whetstone.
In 2019, Whetstone returned to the Boston Marathon and ran even faster, finishing in 3:02:11 (6:57/mile pace). Her running and advocacy work deepened since her first prayer run at Boston, and yet through the work she’d lost hope in people caring. “If these panels, if all these opportunities, if tagging people online to get them to learn more about this, if downloading and reading the reports is not enough, then I’m just going to do what I know best—and that’s to run.”
Then, hours before the race started, she had an idea. “My mom was coming up to visit and cheer me on and I was like, can you please just find me some red paint?” Her mother did, but it wasn’t until her husband was driving her to the Hopkinton buses that she thought of the idea of writing the letters “MMIW” on her body, as well as a red handprint on her face, to represent the silent voices taken. One of them was her cousin—Britney Tiger.
2023 and Beyond
After her 2019 running of the Boston Marathon, Whetstone attempted to return to the race, but plans changed. First, a series of injuries and, second, the birth of her child. This year, Whetstone makes it clear that the main focus of her run is to take all the attention and media she’s received since the initial Boston run and spotlight it onto those who need it most.
“I will be taking the first run [at Boston] and everything that’s come since and redirecting it back into the movement, making sure that the families, or the advocates, or these organizations, can benefit—it’s the least I can do,” she said.
Whetstone and Rising Hearts will continue the work, long after the race is over, most immediately on Earth Day and the upcoming 5th Annual Running For Justice, for National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Peoples, on May 5. The intersection of the climate crisis and violence against Indigenous peoples will be a main focus of a new film her team is working on. The production will cover her journey, as well as the tokenization of her advocacy work and challenges she’s felt working with previous sponsorships.
(Watch: Episode 1: Know to Run, produced by Rising Hearts, on Indigenous artist and ultrarunner, Yatika Fields)
“If you’re going to sponsor me, you’re not just sponsoring someone who’s an Olympian,” said Whetstone. “I am a community organizer. I am different from the rest of these athletes that you’re used to sponsoring. If you’re going to sponsor me, you have to recognize that you’re sponsoring my community, too. You’re bringing in a whole new community that you haven’t previously done any of the work for, in terms of making it an inclusive space for them to feel part of it. They’re going to trust you because they trust me.”
Whetstone said she has experienced lateral oppression and alienation when calling truth to power. Often, when she’d address inequities within companies or campaigns that disrespected Black or Brown people, she’d be shut out of the conversation. Her experience isn’t the only one, though, and all of this will be incorporated into the film.
But the main purpose of all this work, she says, is to support the Indigenous families and people who need the most help. This year, Rising Hearts was given two entries to the Boston Marathon. Kelsey Long will be running alongside Whetstone, and they are fundraising with a goal of $10,000, which you can donate here.