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.