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Lucy Friedlander Covington (d. 1982) / Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
Lucy Covington was a prominent tribal leader and political activist throughout her life. During the Termination Era in the 1950s when the Colville Tribes were threatened with a termination bill and a certain loss of tribal land, Lucy fought the effort. Despite other tribal council members’ favoring termination, Lucy went to great lengths to protect their lands, even traveling repeatedly to Washington, D.C., to gain support and to lobby against the bill.
Lucy continued to advocate against termination until 1971. She remained committed to protecting tribal rights and resources, developing tribal services, governing the reservation for the benefit of tribal citizens, and promoting inter-tribal cooperation. Lucy was a shining example of Native self-determination in action and was, indeed, a founder of that movement. Her work along with other civil rights leaders of the time ushered in a shift of U.S. policy from termination to independence and autonomy.
Ada Deer / Menominee
Ada Deer is one of the most prominent Native political activists of our time. She was an outspoken opponent of tribal termination in the 1970s and continues through the present day in her work as a scholar and an advocate for Native rights. Ada has had a long and extremely accomplished career. In 1974, she was the first woman to serve as Chair of the Menominee Restoration Committee. From 1993-1997, she was the first Native woman to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior.
Ada has had a distinguished political career. She ran for Wisconsin Secretary of State in both 1978 and 1982 and served as vice-chair of the 1984 Mondale-Ferraro presidential campaign. In 1992, she ran for a U.S. Congressional seat in Wisconsin’s Second District, winning the Democratic primary without “soft money” funding from political action committees. She has taught in the School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1977 and currently holds the title of Distinguished Lecturer, and has been the director of the American Indian Studies Department at UW–Madison since 1999. She co-founded Milwaukee’s Indian Community School. She also created the first program at the University to provide social work training on Native American reservations. She is a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Louise Erdrich / Turtle Mountain Chippewa
Louise Erdrich attended Dartmouth College from 1972 to 1976 and was part of the first class of women admitted to the college, earning an A.B. in English. Today, she is one of the most celebrated and beloved authors of novels, poetry and children’s books of what is called the second wave of the Native American Renaissance, and holds an important place in contemporary American fiction.
In her award-winning and best-selling literary works, Louise explores her Ojibwe and German heritages. She has received many distinguished honors for her writing. “Love Medicine,” published in 1984, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984. Her novel, “The Plague of Doves” was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Fiction in 2009. In 2012, she received the National Book Award for Fiction for “Round House.” In 2015, she was the recipient of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction at the National Book Festival. Today, Louise, who continues writing books and going to the top of best-seller lists, owns the small independent Minneapolis, Minnesota bookstore Birchbark Books, which exists to nurture and build a community based on books.
Billy Frank, Jr. (d. 2014) / Nisqually
Billy Frank, Jr. was an environmental leader and treaty rights activist known for his grassroots campaign for fishing rights on the Nisqually River in Washington State in the 1960s and 1970s. He was also known for promoting cooperative management of natural resources.
The Native nations in western Washington reserved the right to fish at all usual and accustomed places, and to hunt and gather shellfish in treaties with the U.S. government negotiated in the mid-1850s. But when tribal members tried to exercise those rights off-reservation they were arrested for fishing in violation of state law. Billy was arrested more than 50 times in the Fish Wars of the 1960s and 1970s because of his incredible dedication to tribal fishing rights. In 1974, the Boldt Decision ruled in favor of the tribes, thus establishing the 20 treaty tribes in western Washington as co-managers of the salmon resource with Washington State and re-affirming tribal rights to half the harvestable salmon returning to western Washington. Billy served as Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than 30 years. In November 2015, President Barack Obama announced that Billy would receive a
posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. In December 2015, the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was renamed the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Forrest Gerard (d. 2013) / Blackfeet
Forrest Gerard had a long and dedicated life of service. During World War II, he served with the U.S. Army Air Corps as a member of a bomber crew. After flying 35 combat missions over Nazi- occupied Europe, he became the first member of his family to attend college, receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Montana in 1949.
Forrest was a key architect of the self-determination policy that has defined Native American affairs for more than 40 years. In 1971, he joined the staff of U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). The Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act legislation was introduced by Senator Jackson in 1973. The Act, which passed Congress in 1974 and was signed by President Gerald Ford in 1975, reversed a policy of termination and assimilation, and began the era of self governance and self determination for tribes, which continues to guide federal Indian policy today. In 1977, Forrest was appointed the first Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior. In July 2013, he was recognized on the U.S. Senate floor by U.S. Senator and Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Maria Cantwell (D-WA) for his “leadership in charting a new path for Native Americans, a path that won the support of Congress, tribal governments and the nation.”
Hattie Kauffman / Nez Perce
Hattie Kauffman started her broadcast career on college radio at the University of Minnesota. Next, she began to report and anchor for KING 5 News in Seattle, earning four Emmy awards. ABC’s Good Morning America whisked Hattie to New York City in 1987, where she served as a Special Correspondent and frequent substitute anchor.
In 1990, Hattie moved to CBS News as a correspondent and substitute anchor on CBS This Morning. In her two decades with the network, Hattie also reported for 48 Hours, Street Stories, Sunday Morning, CBS Radio, CBS Special Reports, the Early Show, and CBS Evening News. Hattie’s memoir, “Falling Into Place,” was published in September 2013.
Oren Lyons / Onondaga
Chief Oren Lyons is a faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Council of Chiefs, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy). He served in the U.S. Army before receiving a scholarship to Syracuse University where he was an All-American athlete in lacrosse, a traditional sport of the Haudenosaunee. In the 1960s, he joined the “Red Power Movement” and in the 1970s he took a leadership role in Native rights events, including the “Trail of Broken Treaties.” In 1982, he helped establish the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations. For more than four decades, Chief Lyons has been an activist and has taken a leadership role in international Indigenous and environmental justice events and activities and continues to work with communities across the globe.
Chief Lyons served as Professor of American Studies and Director of the Native American Studies Program at the State University of New York/Buffalo. He has published widely over the years and edited “Exiled in the Land of the Free,” a book that made the case for the influence of the ideas and values of the Iroquois Confederacy on American democracy and the U.S. Constitution. Today, Chief Lyons continues to inspire generations through his leadership in the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and his public speaking.
Richard Oakes (d. 1972) / Mohawk
Just 30 years old when he died in 1972, Mohawk activist Richard Oakes holds a very special place in contemporary Native history. Born and raised in Akwesasne on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation and working as a high steel worker by the age of 16, he left the east coast for the west coast in the late 1960s. He enrolled at San Francisco State University. Disappointed with the lack of courses in Native studies at the University, he subsequently worked with a professor to create the first curriculum for Native studies in the country.
Richard is most well known as a leader of the 19-month peaceful occupation of Alcatraz Island, located in San Francisco Bay. The 1969-1971 Alcatraz Occupation, which protested abusive government policies against tribes, such as termination, and breaking treaties, is credited for unifying Native Americans in the struggle for their human rights. Today, the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center serves as a place at San Francisco University where Richard is remembered. November 29, 2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Peaceful Occupation of Alcatraz by Indians of All Tribes.
Elizabeth Peratrovich (d. 1958) / Tlingit
Elizabeth Peratrovich was a civil rights activist in Alaska. In the 1940s, she was credited with advocacy that gained the passage of the 1945 Alaska territory Anti-Discrimination Act. The Act was the first anti-discrimination law in the United States, signed well before the federal Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and 14 years before Alaska became the 49th state.
On February 6, 1988, the Alaska State Legislature established February 16 (the day of the 1945 signing of the Anti-Discrimination Act) as “Elizabeth Peratrovich Day,” to honor her contributions “for her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska.” In 1992, Gallery B of the Alaska House of Representatives chamber in the Alaska State Capitol was renamed in her honor. In 2018, Elizabeth was chosen by the National Women’s History Project as one of its honorees for Women’s History Month in the United States.
Pascal Poolaw (d. 1967) / Kiowa
Recognized as America’s most decorated Native American soldiers, Pascal Poolaw served with the United States Army in three wars: World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Among his 42 medals and citations are four Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars. He earned three Purple Hearts, one for each of the wars in which he served. The fourth Silver Star was awarded posthumously after Pascal died during action in Vietnam.
At Pascal’s funeral at the Fort Sill Post Cemetery in Lawton, Oklahoma, his wife Irene said, “He has followed the trail of the great chiefs. His people hold him in honor and highest esteem. He has given his life for the people and the country he loved so much.” His legacy lives on at Fort Sill. Poolaw Hall is named after him and holds an exhibit dedicated to the American Indian Soldier.
Mary Golda Ross (d. 2008) / Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
Mary Golda Ross was the first known Native American female engineer and the first female engineer in the history of Lockheed. Mary, who began working for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in 1942, helped design the P-38 fighter plane. She was one of the 40 founding engineers—and the only Native American and the only woman—on the team of Lockheed’s highly secretive Advanced Development Programs, which became known as the Skunk Works Project. She is best remembered for her work on aerospace design. She worked at Lockheed until her retirement in 1973.
During her retirement, Mary worked to recruit young women and Native Americans to engineering careers. At the age of 96, she participated in the opening ceremonies of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In 2008, upon her death, Mary left a $400,000 endowment to the Museum. In 2019, Mary was depicted on the $1 coin by the U.S. Mint as they celebrated American Indians in the Space Program.
Wes Studi / Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
From small-town Oklahoma Native to internationally-acclaimed actor and musician, Wes Studi credits his passion and multi-faceted background for his powerful character portrayals that forever changed a Hollywood stereotype. Drawing from his rich life experience, Wes has moved audiences with unforgettable performances in films, including “Dances with Wolves,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” Geronimo: An American Legend” and “Heat,” as well as James Cameron’s “Avatar,” Paul Weitz’s “Being Flynn” and Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles.”
Throughout his 30-year career, Wes has won numerous awards, including induction into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Hall of Great Western Performers in 2013. In 2018, Wes, who is a Vietnam Veteran, was invited to present at the 90th Academy Awards. To a viewership of 26.5 million, he introduced a video montage of military movies as a tribute to veterans. In 2019, Wes received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Award, an honorary Oscar statuette, given to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement.
Wes is also a skilled stone carver and author. He has written two children’s books for the Cherokee Bilingual/Cross Cultural Education Center. He is also a passionate activist and academic. A fluent speaker of his Cherokee language, Wes has a national leadership role in the promotion and preservation of Indigenous languages, acting as the spokesperson for the Santa Fe, N.M.-based Indigenous Language Institute.
2018 INAUGURAL inductees
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Lionel Bordeaux (Sicangu Lakota) (1940-)
Dr. Lionel Bordeaux is a long-time educator and was the first president of Sinte Gleska College on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. He has received many honors over the years, including Outstanding Educator of the Year by the South Dakota Indian Education Association and has been inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame. Today, he continues to serve as president of Sinte Gleska College, making him the longest-serving college president in the United States.
Elouise Cobell / Yellow Bird Woman (Blackfeet) (1945-2011)
A respected tribal elder, Cobell was the lead plaintiff in the groundbreaking class-action suit Cobell v. Salazar that challenged the United States’ mismanagement of trust funds belonging to more than 500,000 individual Native Americans. She was instrumental in the U.S. government awarding $3.4 billion settlement for the trust case, the largest settlement in history.
Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux) (1935-2005)
Author, theologian, lawyer, historian and activist, Vine Deloria, Jr. is widely known for his book, “Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto” (1969), which helped generate national attention to Native American issues in the same year as the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement. He is known to many as the leading Native American intellectual of the 20th century and a giant in the realm of Native American policy.
LaDonna Harris (Comanche Nation) (1931-)
Ladonna Harris is founder and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity. As a national leader, she has influenced the agendas of civil rights, feminist, environmental and world peace movements. She was a founding member of Common Cause and the National Urban Coalition and is an ardent spokesperson against poverty and for social injustice. As an advocate for women’s rights, she was an original convener of the National Women’s Political Caucus. She was the 1980 vice presidential nominee on the Citizens Party ticket with Barry Commoner.
John Herrington (Chickasaw) (1958-)
John Herrington is a retired United States Naval Aviator and former NASA astronaut. He was the first enrolled member of a Native tribe to fly in space.
Allan Houser/Haozous (Chiricahua Apache) (1914–1994)
Allan Houser/Haozous was a sculptor, painter and book illustrator. He is one of the most renowned Native American painters and Modernist sculptors of the 20th century. His work is in the collections of prominent museums throughout the world.
Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee Nation) (1945–2010)
Wilma Mankiller was a community organizer and the first woman elected to serve as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She is the author of a national best-selling autobiography, “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People.”
Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota)(1938-)
Billy Mills was an Olympic Gold Medalist in 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Olympics, at the time was the only person from the Western Hemisphere to win the Olympic gold in this event. He was awarded the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal (the second highest civilian award in the U.S.) by President Obama, for his work with his organization Running Strong for American Indian Youth.
N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa) (1934-)
N. Scott Momaday is a novelist, short story writer, essayist and poet. His novel, “House Made of Dawn” (1969) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He received the National Medal of Arts in 2007 and holds 20 honorary degrees from colleges and universities and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Lori Piestewa (Hopi) (1979-2003)
United States Army soldier Lori Piestewa as the first Native American woman in history to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military and the first woman killed in the Iraq War. Piestewa Peak in Arizona is named in her honor.
Maria Tallchief (Osage) (1925-2013)
Tallchief was an American ballerina and was considered America’s first prima ballerina, the first Native American to hold that rank. She became the first star of the New York City Ballet, co-founded in 1946 by legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Tallchief’s 1949 role in The Firebird catapulted her to the top of the ballet world. Her role as the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker transformed the ballet to America’s most popular. She was the first American to perform in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater.
Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox) (1887–1953)
Athlete and the first Native American to win Olympic gold medals for the United States, Thorpe is considered one of the most versatile athletes of modern sports. He won Olympic gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, and played American football (collegiate and professional), professional baseball and basketball. The Associated Press named Thorpe the “greatest athlete” from the first 50 years of the 20th century, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted him as part of its 1963 inaugural class.