Native American Heroines Past and Present (Photo Gallery)


Dec 1, 2013

Native American Heroines Past and Present (Photo Gallery)

For so many of us, Thanksgiving means family, food and football. In fact, most schools teach children that Thanksgiving marks the day that Pilgrims met welcoming Indians with whom they exchanged food and traditions.

The history of Native Americans and the settlers, however, is not so simple. At the hands of those who came to conquer and control new lands, America's indigenous peoples were nearly wiped out. There was war; there was disease; and to this day, Native Americans are still fighting for their voices to be heard.   

In this photo gallery, MAKERS highlights a handful of Native American heroines from the past and present. If you noticed we missed an important woman, tweet at @MAKERSwomen with your suggestion!


Maria Tallchief Maria Tallchief was considered America's first major prima ballerina and was the first person of Native American descent to hold the rank. She remained closely tied to her Osage history until her death, speaking out against stereotypes and misconceptions about Native Americans on many occasions. The Osage Nation honored her with the title "Princess Wa-Xthe-Thomba" ("Woman of Two Standards") and in 1996, she received a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievements. Photo: Dance Magazine Cover February 1954
Sacajawea Sacajawea was a Lemhi Shoshone woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition, acting as an interpreter and guide, in their exploration of the Western United States. She traveled thousands of miles from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean between 1804 and 1806. In 2001, she was given the title of Honorary Sergeant, Regular Army, by President Bill Clinton.
Pocahontas Pocahontas was a Virginia Indian most notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. The daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of a network of tributary tribal nations in the Tsenacommacah, she is said to have saved the life of a captive, Englishman John Smith, in 1607 by placing her head upon his own when her father raised his war club to execute him. Photo: Library of Congress
Buffalo Calf Road Woman Also known as Brave Woman, Buffalo Calf Road Woman was a Northern Cheyenne woman who saved her wounded warrior brother Chief Comes in Sight, in the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876. Her rescue helped rally the Cheyenne warriors to win the battle. She fought next to her husband in the Battle of the Little Bighorn that same year. In 2005 Northern Cheyenne storytellers credited Buffalo Calf Road Woman with striking the blow that knocked General George Armstrong Custer off his horse before he died. Photo:
Eliza Burton “Lyda” Conley Lyda Conely was the first American lawyer of Native American and European descent and the first woman admitted to the Kansas bar. In 1909 she was the first Native American woman admitted to argue a case before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Ada Deer Ada Deer is a Native American advocate and scholar who was the first Native American woman to serve as head of the United States' Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1993 to 1997. Photo: Getty Images
Joyce Dugan Joyce Dugan is the former Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She became Principal Chief in 1995, and was the first woman to be elected to the office. Photo:
Marie Smith Jones Marie Smith Jones was the last surviving speaker of the Eyak language of Southcentral Alaska. An honorary chief of the Eyak Nation, she was the last remaining full-blooded Eyak. Jones spoke at the United Nations on the issues of peace and indigenous languages. Photo: MCT via Getty Images
Lozen Lozen was a skilled warrior and a prophetess of the Chihenne Chiricahua Apache. She was the sister of Victorio, a prominent chief who said, "Lozen is my right hand...strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy. Lozen is a shield to her people." Photo:
Wilma Mankiller Wilma Mankiller was the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 from President Bill Clinton. Following her passing in 2010, President Obama stated that as the "Cherokee Nation’s first female chief, [Wilma Mankiller] 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. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she was recognized for her vision and commitment to a brighter future for all Americans." Photo: ATP/Getty Images
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte La Flesche Picotte was the first American Indian woman to become a physician in the United States. She grew up on the Omaha Reservation and went to college at the Hampton Institute. In 1889, she earned her medical degree at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. La Flesche Picotte worked in Nebraska, providing health care to her Omaha people for much of her career.
Lori Piestewa A member of the Hopi tribe, Piestewa was the first Native American woman in history to die in combat while serving with the U.S. military and the first woman in the U.S. armed forces killed in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Arizona's Piestewa Peak is named in her honor. Photo: Getty Images 
Rebecca Adamson is an economist and advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. She is the founder of First Peoples Worldwide and the founder and former director of the First Nations Development Institute.   Adamson was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1949 to a Cherokee mother and a Swedish-American father. After dropping out of college in 1970, she began working with Indian tribes in the Northwestern United States. At age 22, she was hired by the Coalition of Indian Controlled School boards and became deeply involved in the Indian-controlled school movement, which at that time was agitating for Native Americans to have increased control over their children’s education. She has been fighting for the rights of indigenous people ever since.   After recognizing the vital importance of economic self-sufficiency to self-determination, Adamson founded the First Nations Development Institute in 1980, where she spearheaded the creation of the first microloan fund in the U.S. In 1997, she took her advocacy global with the founding of First People Worldwide. Since then she has led initiatives everywhere from Botswana to Australia promoting values-based investment, environmental stewardship, and self-determination for native peoples everywhere.   Adamson is active in many non-profit organizations and is currently serving on the Board of Directors for The Bay and Paul Foundations, the Calvert Social Investment Fund (the largest socially responsible mutual fund), the Calvert Group Governance Committee, and Co-chairs the Calvert Social Investment Fund Audit Committee. She served as an advisor to the United Nations on Rural Development and as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations' International Labor Organization for International Indigenous Rights. She worked with the World Bank to create the Indigenous Peoples Climate Action Fund in 2009, to address Indigenous Peoples’ climate change issues. Adamson’s decades-long work has established a new field of culturally appropriate, values-driven development.

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