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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Finding Gratitude for Native American / Indigenous Woman

Updated: May 17

More Gratitude for Native American and Indigenous Women

This is the second week of RosieCentral’s Giving Thanks Month and the second day of our expression of gratitude for Native American women who inspire us. Although I’m only covering a few, there are many such women and I urge you to find additional examples who can inspire your life.

No Teno Quah

For yesterday's celebration of Native American Heritage Month, I wrote about No Teno Quah (also known as Grace Thorpe).

If you missed our blog post, CLICK HERE to Read About No Teno Quah and the inspiration you gives us for our own lives.

Today, I want to honor and briefly describe five additional Native American / Indigenous women — just a small subset of the many fascinating women who offer inspiration.

Next Let's Honor Wilma Mankiller

But Let Me Back Up…

Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tell Their Stories is a collective memoir written by Kendra Bonnett and myself. While researching women born during WW2, we found incredible stories not only in the lives of women we interviewed, but also in the lives of women who had written their own memoirs.

Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010) is one of those women. As someone who grew up in Oklahoma, I was particularly taken with her life story. She was a Cherokee citizen born in Oklahoma. And although she spent part of her childhood in California, she later moved back to Oklahoma. There, in 1983, she became the Cherokee Nation’s deputy principal chief.

In 1985, Wilma became the first female principal chief of a major tribe (the second largest in the US). She remained in that position for 10 years.

More Honors. In 1993, Wilma was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame — an amazing honor that was followed in 1998 by the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the nation, from President Bill Clinton.

Quotes from Wilma Mankiller, Chief of the Cherokee Nation

Below, I’ve drawn a few quotes from her memoir, Wilma Mankiller: A Chief and Her People.

“Hugo [her husband] informed me that I could not have a car.... I went straight to the bank, withdrew some money, and bought an inexpensive Mazda. Buying that little red car without my husband’s consent or knowledge was my first act of rebellion against a lifestyle that I had come to believe was too narrow and confining for me.
“Once I began to become more independent, more active with school and in the community, it became increasingly difficult to keep my marriage together. ...
“I began to have dreams about more freedom and independence, and I finally came to understand that I did not have to live a life based on someone else’s dreams.

Gratitude for the Following Inspiration from Wilma Mankiller --

Be grateful for others who help you grow — who help you become a better person.

BUT, remember to take care of yourself. Don’t let others drag you down.

Four More Inspiring Native American / Indigenous Women

The following women are listed chronologically:

  • Eliza “Lyda” Burton Conley (1868-1946)

  • Zitkála-Šá (1876–1938)

  • Maria Tallchief (1925–2013)

  • Deb Haaland (1960–Present)

Eliza “Lyda” Burton Conley

Guardian of Huron Indian Cemetery

Eliza Conley was a member of the Wyandotte tribe. She made it to our list of admirable Native American women because she was the first Native American and third female ever to argue a case before the Supreme Court. Being first is important because it helps to inspire others — helps others know they can do it too.

In 1906, Congress decided that a Native American Cemetery in downtown Kansas City, Kansas could be sold and the bodies would be moved. Eliza refused not allow this to happen — at least without a fight for some of her ancestors were buried there.

By 1910, she had run out of all her options and took the case to the Supreme Court. Although the Court ruled against her, she made a friend of Charles Curtis a Kansas state senator (and eventually Herbert Hoover’s Vice President). Curtis, through the state legislature, helped pass a law to protect the cemetery.

Upon her death, Elizabeth joined her ancestors in that cemetery -- resting next to her sister.


Suffrage for Native Americans


At RosieCentral, we frequently write about Votes for Women and the long-fought suffrage movement in America. Although “women” finally won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, it was a partial victory. Why did I put the word WOMEN in quotes? That’s because not all women could vote even after the 19th Amendment. Many Black women still could not vote and Native Americans couldn’t (men or women) because laws had determined that they were not citizens of American.

The Indian Citizenship Act was finally passed in 1924. It’s successful enactment into law was, in large part, due to Zitkála-Šá’s lobbying for the important issue of Native American rights to vote.

And while the Indian Citizenship Act brought voting rights to most Indians, it was only with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 that final barriers were removed.

And before leaving discussion of voting rights we note that, as with much progress, there are movements that take us back. Some of the significant provisions of the Civil Rights Act were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court — once again making it more difficult for Native American to vote.

Maria Tallchief


Okay. I know. My Oklahoma roots are showing again.

Maria Tallchief is an amazing and determined woman and definitely belongs in this short list of Native American women. But I chose to include Maria Tallchief partly because as a sister Oklahoman I grew up hearing stories of her. I even had the exceptional experience of seeing her perform in Oklahoma City.

She was of the Osage Tribe — born in Fairfax, Oklahoma. And while there had been many ballerinas before her, most experts say she is the first major prima ballerina in America. And she certainly was the first Native American to be given that distinction.

She received a number of awards throughout her life. Many cite her Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Honor as the most significant. And it is important for she is the only Native American to receive the honor.

But Maria Tallchief received many other honors:

  • First American to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet (1947)

  • Became the prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet and the first American Indian to hold such title.

  • Mademoiselle magazine’s Woman of the Year (1951)

  • Washington Press Woman of the Year (1953)

  • The state of Oklahoma recognized June 29, 1953, as Maria Tallchief Day.

  • Osage Tribe named her Princess Wa-Xthe-Thonba, “Woman of Two Standards.”

  • Annual Dance Magazine Award (1960)

  • Indian of the Year Award (1963)

  • Capezio Award (1965)

  • Director of Chicago’s Lyric Opera Ballet (1973-79)

  • Director of Chicago City Ballet (1980-87)

  • The Kennedy Center Honors (1996)

  • Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame (1996)

  • National Medal of Arts and Humanities (1999)

  • Involved with America for Indian Opportunity

  • Directed the Indian Council Fire Achievement Award

Let's be grateful for Maria Tallchief. Through her hard work, she inspires us to do the very best we can.

Gratitude for Maria Tallchief's

Inspiration to Do Our Best!

Deb Haaland

First Native American Cabinet Secretary

In the description above of Eliza “Lyda” Burton Conley, I mentioned that while she lost her case in the Supreme Court, she had made a friend of Charles Curtis. Curtis helped pass a Kansas law protecting the Huron Indian Cemetery. Curtis later became the first Native American Vice President (for Herbert Hoover).

Curtis was also a cabinet member, although not a Cabinet Secretary. For that honor, we turn to Deb Haaland. Deb, who was sworn in on March 16, 2021, is the first Native American Cabinet secretary and is head of the Interior Department.

She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in Arizona.

Giving Thanks

No Teno Quah (Grace Thorpe), Wilma Mankiller, Eliza “Lyda” Burton Conley, Zitkála-Šá, Maria Tallchief, Deb Haaland — just a few of the Native American women we’re grateful to for their important efforts to open opportunities to others.


Each Saturday for the next 5 weeks, we're going to UNVEIL a special holiday gift box.

We hope you'll check in and check it out.


You can see our FIRST video unveiling from November 5

by clicking on the button.


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Nov 08, 2022

I have gratitude for all these wonderful indigenous women. Thank you for celebrating in your post.

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