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6 Native Leaders Who Left a Mark on History

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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