Freedom Fighters: 8 Courageous Native Americans
Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabedwe (Ojibwe), enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishiaabeg, White Earth Reservation–Former Green Party Vice Presidential Candidate; Co-Creator, Honor the Earth
LaDuke’s name comes up on ICTMN often, both for her activism in Indian Country and her work as a contributor to the website. As the founding director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, winner of the Reebok Human Rights Award and an inductee into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and TIME Magazines 50 Most Promising leaders under 40 in 1994, she certainly deserves inclusion among the brave.
For decades LaDuke has fought against environmental injustices that include unfair uranium mining practices, the battle for food sustainability in Indian country and the dangerous practices of chemical companies such as Monsanto. Currently she is fighting against the Keystone XL Pipeline with a group known as the Cowboy and Indian Coalition.
Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee
In 1985, Wilma Pearl Mankiller made history when she became the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Fighting relentlessly for years as chief, Mankiller improved the Cherokee Nation’s health care, education system and access to clean water. Due to her efforts, Mankiller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.
Upon her passing in 2010, President Obama issued these words in her honor: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Wilma Mankiller today,” he said. “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. Her legacy will continue to encourage and motivate all who carry on her work.”
Raymond Cross, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Tribes
In 1949, Tribal Chairman George Gillette of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes covered his face with his hands and cried as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Julius Krug signed the Takings Act. The treaty, which took land from the tribes to build the Garrison Dam, allowed for the flooding of more than 200,000 acres of tribal lands along the Missouri River. At that time a six-year-old Raymond Cross would watch his homelands disappear under water.
His childhood influenced strongly by the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, which sent tribes to California, Cross sought an education in law and attended Stanford University. After several years at various law firms and organizations, Cross returned home and worked for the creation of a new Joint Tribal Advisory Committee (JTAC) that would address injustices against the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people.
In 1992, after many frequent trips to Washington, Cross would finally see a joint committee of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate award the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people $149.2 million for the illegal seizure of those treaty-protected lands in 1949. Cross, having worked tirelessly for many years, had sought and won a victory of compensation for his people. Today he is a law professor at the University of Montana.
(Elizabeth) Maria Tallchief, Osage
Maria Tallchief, born in 1925 in Fairfax Oklahoma, leaped over boundaries both literally and figuratively as she made way for Native American women in the world of ballet. She became the first ever Native woman prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet in 1947, a title she held for 13 years.
In her career Tallchief studied and danced with such highly reputable companies as the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the Paris Opera Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. Growing up in Los Angeles, she also studied with such famed ballet instructors as Ernest Belcher and Bronislava Nijinska.
After a career that lasted decades and a wondrous life as a Native woman that had crossed what was thought an impenetrable boundary, she passed away at 88 years of age on April 11, 2013 in Chicago Illinois.
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