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By Aaren Herron

This Native American Heritage Month, we honor some of the most beloved Native American leaders both past and present. The following six individuals have a mark on history through their brave attempts to create a better world for all.


Tatáŋka Íyotake (circa 1831 - December 15, 1890), better known as Sitting Bull, was a Hunkpapa Lakota leader who fought for years against the policies and actions of the U.S. Government. He was a central figure in the Great Sioux War of 1876, bringing a crucial victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. After finally surrendering, Sitting Bull used his pulpit to push forward Native causes until he was fatally shot in 1890.


Tȟašúŋke Witkó (circa 1840 - September 5, 1877) – aka, Crazy Horse – was a Lakota war leader for the Oglala band during the 19th century. After leading the the charge at the Battle of Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse's legend as a fighter grew to mythical proportions. Despite this notoriety, he refused to be photographed.


Born Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it, Chief Joseph (March 3, 1840 - September 21, 1904) was a leader of the Wallowa band of Nez Perce Native tribe. Unlike his contemporaries who attempted to defend their lands, Chief Joseph is known for leading his people out of harm’s way. He is recognized today as a humanitarian and peacemaker for his principled passion and thoughtful resistance.


Member of the Laguna Pueblo, Deb Haaland (born December 2, 1960) is one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. Congress, representing New Mexico's1st congressional district from 2019 to 2021. She also served as chair of the state's Democratic party.

In 2020, President Joe Biden selected Haaland as his Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.


Sharice Davids (born May 22, 1980) serves as the U.S. Representative from Kansas's 3rd congressional district – one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress. (She also is Kansas's only current Democratic representative.)

Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk People, is an attorney, former mixed martial artist, and the first openly LGBT Native American elected to national office.


Susan Shown Harjo (born June 2, 1945) is a writer, poet, and advocate for Native American rights. Harjo, who claims both Cheyenne and Muscogee heritage, has served as president of the National Council of American Indians and congressional liaison for Indian Affairs. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

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Updated: Oct 31, 2021

The Haudenosaunee people of New York have a different concept of Thanksgiving than their non-Indigenous brethren. Members of the Haudenosaunee nations – Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora – believe in the Oneness of all things, and regularly acknowledge their interconnectedness with the earth, the animals, and the Creator. Every important gathering opens and closes with the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen (pronounced Oh-hon-don Gar-ee-wah-day-kwon), which translates as “the words spoken before all others.” Better known as the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen expresses gratitude for each element of creation and recognizes their dependence upon the Universe’s many gifts.

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Now our minds are one.

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms- waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water. Now our minds are one.

We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come. Now our minds are one.

With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks. Now our minds are one.

Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines. Now our minds are one.

We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so. Now our minds are one.

We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life. Now our minds are one.

We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds-from the smallest to the largest-we send our joyful greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds. Now our minds are one.

Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers. Now our minds are one.

We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun. Now our minds are one.

We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon. Now our minds are one.

We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars. Now our minds are one.

We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers. Now our minds are one.

Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are one.

We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way. Now our minds are one.

Source: “Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World. From “Rethinking Thanksgiving Celebrations: Native Perspectives on Thanksgiving,” Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Reprinted with permission and in gratitude.

This translation of the Mohawk version of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address was developed, published in 1993, and provided, courtesy of: Six Nations Indian Museum and the Tracking Project. All rights reserved.

English version: John Stokes and Kanawahienton (David Benedict, Turtle Clan/Mohawk) Mohawk version: Rokwaho (Dan Thompson, Wolf Clan/Mohawk) Original inspiration: Tekaronianekon (Jake Swamp, Wolf Clan/Mohawk)

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Native women have always had an important role in preserv­ing cultural traditions and values. The elaborately beaded dresses that Plains women made — and still make and wear — are both beautiful garments and outward expressions of their tribal identity and family values.

Historically, dresses were the canvases upon which Plains women expressed their creativity, marked significant events such as marriage or a family member’s military service, and displayed family pride. Images found on early painted muslin dresses were often meant to honor an individual’s accomplishments in battle, to acknowl­edge a male family member’s valor, or to recognize a sacrifice. In most cases, men painted the battle scenes on dresses. A dress with these images would only be worn by a family member: a wife, mother, sister, daughter, or granddaughter.

The Assiniboine and Sioux are two separate tribes from the Northern Plains region. They are just two nations out of more than 550 Native nations in the United States today who still adorn their clothing, accessories, and other implements with materials that reflect their surroundings and relate their beliefs and values. Each Native nation expresses itself in its own unique way — using different colors, symbols, designs, and mate­rials.

In the late 1600s, before modern-day borders were established, the Assiniboine migrated south to Montana from Canada. The Sioux gradually moved to the areas now known as Montana and the Dakotas from Canada and Minnesota beginning around the mid-1800s. The Assiniboine and Sioux found the area teeming with wildlife, including buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, and mountain sheep. These animals were important for their meat and for the hides that provided clothing and shelter. Dresses and shirts were mostly made out of deerhides and elkhides because the skins were thinner, while the thicker buffalo hides were used as robes or blankets.

The making of a dress took a great deal of work, which started with a hunt. Men hunted the animals from which the hides came; women did the work of preparing hides. Native people of the Plains have always main­tained a close relationship to the land and its resources, and expressed their respect for the animals they took. While on a hunt, they offered prayers in thanks for the life of the animal, its spirit, and for all that the animal would provide. Today, Assiniboine/Sioux men still say a prayer and offer tobacco — which helps send the prayer — and promise to make good use of the animal.

The women work to prepare the hides by removing the hair and tanning the skin. It is messy, hard work and requires muscles and brains—the muscles of the women, and the brains of the animal! In one tanning method, the hide is first soaked in water mixed with ashes for several days. Then it is put on a wooden frame and the hair is scraped off. Next, cooked brains of the animal are applied to the hide in order to soften it. The hide is then rinsed and stretched and pulled until — as one dressmaker says — your arms are "so tired, they feel like they will fall off!" This process is referred to as “brain-tanning” and is still done today to prepare hides that will be made into dresses, shirts, jackets, purses, and other items.

Native people of the Plains have long decorated their clothes and objects. Today, the heavily beaded dress is often thought of as the traditional style of clothing for Plains women. But before traders brought glass beads to the Plains, the materials used to decorate outfits for men and women came from the natural environment. Some of the earliest dresses and shirts were painted with natural materials, known as earth paints. Minerals and clays were among the first materials that would often be combined with buffalo fat and mixed in bowls made out of turtle shells to make paints. The hip bone of a buffalo – which, when soaked in water, becomes sponge-like – was sometimes used as a paintbrush.

The painted images found on many early hides and dresses show scenes of men on horses in battle or on a hunt. They tell stories of the bravery and honor of a husband, son, or father.

In addition to paints, people of the Plains used other natural materials to adorn their clothing. Most often the materials used were porcupine quills; animal teeth, such as those of elk; bone; bird or animal claws, such as those of bear; and shells that were most often acquired through trade with other tribes or non-Natives. The designs on dresses and the materials used reflect the people’s respect for the animals and the land.

Excerpted from "A Life In Beads – The Stories a Plains Dress Can Tell," a Native Knowledge 360° educational resource produced by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Reprinted with permission.

Images: Sioux dress with dentalium shell yoke, ca. 1900. Sioux women preparing/tanning hides, ca. 1890. Photo by G. Ben Whittick. General Nelson A. Miles Collection, NMAI. Early “paintbrushes” made of porous buffalo bone. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI. Painted Hunkpapa Lakota (Sioux) cloth dress (detail), ca. 1890. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI.

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