California Celebrates Native American Day

By: Katherine Dvorak

Wilma Mankiller, first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation

As it has every year since 1998, on the fourth Friday of September, California will celebrate Native American Day. A day dedicated to recognizing and honoring the Native peoples of North America.

Of the 566 federally recognized tribes, over 100 of them reside in California; including the Mohave Tribe, the Wappo Tribe, the Hoopa Tribe, and the Chauilla Tribe. This makes California home to the largest Native American population in the country.

From the very beginning of their history, from before the arrival of European explorers to after the westward expansion of American settlers, women have played an important role in Native culture, helping to lead and cultivate their Tribe’s unique society and influencing the future of America as well.

Beyond Sacajawea and Pocahontas, Native women contributed to all aspects of America society. Warriors like One Who Walks With Stars and Minnie Hollow Wood – who both fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn – and leaders like Glory of the Morning, Chief of the Hocak Nation and Queen Anne, Chief of the Pamunkey Tribe, fought for the continued existence of their Tribes and their way of life.

Artists and storytellers like basket weaver Carrie Bethel and potter Vera Chino shared the beauty of their people’s lives and stories. In addition, women like Fidelia Fielding, the last native speaker of the Mohegan-Pequot language, passed down their knowledge.

More recently, Native women have continued the in the roles of their foremothers while also branching out into new roles such as being advocates for Indian Country and working to promote their interest at the federal level.

Activists like Kayln Free works to get Native people elected to public office while Suzan Shown Harjo, President of the Morning Star Institute, is one of the leading voices in the effort to get the National Football League’s Washington Redskins to change their name.

Within the federal government women such as Kimberly Teehee, former senior policy adviser for Native American Affairs for President Obama and Ada Deer, the first Native woman to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs, worked for issues vital to Indian Country and ensure their continued representation.

Whether it was as leaders, warriors, teachers or artists, Native women have contributed to the world around them. Today, countless women carry on the traditions of their foremothers, working to honor and preserve their Native heritage and continuing to help shape America.

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