Suzan Shown Harjo

by Felix Yepa

The most valuable lesson that I learned in this class is how much Native American Activism is expressed through art. There are many artists that have produced and created pieces that have expressed their attitude towards a certain subject through a Native American lens. Suzan Shown Harjo is a Native American poet, writer, and policy advocate who has helped Native American nations regain their tribal lands. She is of Cheyenne and Muscogee descent. She has done many great things for many Native American nations and began her first work of activism in the 1960s when she co-produced the first Indian radio news show in the United States.

Harjo received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 for all of her works, especially towards her work on mascots. She is the president of the Morning Star Institute, in which she also founded in the 1980s. The sponsors of the MSI have devoted their time in terminating the use of Native American mascots in sports.  Harjo believes that the mascots feed into the stereotypes of Native Americans. As a result, a lot of teams have dropped their Native American mascot names.  She is responsible for the revocation of the Washington Redskins trademark. Harjo has also served as the Executive of the National Congress of American Indians and focused her time on increasing funding for Native American education and rights to hunting, land, and sacred items.

This semester the most important thing that I learned in this class was to show respect towards every culture. There are a lot of cultures that are being exploited and disrespected either intentionally or unintentionally throughout the world. A big issue in the Native American community is the use of Native American mascots in sports. It is a big controversy and many people who are against the mascots argue that it is racist and that it provides a misrepresentation of Native Americans. In the article, The Native American Mascot Controversy: The Handbook, they say,“ They make use of these elements to create moving, meaningful and entertaining icons that many take to be authentic, appropriate, and even reverent.” This means that people are taking meaningful cultural pieces and are using them for profit and entertainment. Many Native Americans take this as an insult because it is very disrespectful. There is a lot of symbolic meaning that is placed on many Native American elements such as the war bonnets. A lot of people are unaware of how Native American mascots are disrespectful and it is not taught well in the curricular on schools.  

Harjo has been a very great policy advocate for many tribes as she regained millions of acres of sacred tribal land. This means a lot because many Native Americans live off the land and also associate it within their culture. Land is a really huge part of many Native American traditions.  She has also had great a push forward for having the Washington Redskins revoked of their trademark.  This would be a great step forward for Native American representation.

Works Cited

Golar, S. (2010). Art and Activism Collide. Retrieved from http://nativetimes.com/culture/art/3267-art-and-activism-collide

King, C.R. (Ed.).(2010) The Native American Mascot Controversy: A Handbook. Sarcrow Press.