Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Celebrating Native American Heritage Month Like a G.I.R.L.

November is Native American Indian Heritage Month! Throughout the month, we celebrate Native Americans’ diverse cultures and traditions and highlight the many contributions they’ve made throughout history—and at Girl Scouts, we of course especially focus on the Native American heroines. All month long, join Girl Scouts as we honor the amazing G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ spirit of Native American culture.

The Go-Getters

Image via Library of Congress
During the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Sacagawea served as a guide and interpreter whose mission was to find a water route through North America and explore the uncharted West. During this journey of more than two years, she interpreted the Mandan and Shoshone languages, found edible wild foods, cooked, and even saved valuable instruments and records from being lost overboard during a storm.

Sacagawea was particularly key in collaborating with the Lemhi Shoshone tribe, because her brother was the chief. The Shoshone provided the travelers with guidance, horses, and the necessary assistance to get to the navigable waters of the Clearwater and Columbia rivers. Sacagawea received no payment for her contributions to the expedition, despite William Clark’s demands that her husband give her a greater portion of the reward. However, in 2003, Sacagawea was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for her contributions to American exploration and history.

Maria Tallchief
Image via Encyclopedia Britannica
Maria Tallchief
Long considered one of the most talented ballerinas of all time, Maria Tallchief was the first American to achieve the honor of becoming a prima ballerina. Her legendary artistic style and dedication to perfection continue to inspire dancers worldwide to this day.

Born in Fairfax, Oklahoma, on the Osage Nation Reservation, Maria started ballet and piano lessons at three years old. Her family then headed west to California, where the young Maria devoted even more time to studying dance. After she graduated from high school, she was accomplished enough to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

During the next five years, Maria attracted much attention with her memorable performances, particularly those choreographed by George Balanchine. After marrying George in 1946, the couple left Ballet Russe and moved to Paris, where Maria became the first American ballerina to debut at the Paris Opera. Soon after, Maria and George formed the Balanchine Ballet Society, now the world-renowned New York City Ballet. In 1996, Maria was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

The Innovators

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte
Image via
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte
Our first innovator, Susan La Flesche Picotte, was born in 1865 on the Omaha Indian Reservation in Northeast Nebraska. Her interest in the medical field was ignited from a young age as she witnessed the poor living and health conditions of those in her community. Susan knew she had to discover a way to help. In 1886, she attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania after receiving a scholarship from the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs—at the time, Susan was the first person to receive federal aid for professional education. Three years later, she graduated at the top of her class, and after completing a one-year internship, she became the first Native American physician in the United States.

Susan immediately took her education back home, where she advocated for cleanliness and air ventilation to prevent the spread of disease. She was paid only $500 a year as the reservation doctor, and many times, she was forced to pay for her own supplies or create new ways to care for her community members. However, Susan diligently persevered in an effort to care for as many patients as possible.

In 1894, she married Henry Picotte, a Sioux Indian from South Dakota, and moved to Bancroft, Nebraska. There she raised two children and opened her own private practice, despite the criticism she received for being a working mother. Throughout the rest of her life, Susan championed many causes that benefited Native Americans—from advocating for modern hygiene and disease prevention standards to securing land rights for her people to challenging a woman’s role in the family.

Louise Erdrich
Image via Encyclopedia Britannica
Louise Erdrich 
Born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota, Louise Erdrich was the first of seven children. Her mother was a Chippewa Indian (half Ojibwe and half French), and her grandfather served as tribal chairman for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Louise’s love of writing started young when her father paid her a nickel for every creative story she wrote.

In 1972, Louise was part of the first class of women admitted to Dartmouth College, where she earned a degree in English. There she met Michael Dorris, an anthropologist, writer, and director of the college’s Native American Studies program. Through this program, Louise deepened her interest in her own culture and began writing innovative literary work that featured Native American characters and settings. Years later, Louise and Michael began to collaborate on short stories, many of which received national accolades.

Louise became one of the most influential writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. Her novel The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2009, and in 2012 she was honored with the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. Today this innovator is still writing and has opened her own independent bookstore in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which focuses on Native American literature and the community.

The Risk-Takers

Ada Deer
Image via Women in Wisconsin
Ada Deer
Ada Deer was born into the Menominee tribe in 1935 in Keshena, Wisconsin. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she attended New York School (now Columbia University) to earn her master’s degree in social work.

Ada then moved to be closer to the Menominee Nation and worked to advocate on its behalf, especially when working with federal authorities. At the time, the Menominee tribe was governed by Menominee Tribal Enterprises, Inc., however, tribe members did not have a controlling vote when decisions were being made. One of these decisions was to sell Menominee lands and remove the tribe’s federal recognition. Ada, opposing this, joined a group called the Determination of Right and Unity for Menominee Shareholders and frequently visited Washington, DC, to gain support for the cause.

Ada’s passion and courage eventually led to the Menominee Restoration Act, which President Richard Nixon signed into law in 1973. This legislation officially restored the Menominee tribe’s federal status and created the Menominee Restoration Committee, on which Ada served as chair for two years. In 1993, Ada was appointed assistant secretary of the interior and served as head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs - the first woman to do so.

Eliza Burton "Lyda" Conley
Image via MAKERS
Eliza Burton “Lyda” Conley 
Lyda Conley, a multiracial member of the Wyandot Nation, was born in 1869. Her family strongly encouraged her and her sisters to pursue an education, so in 1902, she graduated from Kansas City School of Law, becoming the first woman admitted to the Kansas Bar.

Lyda’s most famous case came soon after, when Huron Cemetery, a tribal burial ground in Kansas, was threatened to be sold for development. In protest, Lyda filed a petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas to stop the sale. She lost, but that didn’t stop her—she bravely appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first female Native American lawyer to be admitted before the court. Unfortunately, she lost again.

Unwavering in her pursuit of justice, when she returned to Kansas, Lyda and her sisters rallied their community to help protect the land, gaining attention from Senator Charles Curtis, who also had Native American ancestry. He introduced a bill to Congress to make the land a national park, and the law was passed in 1916, preventing future development of the cemetery. In 2016, the cemetery was named a National Historic Landmark.

The Leaders

Dr. Kathy Hopinkah Hannan
Dr. Kathy Hopinkah Hannan 
We’re proud to call Dr. Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, the national president and chair of the Girl Scouts of the USA Board of Directors, one of our own. She also serves on the Advisory Board for the Women Corporate Directors Foundation, which promotes and strengthens women in the boardroom. A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation tribe, Kathy served under George W. Bush’s administration on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education. She also served as a commissioner on the Ho-Chunk Nation Tribal Employment Rights Office Commission, where she was responsible for guiding the tribe’s economic investments, approving development contracts, and reviewing educational programs.

Kathy’s tenure in the accounting profession led her to a series of leadership roles within KPMG, including managing partner of tax, vice chairman of human resources, chief diversity officer, and chief corporate responsibility officer. She currently works with the KPMG Board Leadership Center to broaden governance discussions regarding business and society and is the national leader for Total Impact Strategy.

Wilma Mankiller
Image via Encyclopedia Britannica
Wilma Mankiller 
Born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in 1945, Wilma Mankiller is a descendent of Cherokee Indians, a tribe that was forced to leave its homelands in the 1830s. Her family moved to San Francisco, California, with the hopes of more opportunities, however, because of poverty and discrimination, the family struggled.

Wilma’s passion to help her people was inspired by Native Americans’ attempts to reclaim Alcatraz Island in the 1960s. As an adult, she returned to Oklahoma and began working for the Cherokee Nation as a tribal planner and program developer.

In 1983, Wilma ran for and was elected to serve as deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation. A mere two years later, she was named the tribe’s principal chief—becoming the very first woman in the Cherokee Nation to hold the position. Throughout her career, she advocated for improving the Cherokee Nation’s government, healthcare, and education systems. In 1998, Wilma received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her leadership and activism to better the lives of Native Americans.