The Defenders

International Indigenous Youth Council

“We rise to protect land, water and treaty rights. We rise, as empowered youth, for social justice. We rise for the following virtues: Prayer, Honor, Wisdom and Love.”

The International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC) is an organization that was created and led by womxn and two-spirit peoples during the Standing Rock Indigenous Uprising of 2016, a peaceful protest to protect the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The organization is rooted in the protection of the natural environment; its members were brought together and continue to be guided by the prayer for the water.

In addition to protecting natural elements, the IIYC is committed to protecting treaty rights and indigenous culture and ceremonies through non-violent direct action and community organizing. It seeks to inspire young people globally to become leaders in their communities. In 2017, the IIYC extended its reach by establishing chapters across Turtle Island, including Chicago, Denver, New Mexico, Southern California, South Dakota, Texas and Twin Cities Minnesota.

In collaboration with Sisters of Color United for Education (SOCUE), the IIYC offers Mi Vida Su Vida, a training that provides culturally responsive mental, physical and spiritual health education for young people. The IIYC is collaborating with the Awake Media Fund to train youth in media production. By participating in the training, young people develop and share digital stories, which enables IIYC youth to reach a broader audience.

In 2017, the IIYC received the Makers of the Movement award from the United Church of Christ, which recognizes activists who work to protect our environment and natural resources by bringing awareness to environmental justice issues. In 2018, the IIYC received the RFK Human Rights Award for advocating for environmental conservation.


The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a 1,172-mile-long underground oil pipeline that begins in the shale oil fields of the Bakken formation in northwest North Dakota and continues through South Dakota and Iowa to an oil terminal near Patoka, Illinois. Despite protests, the pipeline was built and has been in operation since June 2017. The Standing Rock Sioux say the pipeline threatens their main source of drinking water, the Missouri River, as well as sacred tribal grounds. They also contend that the DAPL is built on land granted to them through a peace treaty, land they never agreed to give up.

The United States has battled Native Americans throughout its history, taking tribal lands and displacing indigenous people. Native Americans were not granted citizenship until 1924. Until as late as 1957, some states barred Native Americans from voting.

Concerns over land rights and the destruction of sacred sites and Native American traditions are now coupled with concerns about climate change and the U.S.’s heavy reliance on oil. Burning fossil fuels, including oil, pollutes our air and water and drives climate change. Scientists are currently saying that the impacts of climate change will be larger and more immediate than was originally anticipated.


  • Learn about protests surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline here.
  • Read about how oil production impacts the environment here.
  • Read more about the International Indigenous Youth Council and how to support their work here.
  • Learn how you can support the rights of indigenous people here.


Discovery Education has teamed up with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Humanity United and Fund II Foundation to bring Speak Truth to Power to the classroom. Speak Truth to Power, a global initiative dedicated to sharing the stories of human rights defenders around the world, provides compelling content for a set of flexible, standards-aligned digital resources, designed to educate, engage and inspire the next generation of human rights defenders.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Mission Statement

Led by human rights activist and lawyer Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has advocated for a more just and peaceful world since 1968. We work alongside local activists to ensure lasting positive change in governments and corporations. Whether in the United States or abroad, our programs have pursued justice through strategic litigation on key human rights issues, educated millions of children in human rights advocacy and fostered a social good approach to business and investment.