Cultural Diversity Roster



Suzan Shown Harjo

Advocate for American Indian Rights and President & Executive Director, Morning Star Institute. Received Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama

Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee) is a poet, writer, lecturer, curator, and policy advocate, who has helped Native Peoples recover more than one million acres of land and numerous sacred places. She has developed key federal Indian law since 1975, including the most important national policy advances in the modern era for the…

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Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee) is a poet, writer, lecturer, curator, and policy advocate, who has helped Native Peoples recover more than one million acres of land and numerous sacred places.

She has developed key federal Indian law since 1975, including the most important national policy advances in the modern era for the protection of Native American cultures and arts, including the 1996 Executive Order on Indian Sacred Sites, the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the 1989 National Museum of the American Indian Act, and the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Harjo is president and executive director of The Morning Star Institute, a national Native rights organization founded in 1984 for Native Peoples’ traditional and cultural advocacy, arts promotion, and research. A leader in cultural property protection and stereotype busting, Morning Star sponsors the Just Good Sports project, organizes the National Day of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places, and coordinated The 1992 Alliance (1990-1993). Harjo is one of seven prominent Native people who filed Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc., regarding the name of the Washington football team, before the US Patent & Trademark Board in 1992. They won in 1999, when a three-judge panel unanimously decided to cancel federal protections for the team’s name because it “may disparage Native Americans and may bring them into contempt or disrepute.” The District Court reversed their victory in 2003 and the case is now before the US Court of Appeals. Harjo’s essay, “Fighting Name-Calling: Challenging ‘Redskins’ in Court,” is published in Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy (University of Nebraska Press, 2001). She also wrote “Just Good Sports: The Impact of ‘Native’ References in Sports on Native Youth and What Some Decolonizers Have Done About It,” a chapter in For Indigenous Eyes Only: A Decolonization Handbook (SAR Press, 2005).

An award-winning columnist for Indian Country Today (2000-2006), she wrote the foreword “Camp Criers Speaking Across the Generations” and eleven columns featured in America Is Indian Country: Opinions and Perspectives from Indian Country Today (Fulcrum Publishing, 2005). Founding co-chair of The Howard Simons Fund for American Indian Journalists, she was news director of the American Indian Press Association and drama and literature director and “Seeing Red” producer for WBAI-FM Radio in New York City. A keynoter for the 2000 Journalism & Women Symposium, she was a 1998-99 Brain Trust Member for UNITY Journalists of Color and an organizer/presenter for UNITY ’04 in DC, ’99 in Seattle, and ’94 in Atlanta. Her essay “Redskins, Savages and Other Indian Enemies: An Historical Overview of American Media Coverage of Native Peoples” is in Images of Color: Images of Crime (2005).

As the School of American Research 2004 Dobkin Artist Fellow for Poetry and a 2004 Summer Scholar, Harjo received unprecedented back-to-back residency fellowships in Santa Fe and chaired the SAR Seminars on Native Identity and on Native Women’s Cultural Matters. She chaired a 2006 Seminar on US Civilization and Native Identity Policies at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and is editing a book on the subject.

A 1996 Stanford University Visiting Mentor and a 1992 Dartmouth College Montgomery Fellow, she was the first Native American person selected for the honor by Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Policy and the first Native woman chosen for the prestigious Montgomery Fellowship Award. Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians (1984-89), she also was Special Assistant for Indian Legislation & Liaison in the Carter Administration and Principal Author of the 1979 President’s Report to Congress on American Indian Religious Freedom. She keynoted Arizona State University College of Law’s 2003 Symposium on AIRFA at 25 and introduced the journal of proceedings (Wicazo Sa Review, 2004).

More Magazine named her as one of its “Alpha Women 2004: The Year’s Brightest and Best Heroines” for protecting sacred places. A founding trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian (1990-1996), she began work in 1967 that led to the NMAI, to repatriation law, and to reform of national museum policies dealing with Native Americans. She was a trustee of NMAI’s predecessor museum and collection in New York City from 1980 to 1990, and was NMAI’s first Program Planning Committee Chair and principal author of the NMAI Policies on Exhibits (1994), Indian Identity (1993), and Repatriation (1991). Director of the 2004-2005 NMAI Native Languages Archives Repository Project, she now serves on NMAI’s Advisory Committee on Seminars & Symposiums and is entering the third season as moderator of the NMAI Native Writers Series.

Suzan Shown Harjo was a guest curator of the Peabody Essex Museum’s 1996-1997 major exhibition and her curatorial essay appears in the show’s award-winning catalogue, Gifts of the Spirit: Works by Nineteenth-Century & Contemporary Native American Artists (traveling exhibit, Eitlejorg Museum, 1998). She curated “Healing Art,” the 1998-2000 exhibit at the American Psychological Association in Washington, DC, and “Visions from Native America,” the first Native art exhibit ever shown in the US Senate and House Rotundas (1992). Curator of a magazine exhibit of 9/11 art by Native artists (Native Peoples, 2002), she also curated three print gallery exhibits for Native Americas Journal: “Native Images in American Editorial Cartoons” (2001); “New Native Warrior Images in Art” (2001); and “Identity Perspectives by Native Artists” (2002). The Honorary Guest for the 2001 Tulsa Indian Art Festival, Harjo co-founded Indian Art Northwest and was its Judges Committee Chair (1997-2000); judged the Sundance Institute’s first Native American Initiative, Lawrence Indian Art Show and Red Earth Film & Video Competition; and co-chaired “Our Visions: The Next 500 Years” (Taos, 1992). She also is a Member of the Aboriginal Program Council for the Banff Centre in Canada (2005-present).

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    Nobody Gives Us Sovereignty: Busting Stereotypes & Walking the Walk

    Seeing Red

    Promoting Native American Traditional Cultural Rights & Artistic Expression


    Suzan Harjo on US-Tribal Treaties

    Suzan Shown Harjo


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