Meet six American Indian women who have blazed new trails, led nations, and challenged the status quo.Less
Histories of the United States have not always included stories about Native women. American Indian women have influenced our national narrative for generations, yet their stories have not been widely told. Learn about how they helped pave the way for future generations seeking equity and opportunity for Native peoples and all Americans. From the encampment at Valley Forge to Capitol Hill, Native Women have been leading with wisdom and strength throughout American history.
Polly Cooper (Oneida) was a hero to the American soldiers stationed at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, during the Revolutionary War. She and other Oneida Nation representatives travelled more than four hundred miles through the bitter cold during the winter of 1777–78 to deliver corn to General George Washington’s starving troops. While the rest of the Oneida relief party returned home, Cooper stayed, saying it was the Oneida’s duty to help their allies.
Asdzáá Tł’ogi, or Juanita, was a warrior and symbol of resistance to Diné (Navajo) people. In late 1863, the US forced about 11,500 Diné men, women, and children from their homelands in the Four Corners area to the Bosque Redondo prison camp in New Mexico. Four years later, a group of Diné women were instrumental in successfully negotiating for their people’s return. Later, Juanita often traveled to Washington, DC with her husband Manuelito and Diné delegations to advocate for her nation.
Zitkála-Šá, or Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Yankton Sioux), was a dedicated activist for Native American rights. A gifted writer, she was an outspoken critic of Indian boarding schools, having experienced as both student and teacher their policy of forced assimilation. In 1926, Zitkála-Šá founded the National Council of American Indians, a pan-Indian organization dedicated to social and political reforms.
Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), key to passage of several acts of Congress related to Indian cultural issues, including the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the National Museum of the American Indian Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; helped Native peoples recover more than 1M acres of land and press for treaty-guaranteed fishing and hunting rights. In 2014 Harjo received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her service to civil rights.
Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) and Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) made history in 2018 as the first Native American women elected to the United States Congress, joining a record number of Native women who ran for public office that year.