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Updated on October 15, 2016

A Small Sample of Some of Their Great Leaders

A couple years ago Minneapolis declared Indigenous Day as an official holiday. It replaced Columbus Day. Let's be honest: Columbus did not discover America. The Native peoples are the true discovers of the Americas. In fact Columbus killed and abused the Native Americans. He is no hero.

It is amazing to see the similarities between Hindus and Native Americans. Both have the flute and the drum, herbal medicine, the lunar calendar, the four directions, earth elements, ecological consciousness, matriarchal aspects and the honoring of the elders. The Ojibwe honor elders so much that they let the elders eat at feasts first, they speak first and are catered to first. It is through the wisdom of the elders that the tribe survives.

When I was in elementary, high school and college, I was fortunate to have many Native American friends. One of the my favorite professors was an amazing person by the name of Ada Deer of the Menominee tribe. She was an intelligent and articulate professor, never boring. She was at one time chair of this tribal group. When Bill Clinton was our president, she was the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) (1993 to 1997). My favorite book I wrote about in her class was Black Elk Speaks. He was a Native American medicine man who is one of the most well known spiritual leaders along with Sitting Bull who was both a chief and a medicine man. He was the genius behind the defeat of Custer at Little Bighorn.

Minneapolis has an American Indian Center and often has Native American events and leaders who speak on various topics. I was fortunate enough to hear Winona LaDuke (born in 1959) speak in South Minneapolis. She is a truly intelligent and articulate person who is working on environmental issues and sustainable economics. She was the Vice Presidential nominee of the Green Party in 1996 and 2000 along with Ralph Nader as Presidential nominee. One of her major projects until 2014 was the White Earth Land Recovery Project which she founded in 1989. This organization buys land surrounding White Earth Reservation to be held in trust for the White Earth tribal group of Northern Minnesota. Much of the Reservation was bought from the Native Americans by white individuals. This was allowed by the Allotment Act. Some land had questionable title. Some land was just out right stolen. She is the Executive Director of Honor the Earth which she developed in 1993 along with Amy Ray and Emily Sailers of the Indigo Girls. She was born in Los Angeles and raised in Ashland, Oregon. She moved to White Earth in 1982. She became a high school principal there and became an activist on Native and environmental issues. She has a degree from Harvard University and Antioch University in economic development. Her mother is Jewish and her father is Ojibwe. They divorced when she was five years old and she lived in Oregon with her mother who was an artist and an art teacher. Her father was an actor in Hollywood movies. She was married to Randy Kapashesit, a Cree leader, and has two children through this marriage: Waseyabin (girl) and Ajuawak (boy). They divorced and she later met Kevin Gasco. She has another child called Gwe through this relationship.

Another very famous Native American leader is Wilma Mankiller who was elected at the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1987. She was a very courageous individual who received the highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom.

Dr. Susan LaFleshe Picotte was born in 1865 and became the first Native American woman in the United States to obtain a medical degree. She attended Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, which was a black college. A number of Native Americans attended black colleges. There are a number of Black Native Americans who have both black and African-American ancestry. While attending this institute, she became connected with the Women's National Indian Association. She was a promoter of improving public health standards among the Omaha tribal group and opened a hospital along with others in Walhill, Nebraska. She was a promoter of Native American rights and the women's rights.

These are but a small sample of the Native American female leaders who made a difference in the lives of all Americans. In modern times there has been numerous female chiefs and tribal chairs. In Minnesota alone there are four female tribal leaders out of the total eleven tribal groups in our state.

Do Native Americans have goddesses like Hindus do? Yes! White Buffalo Calf Woman, Spider Woman, Changing Woman and Corn Mother are some of the most well known goddesses. One time one of my friends was involved with a healing and his friend invoked White Buffalo Calf Woman for healing. I actually saw her there. She appeared with her long black hair and beautiful Native attire. I told them that I saw her appear during the healing.

It is good to remember the great female leaders of all traditions who changed the world and made it a better place. As Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."




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