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Suzan Shown Harjo

Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee) is a poet, writer, lecturer, curator, and policy advocate, who has helped Native Peoples protect sacred places and recover more than one million acres of land. She has developed key laws in five decades to promote and protect Native nations, sovereignty, children, arts, cultures, languages, religious freedom and repatriation. President of The Morning Star Institute and an award-winning Columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, she is Guest Curator and General Editor for the National Museum of the American Indian’s 2014-2018 exhibit and book of the same title, Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations. President Obama presented her with a 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom in a White House ceremony honoring eighteen recipients—the Medal is the United States’ highest civilian honor. She has served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians; Legislative Liaison, Native American Rights Fund and the Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver law firm; and as Special Assistant—Indian Legislation & Liaison, Carter Administration, and Principal Author, 1979 President’s Report to Congress on American Indian Religious Freedom.

Dr. Harjo delivered the 2014 Dudleian Lecture, the oldest endowed lectureship at Harvard University, where she was the first Native person invited to present the prestigious annual lecture since its inception in 1755 at the Harvard Divinity School. Featured in the Penn Museum’s 2014-2019 exhibit, Native American Voices, she was Poet In Residence for the 2014 Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival and received the Native American Bar Association-DC’s 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award. Recipient of the Institute of American Indian Arts’ 2011 Honorary Doctorate of Humanities degree, she is the first woman and third Native person to receive the honor. The first Vine Deloria, Jr. Distinguished Indigenous Scholar (U of AZ, 2008, and a 2013 Deloria Lecturer), she wrote the Introduction to Deloria’s reissued We Talk, You Listen (Bison Books, 2007). She was the first person awarded back-to-back residency fellowships by the School for Advanced Research (the 2004 Dobkin Artist Fellow for Poetry and a Summer Scholar) and chaired SAR Seminars on Native Identity and on Native Women’s Cultural Matters, as well as a 2006 Penn Museum Seminar on U.S. Civilization and Native Identity Policies. She was the first Native woman Montgomery Fellow (1992, Dartmouth Col.); the first Native American Stanford Univ. Visiting Mentor (1996); and one of More Magazine’s “Alpha Women 2004: The Year’s Brightest and Best – Heroines.” West Virginia Univ.’s 2010 Native Elder in Residence and the Educational Testing Service’s 2011 American Indian Heritage Speaker, she keynoted AIRFA at 30 at Suquamish Nation (2008); the ASU Col. of Law’s AIRFA at 25 (2003; published, Wicazo Sa Review, 2004) and Symposium on Repatriation & NMAI at 20 (2010; published, ASU Law Journal, 2012); Purdue Univ.’s Wiping the Tears Conference (2011); Univ. of Tennessee’s 12th Annual Civil Rights Conference (2012); Villanova Univ.’s Native Heritage Month (2013); and the 15th Annual American Indian Studies Association Conference at ASU (2014).

She has served as President of The Morning Star Institute since its founding in 1984. A national Native rights organization for traditional and cultural advocacy, arts promotion and research, Morning Star is a leader in cultural rights protection and stereotype busting, and sponsors the Just Good Sports project, organizes the annual National Prayer Day for Sacred Places (2003-present) and coordinated The 1992 Alliance (1990-1993). She is one of seven Native people who filed the 1992 landmark case, Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc., against the Washington football team’s disparaging name. They won in 1999, when trademark judges unanimously ruled to cancel trademark protections; their victory was reversed on a technicality, but not on the merits, and the Supreme Court declined review (2009). She organized an identical suit, Blackhorse et al v. Pro Football, Inc., brought in 2006 by young Native people, who won a second favorable decision from trademark judges in June 2014. In 2010, she and other Native people filed formal protests of new trademark requests, which are pending before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Her essays, Fighting Name-Calling and Just Good Sports, are published in Team Spirits (U. of Neb., 2001) and For Indigenous Eyes Only (SAR Press, 2005).

A National Museum of the American Indian Founding Trustee (1990-1996), she began work with a coalition in 1967 that led to the NMAI and to federal repatriation laws reforming museum policies dealing with Native Peoples; she wrote about it in It Began with a Vision in a Sacred Place, an essay in Past, Present and Future Challenges of NMAI (2011). A Trustee of NMAI’s predecessor museum/collection, the Museum of the American Indian (1980-1990), she was Chair of NMAI’s first Program Planning Committee; Principal Author of the NMAI Policies on Exhibits (1994), Indian Identity (1993) and Repatriation (1991); Director of the 2004-2005 NMAI/ANA Native Languages Archives Repository Project (print report, 2005; Native Language Preservation CD, 2007); Host of the first three seasons of the NMAI Native Writers Series (2004-2007); and organizer/panel moderator of NMAI’s Symposium on Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports (2013). Curator of American Icons Through Indigenous Eyes for the District of Columbia Arts Center (DC/AC-2007), she also curated the first Native art exhibit ever shown in the U.S. Senate and House Rotundas, Visions from Native America (1992), and the 1998-2000 Healing Art exhibit at the American Psychological Association. Guest Curator of the Peabody Essex Museum’s 1996-1997 major exhibition (Eitlejorg Museum, 1998), her curatorial essay appears in the catalogue, Gifts of the Spirit. She curated print gallery exhibits for Native Americas Journal: Native Images in American Editorial Cartoons (2001); New Native Warrior Images in Art (2001); Identity Perspectives by Native Artists (2002); and 9-11 Art by Native Artists for Native Peoples (2002). She co-founded Indian Art Northwest and chaired its Judges Committee (1997-2000); judged the Sundance Institute’s first Native American Film Initiative; and co-chaired the 1992 gathering of 100 Native wisdomkeepers, writers and artists at Taos Pueblo, “Our Visions: The Next 500 Years.”

Dr. Harjo’s writings are widely published and anthologized, and selected poems were exhibited in Blood of the Sun: Artists Respond to the Poetry of Suzan Shown Harjo (Ahalenia Studios, Santa Fe, 2011), curated by America Meredith, and her most recent One-Woman Poetry Reading was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (2013). In addition to her columns for Indian Country Today, she has current work is in such magazines as Politico, First Americans Art and NMAI’s American Indian, and in catalogues of David Bradley’s artwork at the Blue Rain Gallery and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. She wrote the Foreword, Camp Criers Speaking Across the Generations, and 11 featured columns in America Is Indian Country (Fulcrum, 2005), and Redskins, Savages and Other Indian Enemies: An Historical Overview of American Media Coverage of Native Peoples, in Images of Color/Images of Crime (2005). A UNITY Board Member, 2013-2014, she was “Seeing Red” Co-Producer and Drama & Literature Director, Pacifica Network’s WBAI-FM Radio in New York City; News Director, American Indian Press Association; and Founding Co-Chair, The Howard Simons Fund for American Indian Journalists. Twice featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, she has been profiled in myriad publications, such as Juan Williams’ My Soul Looks Back in Wonder (Sterling Pub., 2004) and Joelle Rostkowski’s Conversations with Remarkable Native Americans (SUNY Press, 2012). 

Andrew Jackson Is Not As Bad As You Think—He’s Far, Far Bloodier

Andrew Jackson Is Not As Bad As You Think—He’s Far, Far Bloodier

26 February 2015

Suzan Shown Harjo, a recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, discusses the prevalence of redface on American stages and how disrespect of Native identity extends to land and bodies.