Reclaiming the Land: 7 Heroes of Native American Resistance
Reclaiming the Land: 7 Heroes of Native American Resistance

Reclaiming the Land: 7 Heroes of Native American Resistance

Michelle Powell-Smith - September 21, 2016

Reclaiming the Land: 7 Heroes of Native American Resistance
Poet and activist Suzan Shown Harjo

Suzan Shown Harjo

Suzan Shown Harjo (born June 2, 1945) is a strong, modern advocate for Native American rights. Born on a reservation in Oklahoma, her parents were Cheyenne and Muskogee. Her father was a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, and she spent part of her childhood near Naples, Italy. As a young woman, she went to work in radio and television, finding her voice as an advocate for her people.

Beginning in the 1960s, Harjo began working actively on a variety of issues, including the repatriation of cultural artifacts, religious freedom for Native Americans, and news shows sharing Native American issues. By the mid-1970s, her role was no longer in the media; she had found a political voice, and in 1978, was appointed the congressional liaison for Indian Affairs. By the early 1980s, her focus had expanded to include land rights.

Harjo continued her work throughout the 1980s, playing a key role in several important pieces of legislation, including rights to religious freedom for Native Americans and the return of significant amounts of land to Native American tribes. In addition, she spoke out about a variety of causes and wrote for Native American news publications. Harjo’s work was essential to the development of the National Museum of the American Indian in both New York City and Washington D.C.

As president of the Morning Star Institute, a group that advocates for Native American rights, Harjo continues her work to support land claims and rights for Native Americans, increased education for children, and increasingly, efforts to encourage sports teams to abandon Native American mascots, like that of the Washington Redskins. In 2014, Harjo received the highest honor given in the U.S. for civilian service, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Reclaiming the Land: 7 Heroes of Native American Resistance
President Barack Obama with first lady Michelle Obama, join Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation Chairman Dave Archambault II, and the members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation, in Cannon Ball, N.D., Friday, June 13, 2014, during a Cannon Ball flag day celebration, at the Cannon Ball powwow grounds. ItÂ’s the presidentÂ’s first trip to Indian Country as president and only the third such visit by a sitting president in almost 80 years. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Dave Archambault II

Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, is one of the key leaders in the Dakota Access Pipeline protest of 2016. Elected in 2013, Archambault is a quiet and education business owner, who has worked ceaselessly to improve conditions for the people on the Standing Rock reservation and other reservations across the country.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, as planned, will cross four states and the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux, and all those who have joined them, fear for the well-being of sacred sites, including burial grounds, as well as water access for the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and many communities living downstream from the pipeline.

Under the leadership of Archambault and others, Native Americans from across the United States and Canada have joined the protest, forming a massive prayer camp. The protesters, calling themselves water protectors, have been subject to attacks by pepper spray and trained attack dogs, and the pipeline company has, on at least one occasion, intentionally destroyed sacred burial grounds.

Throughout this protest, Archambault has remained a solid and calm voice, encouraging peaceful, but strong protest among his people. In doing so, he has brought together a great alliance of native voices, from those arriving in cars and campers to those coming in traditional canoes to lend their voices and support to this mission.