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Women's History Month '24

This year we honored these Three Phenomenal Indigenous Women who helped shape our Nation's History!

Wilma Mankiller - Cherokee (Born 1945 - Died 2010)

Advocate for Native and Women’s Rights

“Wilma Mankiller is a champion for the Cherokee Nation, for Indian Country…. She truly exemplifies leadership, culture, and equality….”

Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr

1st Women Elected Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985 - 1995, guiding a sovereign nation whose population more than doubled, from 68,000 to 170,000, during her tenure. The first woman to be elected chief of a major American Indian tribe, she revitalized the Nation’s tribal government, and advocated relentlessly for improved education, healthcare, and housing services.

Born on November 18, 1945, in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, When she was 11, the family moved to San Francisco, California as part of a Bureau of Indian Affairs’ relocation policy, which aimed to move Indians off federally subsidized lands with the promise of jobs in America’s big cities.

She joined the historic 1969 American Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island. Citing a treaty that gives Native Americans the right to occupy unused land in the United States, the occupation grew to include thousands of Indian people. The movement shined an international spotlight on the “trail of broken treaties” and the forcing of Native people onto reservations that were a fraction of their original homelands. 

Forever changed by Alcatraz and inspired by the women’s movement, Mankiller worked to empower the surrounding Native communities in California, serving as director of Oakland’s Native American Youth Center. She believed that restoring pride in Native heritage could reduce the downward spiral of Native youth growing up in the streets. 

Ada Deer - Menominee (Born 1935 - Died 2023)

Native American advocate

Ada Deer was praised her for her "lifelong commitment to American Indian rights, to improving the lives of American Indians, and to the strengthening of tribal governments".

- Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt 

Born in Keshena, Wisconsin As she became older she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree as well as a Masters, then went on to serve in Puerto Rico with the Peace Corps for two years. 

On June 17, 1954, Congress passed the Menominee Termination Act, ending the special relationship between the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin and the federal government, resulting in official termination April 30, 1961. Ada Deer along with Jim White became leaders of an organization, formed in 1970 in opposition to a proposed land development to non-natives on Menominee Indian Lands. (DRUMS) Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Stockholders. After successfully stopping the land development in 1972, DRUMS later began the fight to reverse termination and regain status as a federally recognized and sovereign Indian tribe. These efforts played a huge part in bringing the Termination Era to a close. On December 22, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Menominee Restoration Act

Ada Deer was the first woman to chair the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin from 1974 to 1976. She served as chair of the Menominee Restoration Committee. Before and after her term in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Ada served as chair of the National Support Committee (NSC) and of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) on their board of directors.

During the Clinton administration, Ada Deer served as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs from 1993-1997. She was the first woman to hold this position, and helped to create a federal policy for more than 550 federally recognized tribes. During this period, she was a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and from January to May 1997, she served as Chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Ellen Kort - Ojibwe (Born 1936 - Died 2015)

American poet

“She carried a bucket of glow-in-the-dark chalk in her car so she could write poems on city sidewalks!”

Ellen’s mission was to teach poetry to anyone and everyone that wanted to learn. Ellen wanted everyone to have access to poetry, and she believed that poetry was not just for one type of person, but it was for everyone. Not only did she travel throughout Wisconsin, but she also traveled with her poetry thought-out the United States, New Zealand, Australia, the Bahamas, and Japan. Ellen also wrote eleven books and eight collections of poetry while she was alive.

Quotations from her poems are inscribed in such places as the Green Bay Botanical Garden, inside St. Elizabeth Hospital, the Milwaukee Midwest Express Center, and the Fox River Mall, and stamped into the cement of Appleton sidewalks. Her poetry had been performed by the New York City Dance Theater, was nominated for a Grammy Award, and is included in the Hospice Poetry Recording Project of Seattle. Named the first Poet Laureate of Wisconsin by Governor Tommy Thompson. She held the position from 2000 until 2004.

She not only was a poet, but she was also a teacher, speaker, and workshop facilitator. She taught at a public charter high school, in Appleton, Wisconsin, as a poetry teacher at Renaissance School for the Arts. She also taught at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, the Oklahoma Art Institute, Rhinelander School of the Arts, University of Wisconsin- Steven's Point's Arts World, and the University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh Writing Project for teachers.

Inspiration drawn from the Ellen’s “Wisconsin Quilts,” “Letters from McCarty’s Farm,” “The Sacred Grove,” “The Art of Labor,” “The Fox Heritage” and others were incorporated into the design of the Ellen Kort Peace Park to pay homage to her life’s work and love of nature. A Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was held on Saturday Nov 4th, 2023.

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