November is Native American Heritage Month, also commonly known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. This month we celebrate the culture, traditions, and history of Native Americans. Native Americans have been subjected to unimaginable violence and persecution, but have remained steadfast in their beliefs and continue to advocate for their choice to live as their culture encourages. Oppression and discrimination has not ended for Native people, but there are many influential, American Indian activists who are continuing to fight for their rights.
1. Audra Simpson
Scholar and Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University
Audra Simpson, a member of the Mohawk tribe, is a scholar and professor at Columbia University who focuses on the politics of recognition. Specifically the Kahnaw:ke Mohawk struggles in keeping their legal and cultural rights. Her book, Mohawk Interrupts, was celebrated by Indigenous studies scholars as a critical addition to education on tribal community and national identity. As an anthropologist,a career in a field that is notorious for exploiting and thinking of Natives only in the past tense, Simpson pushes against these notions by centering on Native epistemologies.
2. Chrystos (Menominee)
Poet and Activist
Chrystos is a two-spirit poet and activist. Their poetry explores issues of colonialism, genocide, violence against Native people, queerness, street life, and more. Throughout their poetry, they often include cliches, plays on words, and rhymes as a refusal to separate spoken word and oral tradition from poetry. They have been able to give a voice to silenced experiences of Native people and bring everyday queer life as a Native person to mainstream society.
3. Sarah Deer
Lawyer and Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexualities Studies at the University of Kansas
Sarah Deer, a member of the Muscogee Creek tribe, is a lawyer, professor at the University of Kansas, and advocate who has worked for victims rights and sexual violence prevention for decades. She was an instrumental activist in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women?s Act, which expanded tribal jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence. Deer?s books, most notably The Beginning and End of Rape, provides a historical overview of the intersecting violences that contribute to the high rates of sexual violence against Native Americans today,and the destruction of tribal legal systems to protect their own citizens.
4. Cierra Fields
When Cierra Fields was still a high school senior, she worked with Cherokee tribal Attorney General Todd Hembree to raise the Cherokee Nation?s age of consent from 14 to 16 in Oklahoma. In 2016, Field hosted the Charles Head Memorial Native Youth Summit, an alliance to stop violence against Native American women. In 2013, she was recognized by the White House as a ?Champion of Change? for her work to promote healthier living practices and to reduce cancer in Native American communities. Fields now sits on the Board of Directors for the National Urban Indian Youth Alliance.
5. Nathan Phillips
Nathan Phillips is a former director of the Native Youth Alliance, a group aiming to uphold traditional culture and spiritual ways for future Native Americans. He is a well-known Native American activist who was among those leading the Standing Rock protests in 2016 and 2017 against the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota.
6. Winona LaDuke
Activist and Founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project
In 1996 and 2000, Winona LaDuke ran for Vice President as the nominee of the Green Party of the United States, on a ticket headed by Ralph Nader. She is the executive director of Honor the Earth, a Native environmental advocacy organization that played an active role in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. In 1985 she helped found the Indigenous Women?s Network. That same year she also worked with Women of All Red Nations to publicize American forced sterilization of Native American women.
7. Philip Yenyo
Activist and Executive Director of the state of Ohio?s Chapter of the American Indian Movement
Philip Yenyo has dedicated a significant amount of time and money to protesting the use of Chief Wahoo mascot by the Cleveland Indians. Yenyo has stated, ?But I think our people and others have come to realize that this caricature of our people as a red-face, smiling savage does great harm to us and our culture and has done so for many years. This imagery, most sports teams are named after animals and they put us in that same category. We?re human beings. We?re still a living culture and we still exist.? He has also condemned the exploitation of other items, such as the feather, that are of sacred significance to American Indian.
8. Madonna Thunder Hawk
Madonna Thunder Hawk is a Native American civil rights activist best known as a leader in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and as an organizer against the Dakota Access Pipeline. She co-founded the American Indian organization Women of All Red Nations, an organization that focuses on issues affecting American Indian women, and serves as an organizer and tribal liaison for the Lakota People?s Law Project, which partners with Native communities to protect sacred lands, safeguard human rights, promote sustainability, and reunite indigenous families.
9. Tom Goldtooth
Tom Goldtooth is one of the leading fighters for environmental and economic justice, sustainable development and effective economic systems. He is the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the most influential Native non-governmental organizations in the country. Goldtooth is more often than not seen at the front lines of his organization?s grass-roots rallies for environmental justice. He was recently at the front of the line of the People?s Climate March in New York City.
10. Oren Lyons
Faithkeeper and Activist
Oren Lyons is a traditional Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, and a member of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (the Haudenosaunee). He has traveled all over the world advocating for environmental justice and treaty recognitions neglected by the U.S. government. As a member of the Red Power Movement he was involved in events such as ?The Trail of Broken Treaties,? a protest that challenged the Bureau of Indian Affairs on not providing funding or governmental guidance to the Six Nations. Lyons is a true leader of the resistance.