Medal of Freedom Winner,
Native American Public Policy Advocate & Journalist
Suzan Shown Harjo (1945 – Present)
Suzan Shown Harjo is a Native American activist whose 50- year career includes work in journalism, poetry, curating, and policy advocacy. Descended from Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee Nations, her accomplishments include helping Native peoples regain more than one million acres of tribal lands.
Harjo’s activism dates back to the mid 1960s when she co-produced the nation’s first Native American news radio show. It was also around this time that Harjo began her work with museums, first working with the Museum of the American Indian in New York, where she helped return sacred garments to their tribes and helped the museum change its policies to more respectfully present Native artifacts. Harjo has continued working with museums throughout her career, including working with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004. In the 1970s Harjo and her husband moved to Washington, D.C. where, after a few years working as a legislative assistant, she was appointed Congressional liaison for Indian Affairs by President Jimmy Carter. Her tireless lobbying efforts led to the 1978 passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. From 1984-1989, Harjo served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, where she continued to fight for the return of Native lands. She also successfully secured increases in appropriations toward Native American education programs.
Throughout her career, Harjo has spoken out against negative and stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans in movies and on television. A leader in efforts to remove negative Native names and images from sports teams; by 2013 her public campaigns had succeeded in more than two-thirds of teams moving away from Indian mascots. In 1984, Harjo founded the Morning Star Institute in memory of her late husband. Still serving as the organization’s president today, Harjo continues to promote sacred land claims and traditional cultural rights. In 2014, Suzan Shown Harjo received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Did You Know…
The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, NY, tells the story of the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. You can visit the Wesleyan Chapel where the meeting was held and explore exhibits covering 150 years of the women’s rights movement.