Indigenous Women Role Models

This list is a companion piece for an article written for Sovereign Bodies. It is not comprehensive and will be updated in regular intervals. If you know any wonderful indigenous women that should be included, please post in the comments.

Activists

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Michele Audette is the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). NWAC has carried the battle cry for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women for decades. Until 2010, when the federal government slashed its funding, NWAC maintained a growing database of missing and murdered women that held the government’s feet to the fire and raised public awareness of a historic crisis that affects almost every community. As an advocate for aboriginal women across the country, the mother of five hails from an Innu community in northern Quebec and fought against sexist laws in Canada’s Indian Act that arbitrarily stripped many Native women of their Indian Status based on who they married.

 

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Ada Deer is a Menominee advocate and scholar who was an activist opposing federal termination of tribes in the 1970s. She was appointed as Assistant Secretary of Interior, head of the United States’ Bureau of Indian Affairs, serving from 1993 to 1997. During this period, she was a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

 

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Elouise Pepion Cobell was a Niitsítapi (Blackfoot Confederacy) elder and activist, banker, rancher, and lead plaintiff in the groundbreaking litigation Cobell v. Salazar, which challenged the United States’ mismanagement of trust funds belonging to more than 500,000 individual Native Americans. In 2010 the government approved a $3.4 billion settlement for the trust case, including funds to partially compensate individual account holders, buy back lands and restore them to the Native American tribes, as well as a $60 million scholarship fund. The settlement is the largest ever in a class action against the federal government.

 

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Mary and Carrie Dann are Western Shoshone sisters who are spiritual leaders, ranchers, and land rights activists. Carrie and Mary Dann filed a request for urgent action with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. They had been active in the movement to recover millions of acres of land in Nevada and bordering states that originally belonged to the Western Shoshone tribe. The Dann sisters persuaded the UN of their case. It ordered the US government to halt all actions against the Western Shoshone people, a mandate which was mostly ignored. In 1993 the Dann sisters received the Right Livelihood Award.

 

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Ellen Gabriel is the president of Quebec Native Women and protects her language and culture through Kanehsatà:ke Language and Cultural Center. She challenged incumbent National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, in a race centring on standing up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and pushing for Indigenous self-determination. Gabriel has received the International Women’s Day Award from the Québec Bar Association, the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Golden Eagle Award, and a Jigonsaseh Women of Peace Award for her ongoing advocacy work.

 

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Eriel Deranger is a spokeswoman for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, a community in the heart of Alberta’s oil sands that has seen drastic rises in rare cancers linked to petrochemicals. The 34-year-old activist and former Prairie region director for the Sierra Club is also the face of a generation fighting to put the brakes on climate change and the destruction of indigenous territories.

 

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Amanda Blackhorse is a social worker and member of the Navajo people who is known for her work as an activist on the NFL Washington football team name controversy. She is the lead plaintiff in Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc. Blackhorse’s lawsuit seeks to revoke trademark protection of the team’s name due to its origins as a racial slur. On June 18, 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) voted to cancel the six trademarks held by the team in a two to one decision that held that the term is disparaging to a “substantial composite of Native Americans,” and this is demonstrated “by the near complete drop-off in usage of the term as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960s.” In a press release the trademark attorney for the team stated that they were confident that they would once again prevail on appeal, and that today’s decision will make no difference in the continued use of the team name. Blackhorse said in an interview, “We’ve been through this process for eight years now. We will continue to fight. And, you know, this is not the end for us.”

 

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Princess Daazhraii Johnson is Neets’aii Gwich’in from Alaska.  She works closely with her home village of Vashrąįį K’oo and is an advocate for environmental and social justice issues for Alaska Native people.  She is the former Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee and previously served as Alaska Director at the Indigenous Leadership Institute. She has worked for, or volunteered with, Native Voices at the Autry National Center, WriteGirl, Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, and the Alaska State Council on the Arts. She has been a member of the SAG-AFTRA Native American Committee since 2007 and also serves on the Board of Dancing with the Spirit, a program that promotes spiritual wellness through music. Johnson was a Sundance Fellow for the Filmmakers, Producers and Screenwriters Lab, and she was an Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellow with the PEN Center.

 

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Peggy Flanagan, the executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, puts a real face on childhood poverty. She brings a background rich in advocacy for the less fortunate to the child advocacy organization she now leads. Flanagan grew up poor Irish and Ojibwe. She overcame steep odds to graduate from high school and the University of Minnesota. Children’s Defense Fund focuses on increasing family income to improve children’s outcomes. Central to the mission of the non-partisan nonprofit Flanagan heads is a goal of leveling the playing field for all children regardless of economic background or race.

 

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Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich, a Tlingit Native Alaskan, worked to end racial discrimination against Alaska Natives.  Born in 1911 and raised in Alaska, Peratovich attended college in Bellingham, Washington, where she met and married her husband Roy in 1931.  They returned to Alaska ten years later to raise their family.  They were shocked by the blatant discrimination against Native Alaskans similar to the discriminatory policies toward African Americans.  For example, many storefronts and businesses displayed signs stating “No Natives Allowed” and “No Dogs, No Natives.”  Many Natives faced unemployment and poverty due to segregation and discrimination based on their race. They petitioned the territorial governor, Ernest Gruening, to ban the  signs then common at public accommodations in that city.  As leaders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood, the Peratroviches lobbied the territory’s legislators and represented their organizations in their testimony. Elizabeth Peratrovich was the last to testify before the territorial Senate voted on the bill in 1945, and her impassioned testimony was considered decisive.

 

Artists

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Madeline Sayet is a member of the Mohegan Tribe and Resident Director of Amerinda Inc., a Native community-based multidisciplinary arts organization. As a director, Sayet works to countering stereotypes of theatrical “redface production[s] full of feathers and fringe,” and bringing Mohegan thought and aesthetics to a stage featuring a diverse but non-Native cast. Because culture is such a big part of her work, she learned that in Mohegan, her job is called “Kutayun Uyasunaquock” which means “Our Heart She Leads Us There.” She is currently the Artistic Director of the Mad & Merry Theatre Company, a Van Lier Directing Fellow at Second Stage Theatre, and a Creative Community Fellow at National Arts Strategies. Sayet has won a Leo Bronstein Homage Award from NYU and a White House Champion of Change Award for Native America.

 

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Angel De Cora Dietz was a Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) painter, illustrator, Native American rights advocate, and teacher at Carlisle Indian School. She was the best known Native American artist before World War I.

 

 

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Martha George was repeatedly elected chairperson of the Suquamish tribe, serving from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. She was a descendant of Chief Seattle in present-day Washington state. She founded the Small Tribes Organization of Western Washington and was a famous basketweaver. Her collection of Salish baskets is displayed in the Suquamish Museum.

 

 

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Maria Tallchief was a Native-American dancer and one of America’s leading ballerinas from the 40’s to the 60’s. In 1947, she became the first prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet, a title she would hold for thirteen years. Additionally, she was the first American dancer invited to perform with the Paris Opera Ballet and the first American to perform in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. Upon her retirement, she founded and became the artistic director of the Chicago City Ballet.

 

 

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Teri Greeves is an award-winning Kiowa-Comanche-Italian beadwork artist. Her larger pictorial work involved beads stitched onto brain-tanned deerhide, which she often mounts onto wood or other structures. For instance, she beaded a parade scene onto hide stretched onto an antique umbrella in her piece that won Best of Show in the 1999 Santa Fe Indian Market. She strives to simultaneously portray Kiowa realities and oral history with her contemporary experiences. She is most known for her fully beaded tennis shoes, which feature pictorial elements on solid, hump-stitched backgrounds. Her humor is evident throughout her work, for instance, in her fully beaded high-heeled tennis shoes.

 

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Myra Yvonne Chouteau is a member of the Shawnee Tribe and one of the “Five Moons” or indigenous prima ballerinas of Oklahoma. In 1962, she and her husband, Miguel Terekhov, founded the first fully accredited university dance program in the United States, the School of Dance at the University of Oklahoma.

 

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Tammy Beauvais (Mohawk) owns a small fashion design company producing contemporary clothing carrying native symbolism. All the pieces are authentically Native designed and produced. Tammy’s goal is to increase worldwide awareness of native aboriginal heritage and to also create more employment opportunities for members of her community. Robert DeNiro, Eric Roberts, Pope John Paul II, Aline Chretien, and all the First Ladies of North, South, and Central America are some celebrity clients.

 

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Rebecca McDonald founded bfreshproductions in 2005– a production house, on a mission to #refreshmedia #exploreculture and #connectcommunities through innovative photo, film, TV and interactive media. As a cultural catalyst, Rebecca focuses on activating unlikely collaborations and participating in immersive global dialogues. She collaborates on cutting edge, experimental media projects with award-winning teams such as Rock the Vote and Village Voice Media. Her approach has always been to keep her ear to the streets, and identify and engage underrepresented voices. In fact, she has built a nationally recognized media brand on her strength of synthesizing tons of content into robust narratives. Rebecca’s multimedia has been featured on national outlets such as PBS’ Independent Lens, MTV, CurrentTV, Free Speech TV, and Pacifica Radio.

Authors

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A member of the Tohono O’odham (formerly Papago) Nation, Ofelia Zepeda grew up in Arizona. She earned an MA and a PhD in linguistics from the University of Arizona and is the author of a grammar of the Tohono O’odham language, A Papago Grammar (1983). Zepeda’s poetry collections include Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert (1995) and Jewed’l-hoi/Earth Movements, O’Odham Poems (1996). Zepeda’s poetry touches on linguistics, O’odham traditions, the natural world, and the experience of contemporary O’odham life. Her work is influenced by traditional Papago themes and songs. Zepeda was honored with a MacArthur Fellowship for her contributions as a poet, linguist, and cultural preservationist. She received a grant from the Endangered Language Fund for her work on the Tohono O’odham Dictionary Project. Zepeda has been a professor of linguistics and director of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Arizona, as well as director of the American Indian Language Development Institute. She edits Sun Tracks, a book series devoted to publishing work by Native American artists and writers, at the University of Arizona Press.

 

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Joy Harjo is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. She earned her BA from the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque and MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Strongly influenced by her Mvskoke (Creek) heritage, feminist and social concerns, and her background in the arts, Harjo frequently incorporates Mvskoke myths, symbols, and values into her writing. Her poetry inhabits the Southwest landscape and centers around the need for remembrance and transcendence. Her work is often autobiographical, informed by her love of the natural world and her preoccupation with survival and the limitations of language. A critically-acclaimed poet, Harjo’s many honors include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award. She has received fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rasmuson Foundation, and the Witter Bynner Foundation. In addition to writing poetry, Harjo is a noted teacher, saxophonist, and vocalist. She performed for many years with her band, Poetic Justice, and currently tours with Arrow Dynamics. She has released four albums of original music, including Red Dreams, A Trail Beyond Tears (2010), and won a Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2009. She has been performing her one-woman show, Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light, since 2009. She has taught creative writing at the University of New Mexico and is currently professor of American Indian Studies and English at the University of Illinois-Champaign, Urbana. Harjo is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.

 

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Luci Tapahonso is a Navajo poet and a lecturer in Native American Studies. She was the first poet laureate of the Navajo Nation. She published her first story, “The Snake Man” in 1978. Her first collection of poetry, One More Shiprock Night was published in 1981. Tapahonso’s early work is often mystical and places much importance on the idea of the feminine as a source of power and balance in the world. She also frequently uses her family and childhood friends in her poetry. Several more collections followed, as well as many individual poems which have been anthologized in others’ collections, activist literature, and writing in magazines. Her 1993 collection Saánii Dahataal (the women are singing), written in Navajo and English, was the first to gain her an international reputation, a reputation then cemented by 1997’s blue horses rush in. Tapahonso’s writing is a translation from original work she has created in her tribe’s native tongue. Her Navajo work includes original songs and chants designed for performance. She has won the Lifetime Achievement Award from Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle Storyteller of the Year (Readings/Performance) Award, Award for Best Poetry from the Mountains and Plain’s Booksellers Association, New Mexico Eminent Scholar award, and a Southwestern Association of Indian Affairs Literature Fellowship.

 

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Ernestine Hayes belongs to the Wolf House of the Kaagwaantaan. She pursued a college education as a non-traditional adult student in the 1990s and has been an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Southeast since 2003. Her first book, Blonde Indian, an Alaska Native Memoir, received the American Book Award in 2007. In 2013, her poem “The Spoken Forest” was selected for permanent installation at Totem Bight State Park. Her children’s book, Town Bear, Forest Bear, was published in the Tlingit language as Aanka Xootzi ka Aasgutu Xootzi Shkalneegi. Her most recent book, Images of America: Juneau, is a pictorial history of her hometown. Her essays, articles, short stories, and poetry have been published in Studies in American Indian Literature, Huffington Post, Alaska Quarterly Review, Tipton Review, and other forums.

 

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An American Indian author and journalist who won the 1998 Finnegan Freedom of Information Award for Minnesota, Laura Waterman Wittstock is CEO and president of Wittstock & Associates (a media and education consulting firm), and founder and longtime leader of MIGIZI Communications. Born to Seneca Nation parents on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in New York, she grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, and attended San Francisco State College. After serving as a copywriter in the retail sector, she moved with her husband and five children to Washington, D.C., where she covered national and regional legislative and judicial proceedings for the American Indian Press Association. In addition to being selected a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, Wittstock was awarded the Human Rights Award (Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee), the Outstanding Achievement Award (Human Services, Minneapolis YWCA), and the Excellence in Educational Equity award from the State of Minnesota. In 1992, she was inducted into the Twin Citian Volunteer Hall of Fame (Mpls/St. Paul Magazine) and she received the 1992 National Headliner Award for Outstanding Documentary by a Network.

 

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Marcie R. Rendon is an enrolled member of the White Earth Anishinabe Nation. She is a playwright, poet, and freelance writer. A former recipient of the Loft’s Inroads Writers of Color Award for Native Americans she studied poetry under Anishinabe author Jim Northrup. She was a l998/99 recipient of the St. Paul Company’s LIN (Leadership In Neighborhoods) Grant to “create a viable Native presence in the Twin Cities theater community”. With the support of this grant she was able to collaborate with other native artists to create the infamous FREE Frybread script. She received a 1996-’97 Jerome Fellowship from the Minneapolis Playwright Center. Her first children’s book, Pow Wow Summer was reprinted by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014. Her second children’s book, The Farmer’s Market/Families Working Together, was released in the spring of 2001.

 

Educators

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Hina Wong- Kalu is a transgender native Hawaiian teacher and cultural icon who brings to life Hawaii’s long-held embrace of mahu — those who embody both male and female spirit, and were traditionally respected as caretakers, healers, and keepers of ancient traditions. A documentary film called Kumu Hina traces her evolution from a timid high school boy to her position as a married woman and cultural director of a school that specializes in Hawaiian language, history and culture, located in one of Honolulu’s grittier neighborhoods.

 

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Billie Cable-Kreger is a dedicated Numu Tekwapu?ha (Comanche) speaker and instructor at the Comanche Children daycare center in Lawton, Oklahoma. She  teaches younger tribal members the nuances of the tribal language as she cares for them each day. Cable-Kreger also helps with the efforts of the Comanche Language and Cultural Preservation Committee to teach more tribal members how to speak and read the endangered language.

 

CTY TRASK 01 2001 OCTOBER 17 - Haunani-Kay Trask, of the University of Hawaii Hawaiian Studies Dept., speaks at an anti-war forum at the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus Center Courtyard. The forum was sponsored by Professors Opposed to War, and University Peace Initiative. Star-Bulletin photo by Richard Walker/rwalker@starbulletin.com

Haunani Kay Trask is a Native Hawaiian academic, activist, documentarist, and writer. Trask is a professor with the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and has represented Native Hawaiians in the United Nations and various other global forums. She is the author of several books of poetry and nonfiction. Trask opposes tourism to Hawaii and the U.S. military’s presence in Hawaii. Trask has spoken against the Akaka Bill, a bill to establish a process for Native Hawaiians to gain federal recognition similar to the recognition that some Native American tribes currently possess.

 

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Amanda Tachine (Dine) has been recognized by the White House as part of “Champions of Change,” a nationwide award that goes to individuals who have launched extraordinary efforts to empower and inspire individuals within their communities. Tachine founded the Native SOAR (Student Outreach, Access, and Resiliency) at the University of Arizona, where she received her Ph.D. in Higher Education. Through the program, Native college students mentor Native high school students. The younger Native students and their families are encouraged to visit the UA campus.

 

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Cynthia Leitich Smith is a New York Times best-selling author of fiction for children and young adults. A member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, she writes fiction for children centered on the lives of modern-day American Indians. These books are taught widely by teachers in elementary, middle school, high school, and college classrooms. In addition, Smith writes fanciful, humorous picture books and gothic fantasies for ages 14-up. Regarded as an expert in children’s-YA literature by the press, she also hosts a website for Children’s Literature Resources. Smith is a former faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts, teaching in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program.

Film & Theater

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Mary Frances Thompson, best known as Te Ata, was an actress and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation known for telling indigenous stories. She performed as a representative of Native Americans at state dinners before President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. Her life and performances have been commemorated through several different awards. She was the namesake for Lake Te Ata in New York. She was named the Ladies’ Home Journal Woman of the Year in 1976. She was also inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1957 and named Oklahoma’s first State Treasure in 1987.

 

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Aquanetta (Mildred Davenport) was a B-rated movie actress of Arapaho decent. She was nicknamed the “Venezualan Volcano” by Universal Studios. She starred in Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946) and had small parts in Arabian Nights (1942), Jungle Woman (1944), Dead Man’s Eyes (1944), Lost Continent (1951) and The Legend of Grizzly Adams (1990). In the 1950s, she moved to Phoenix and achieved local celebrity status with her own TV program Acqua’s Corner that accompanied the Friday Night Movies. She was often seen in her trademark long black braids and beautiful silver & turquoise jewelry. She also authored a book in 1974 called The Audible Silence–a poetry book about life, love, and native jewelry. Acquinetta used her celebrity and charming personality to support/raise money for a number of cultural groups and charities including: Mesa Lutheran Hospital, the Heard Museum, the Phoenix Indian School, Stagebrush Theatre, and the Phoenix Symphony.

 

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Alex Rice is a Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) who works in the world of entertainment where she is best known for the role of Janet Pete. In addition to mainstream television credits for guest-starring-roles, Alex has also starred in several critically acclaimed independent features. Special honors and awards include the Motion Pictures Award presented by the American Indian Film Institute for Best Actress (2003) for her reprisal of Janet Pete in Coyote Waits and the First American Award (2005) for her work in A Thief In Time, presented by the First Americans in the Arts Committee.

 

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Amber Midthunder is an enrolled tribal member of the Ft Peck Sioux Indian Reservation. Her first speaking role in a feature film was in a scene with Alan Arkin just days before winning his Oscar when she was only 8 years old. Since that time she has continued her work as an actress in film and television as well as co-writing and co-directing her first award winning short film at the age of 16.

 

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Eartha Kitt was of African-American and Cherokee descent. In the 1950s, she performed with the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe on a European tour and soloed at a Paris nightclub. Orson Welles called her “the most exciting girl in the world.” She was known for speaking  out on many hard issues, including the US involvement in the Vietnam War, which resulted in her phones being tapped amongst other things. She is most known for when she took over the role of Catwoman for the third and final season of the television series Batman (1966).

 

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Elaine Miles is a Cayuse-Nez Perce actress, known for the TV show Northern Exposure (1990) and the movies– Smoke Signals, Mad Love, Skins, and The Business of Fancy Dancing. She learned many traditional skills in her youth—storytelling, beading, pottery and weaving—and is a prize-winning traditional dancer. She gained respect in the native community not only for portraying a Tlingit woman on television, but for her efforts to make sure the character was a culturally accurate representation. Miles was named Native American Woman of the Year in 1993, and America’s Celebrity Indian of the Year in 1995.

 

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Nanobah Becker (Navajo) is the director for Project: Involve, a 9-month production and professional development program of Film Independent in Los Angeles. In 2009 she served as a guest selector for NMAI’s Native American Film + Video Festival. In 2006 she was one of 22 media artists awarded a National Video Resources Media Arts Fellowship to produce her newest project, working title Full, a fiction film about a gay Navajo man who returns to the queer Native American nightlife in Albuquerque after failing as a disc jockey in New York City. Becker was selected for the Native Forum Filmmaker’s Workshop at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival to work on script development for a feature film. She spent several years working with Native youth both at the Navajo Nation and in Albuquerque at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute before deciding to pursue filmmaking.

 

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Sydney Freeland is a Navajo filmmaker. She is a writer and director known for her work on Drunktown’s Finest (2014), Hoverboard (2012), and Deidra & Laney Rob a Train (2016). Drunktown’s Finest won several awards for Best/Outstand Narrative Feature film.

 

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Essie Coffey (Essienina Shillingsworth) was a Muruwari singer, filmmaker, and activist from the far northwest of New South Wales. In 1978 she made My Survival as an Aboriginal, which she gave to Queen Elizabeth II as a gift at the opening of Australia’s new Parliament House in 1988. The film won the Greater Union Award for documentary film and the Rouben Mamoulian Award at the Sydney Film Festival 1979. My Survival As An Aboriginal presented the atrocities and hardships committed against Aboriginal people. The sequel, My Life As I Live It, was released in 1993. Coffey co-founded the Western Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Heritage and Cultural Museum in Brewarrina, serving on several government bodies and Aboriginal community organisations including the Aboriginal Lands Trust and the Aboriginal Advisory Council. Coffey was also an inaugural member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. She was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the Aboriginal community.

 

Trail Blazers

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Bertha Parker Pallan is known as the first female archaeologist of Native American descent. In the early 1930s, she helped excavate Gypsum Cave in Nevada: a six-room cave that was once inhabited by the giant ground sloth, which dates back to 8500BC.

 

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Ola “Rexy” Rexroat was the only Native American woman to fly with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). She was from the Oglala Sioux tribe and her job with the WASPs was to tow targets behind her plane for aerial gunnery students. She served for 10 years in the Air Force after WW2 ended.

 

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Ashley Callingbull is Enoch Cree and became the first indigenoua woman to be named Mrs. Universe. She is an outspoken survivor of sexual abuse, a political activist, and an advocate for indigenous people. In an interview, Callingbull observed: “A lot of people don’t expect me to be up there and have a title because I’m First Nations. That’s how stereotypical society is and how racist it can be. I’m still experiencing some of that racism on some of my posts — some people are saying ‘I’m not a real Canadian,’ which is silly.”

 

Medicine

 

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Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first indigeous woman physician in the United States. She founded the Picotte Memorial Hospital, which was built in 1913. The hospital, located on the Omaha Reservation, was the first hospital for a native reservation not funded by the US government.

 

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Dr. Dee Ann DeRoin is a physician at the KU Watkins Health Center and president of the Haskell Foundation board of trustees. After receiving her medical degree from Stanford University,  DeRoin moved to Seattle where she completed her residency while working part time at the Seattle Indian Health Clinic. In 1982, DeRoin moved to Lawrence to accept a position as clinic director at the Haskell Indian Junior College Health Center. DeRoin joined the Watson staff in 1990. Over the years, DeRoin has been active with a number of organizations, including the advisory board of the Lawrence Indian Center, the Association of the American Indian Physicians, the Ioway Tribe Powwow and the Cultural Preservation Committee, the American Academy of Family Practice, and the board of directors of the Association on American Indian Affairs. She is a winner of the William I. Koch Outstanding Kansas Women of Year Award.

 

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Rita Pitka Blumenstein was the first certified traditional doctor in Alaska. She works for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Blumenstein has been a member of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers—a group of spiritual elders, medicine women and wisdom keepers—since its founding in 2004. The Council has been active in protecting indigenous rights and medicines, and traditional teachings on wisdom. In 2006 both Blumenstein’s tribe, the Yup’ik and her mayor declared the 18 February to be Rita Pitka Blumenstein day. In 2009, Blumenstein was one of fifty women inducted into the inaugural class of the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.

 

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Nicolle Gonzales is a Diné 35-year-old certified nurse midwife (CNM) from Waterflow, New Mexico. She and Brittany Simplicio, another midwife who is Navajo/Zuni, began raising money for a nonprofit Changing Woman Initiative (CWI), which is creating the nation’s first Native American birth center. “I’d like to see a nice building with pictures of our grandmothers, cedar welcoming you into the door, and moccasins for babies instead of blankets. I want a place where women and families feel welcome. There is this huge disconnect between the cultural teachings and our bodies as women. [I want] to advocate for taking back our teachings about our bodies that our ancestors knew before the boarding schools or Indian Health Services came,” says Gonzales.

 

Game Changers

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Kyah Pam Simon is an Indigenous Australian professional football (soccer) striker. Simon became the first indigenous woman (she is of Australian-Aboriginal descent) to score for the Australia women’s national football team. She currently plays for Sydney FC of the W-League in Australia, having previously played for Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers in the Australian W-League, as well as the Boston Breakers in the American National Women’s Soccer League.

 

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Star pitcher Summer Leitka (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) was named First Team Pitcher to the 2015 National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Region team. Leitka’s team the USAO Drovers made the NAIA National Championships this year. She was the ace on the pitching staff for USAO and broke several school records, including season strikeouts with 321 and 31 wins in her first season. Leitka was named to the 2015 NAIA Softball All-America First Team, was named Sooner Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week six times, the NAIA Pitcher of the Week once, the SAC Pitcher of the Year, and All-Conference First Team. Summer is the only Dover to be named an All-American.

 

Tahnee Robinson

Tahnee Robinson is the first full-blooded indigenous player drafted by the WNBA. She is descended from several tribes, her mother is Pawnee and Eastern Shoshone and her father is Northern Cheyenne and Sioux. She was the 31st overall pick in the WNBA draft and was selected by the Phoenix Mercury and immediately traded to the Connecticut Sun.

 

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Amy St Claire, aka Smoka Hontas, represents the Native American community in Minneapolis. She is Anishinaabe and a MNRollerGirl who made the Minnesota Roller Girls’ All-Star team. St. Claire says “I like to promote health and wellness and talk to people about the importance of eating healthy and exercising. It’s crucial for kids to know that there is more to life than partying and getting into trouble. The best way to be a role model and an influence is by doing it, more than talking about doing it. This is what I believe anyway, so I’d rather show you how to roller skate, rather than tell you how.”

 

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Shoni Schimmel became the highest drafted indigenous player in WNBA history when she was selected eighth overall by the Atlanta Dream. She ranks fifth in NCAA Division I history with 387 three-point shots, just five shy of the 392 record. She became the first Louisville player ever to accumulate totals of at least 2,000 points and 500 assists, finishing with 2,174 and 600, respectively.

 

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In 2014, fans had the opportunity to watch Mick Swagger both skate in the 2014 WFTDA Championships and again in the Derby World Cup as a part of Team USA. An accomplished skater, coach, and mentor, Mick Swagger (Navajo), has played a ton of softball, basketball, volleyball, cross country, track and field, ballet, gymnastics, tennis, and rugby as well. Swagger says the Native American Dancing community is a lot like the roller derby community because it is super vigorous, fun, community-building, and spiritual.

 

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Jussely Canada is a talented 16-year-old Chickasaw mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. would make her a formidable adversary. Canada recently qualified for the USA Federation of Pankration Athlima World Competition. While she has her eye on a career in criminal justice, turning MMA professional also is a goal Canada has set for herself. As far as Canada is concerned, the three three-minute matches are actually about out-thinking your opponent. “You’re playing human chess whenever you are fighting. You have to anticipate when you’re going to get tired and when your opponent is going to get tired; when to commit and when not to commit.”

 

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Carly Searles (Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians) was named to the all-tournament team for Trine Thunder in 2015. Trine’s senior class (including Searles) leaves as the only class in team history to win MIAA titles all four years. The Thunder accumulated a 160-26 record over the last four years. Searles concludes her college softball career as NCAA Division IIIs all-time leader with 306 career hits, 261 runs scored and 48 triples.

 

Law & Order

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Métis-Chippewa attorney Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin was the first Native American student, and first woman of color, to graduate from the Washington College of Law. She was admitted to the bar in 1914, and later worked for the Education Division of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs.

 

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Eliza Burton “Lyda” Conley was an American lawyer of indigenous and European descent and the first woman admitted to the Kansas bar. She was notable for her campaign to prevent the sale and development of the Huron Cemetery in Kansas City, now known as the Wyandot National Burying Ground. She challenged the government in court and in 1909 she became the first indigenous woman admitted to argue a case before the Supreme Court of the United States.

 

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Diane Humetewa is the first Native American woman to ever be a federal judge. She serves on the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. She is a former U.S. attorney in Arizona and a member of the Hopi tribe. She is now the first active member of a Native American tribe to serve on the federal bench and only the third Native American in history to do so.

 

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Susan Allen is a Minnesota politician and member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. She is Lakota and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. A member of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (DFL), she represents District 62B, a southside district encompassing the Powderhorn and Bryant neighborhoods of Minneapolis. She is the first Native American woman to serve in the Minnesota Legislature and the first openly lesbian Native American to win election to a state legislature. As an attorney, Allen specializes in serving Indian tribes, helping them draft tribal laws in a wide range of areas.

 

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Octaviana Trujillo, a former chairwoman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona has been named to an advisory panel that addresses environmental issues facing the United States, Canada and Mexico. She will serve on the Joint Public Advisory Committee to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation at the request of President Barack Obama. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation was created by the United States, Canada and Mexico to implement the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, the environmental accord that accompanied the North American Free Trade Agreement. The public committee consists of five members from each of the three nations. Trujillo, who was the first woman to serve as chair of her tribe, brings a unique perspective to the position. The Yaqui people live on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border and she has written about the connections between the now-separated communities. Dr. Trujillo received a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Arizona State University.

 

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Jodi Archambault Gillette (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) served on the White House’s Domestic Policy Council where she advised the president on issues impacting Indian country from 2009 to 2014. She worked in several key roles including deputy assistant secretary to the assistant secretary-Indian affairs for policy and economic development in the Interior Department.  Prior to joining the assistant secretary’s staff, she served as deputy associate director of Intergovernmental Affairs and associate director of public engagement, where she was responsible for the communication and interaction between tribal nations and the White House. Gillette also worked on the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to help restore tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence crimes against Native American women on tribal lands.

 

Musicians

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Buffy Sainte-Marie is a rock musician with lyrics that are politically challenging, romantic, and beautiful. She was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, celebrated a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 2010, and given a Canadian Gemini Award. Born in Piapot Cree First Nation she continues to tour aggressively and show her conceptual artwork—what she terms “digital beadwork”—across the continent. She also promotes the Cradleboard Teaching Project, a program to convey accurate information about Native peoples through educational systems.

 

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Rita Coolidge is an American recording artist and songwriter. During the 1970s and 1980s, she charted hits on Billboard’s pop, country, adult contemporary and jazz charts and won two Grammy Awards with fellow musician and former husband Kris Kristofferson. .In 1997, Coolidge was one of the founding members of Walela, a Native American music trio, that also included Priscilla and Priscilla’s daughter Laura Satterfield. Walela means hummingbird in Cherokee. Coolidge considered this group important, not only in honoring her Cherokee ancestors but also in bringing their culture to others.

 

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Dr. Joanne Shenandoah is one of America’s most celebrated and critically acclaimed musicians. She is a member of the Oneida Nation and a Grammy Award winner with over 40 music awards (including a record 13 Native American Music awards) and 17 recordings.  She has captured the hearts of audiences all over the world, from North and South America, South Africa, Europe, Australia and Korea, with praise for her work to promote universal peace. She is a board member of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. Shenandoah has recorded with Jim Morrison, Sting, Bono, Sinead O’Conner, and Robert Downey Jr. among others. Shenandoah performed for His Holiness the Dali Lama and at St. Peter’s at the Vatican in Italy where she performed an original composition for the celebration for the canonization of the first Native American Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in 2012.

 

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Allison Warden is an Iñupiaq inter-disciplinary artist who also raps under the name AKU-MATU. Her one-woman show, “Ode to the Polar Bear” has traveled extensively throughout Alaska and has been re-worked into a longer show, “Calling All Polar Bears”, which debuted in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2011.  In 2012, she received a Rasmuson Individual Artist award for performance art and became an “On Our Radar” artist for Creative Capital.  She works with youth as an Artist in the Schools for the Alaska State Council of the Arts and loves empowering youth to find their creative voice through theatre and music.

 

Tribal Leaders

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For more than two decades, Wilma Mankiller led her people through difficult times. After leaving office, she continued her activism on behalf of Native Americans and women. She also taught for a short time at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Mankiller shared her experiences as a pioneer in tribal government in her 1993 autobiography, Mankiller: A Chief and Her People. She also wrote and compiled Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women (2004), featuring a forward by leading feminist Gloria Steinem. For her leadership and activism, Mankiller received numerous honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. After learning of Mankiller’s passing in 2010, President Barack Obama issued a statement about legendary Cherokee chief: “As the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief, she transformed the nation-to-nation relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the federal government, and served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country and across America,” he stated. “Her legacy will continue to encourage and motivate all who carry on her work.”

 

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LaDonna Harris, President of Americans for Indian Opportunity, is a remarkable Numunuu (Comanche) statesman and national leader who has enriched the lives of thousands.  She has devoted her life to building coalitions that create change.  She continues her activism in the areas of civil rights, environmental protection, the women’s movement and world peace. Harris was instrumental in the return of the Taos Blue Lake to the people of Taos Pueblo and to the Menominee Tribe in regaining their federal recognition.  In the 1960’s, she founded Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity to find ways to reverse the stifling socio-economic conditions that impact Indian communities.  From the 1970’s to the present, she has presided over Americans for Indian Opportunity which catalyzes and facilitates culturally appropriate initiatives that enrich the lives of Indigenous peoples. Harris also help to found some of today’s leading national Indian organizations including the National Indian Housing Council, Council of Energy Resource Tribes, National Tribal Environmental Council, and National Indian Business Association. In 1994, Vice President Gore recognized Harris as a leader in the area of telecommunications in his remarks at the White House Tribal Summit and then Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown appointed her to the Advisory Council on the National Information Infrastructure.  In addition, she was appointed to four Presidential Commissions and represented the United States on the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO). She was a founding member of Common Cause and the National Urban Coalition and is an ardent spokesperson against poverty and social injustice.  As an advocate for women’s rights, she was a founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus.  In 1980, as the Vice Presidential nominee on the Citizens Party ticket with Barry Commoner, Harris firmly added environmental issues to that and future presidential campaigns.  Her influence now reaches to the international community to promote peace as well.  She was an original member of Global Tomorrow Coalition, the U.S. Representative to the OAS Inter-American Indigenous Institute.

 

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Roberta “Bobbie” Conner (Umatilla, Cayuse, Nez Perce) is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation in Pendleton, Oregon. Winner of the EcoTrust’s Indigenous Leadership Award in 2007, she is also Director of the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute.  The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute is a museum and research institute located on the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton in eastern Oregon. It is the only Native American museum along the Oregon Trail. Conner’s work representing the (CTUIR) as a community and national leader, museum director, curator, speaker, and author has been astounding. Conner is a well-published writer and lecturer on cultural preservation issues. Her idea to hold convocations of tribal elders, tribal and non-Indian scholars and tribal students resulted in a new tribal history book and the development of a Sahaptian language place names atlas. She also mentors young scholars who are interested in tribal cultural preservation by developing opportunities for them to work with well-known historians and authors on Tamástslikt projects.

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