Suzan Shown Harjo
Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee) is a poet, writer, lecturer, curator and policy advocate, who has helped Native Peoples protect sacred places and recover more than one million acres of land. She has developed key laws in five decades to promote and protect Native nations, sovereignty, children, arts, cultures, lands, languages, religious freedom, repatriation, sacred places and water. President of The Morning Star Institute and an award-winning Columnist for Indian Country Media Network, she is Guest Curator and Editor for the National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibition (NMAI Museum on the Mall, 2014-2018) and book, both titled, Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations (Smithsonian/NMAI Press 2014).
President Barack Obama presented Suzan Shown Harjo with a 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom in a White House ceremony honoring 18 recipients – the Medal is the United States’ highest civilian honor. She was honored with the 2015 Native Leadership Award by the National Congress of American Indians, which she served as Executive Director during the 1980s and is the current Co-Chair of the NCAI Subcommittee on Human, Religious and Cultural Concerns. She also served as Legislative Liaison, Native American Rights Fund, and as Special Assistant—Indian Legislation & Liaison, Carter Administration, and Principal Author, President’s Report to Congress on American Indian Religious Freedom (1979).
Dr. Suzan Shown Harjo delivered the 2014 Dudleian Lecture, the oldest endowed lectureship at Harvard University, where she was the first Native person invited to present the prestigious annual lecture since its inception in 1755 at the Harvard Divinity School. Recipient of the Institute of American Indian Arts’ 2011 Honorary Doctorate of Humanities degree, she is the first woman and third Native person to receive the honor. The first Vine Deloria Jr. Distinguished Indigenous Scholar (University of Arizona, 2008, and a 2013 Deloria Lecturer), she wrote the Introduction to Deloria’s reissued We Talk, You Listen (Bison Books, 2007). She was the first person awarded back-to-back residency fellowships by the School for Advanced Research (the 2004 Dobkin Artist Fellow for Poetry and a Summer Scholar) and chaired SAR Seminars on Native Identity and on Native Women’s Cultural Matters, as well as a 2006 Penn Museum Seminar on U.S. Civilization and Native Identity Policies; and she was the first Native woman Montgomery Fellow (1992, Dartmouth College).
In 2015, NCORE (National Conference on Race and Ethnicity) in American Higher Education established an annual award, the Suzan Shown Harjo Activist for Systemic Social Justice Award, and honored her with the inaugural one; the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes’ Governor, Lt. Governor and Traditional Chiefs honored her with a Homecoming Dance and Naming Ceremony; the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums honored Suzan Shown Harjo with a Leadership Award and a Guardian of Cultures and Lifeways Medal; and she was honored by the Minnesota Indian Bar Association, the National Indian Bar Association, the Native Women’s Leadership Forum and Native Americans at Dartmouth.
Featured in the Penn Museum’s 2014-2019 exhibit, Native American Voices, Suzan Shown Harjo received the Native American Bar Association-DC’s 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award and keynoted AIRFA at 30 at Suquamish Nation (2008); the Arizona State University College of Law’s AIRFA at 25 (2003; published, Wicazo Sa Review, 2004) and Symposium on Repatriation & NMAI at 20 (2010; published, ASU Law Journal, 2012); Purdue University’s Wiping the Tears Conference (2011); Villanova University’s Native Heritage Month (2013); and the American Indian Studies Association Conference (ASU, 2014). Presenter on repatriation law and sports stereotypes at the Yale Law School, she was Guest Speaker for Yale’s Stiles College Master’s Tea (2015).
President of The Morning Star Institute since its founding in 1984, Suzan Shown Harjo has served as its Executive Director since 1990. A national Native rights organization for traditional and cultural advocacy, arts promotion and research, Morning Star is a leader in cultural rights protection and stereotype busting, and sponsors the Just Good Sports project, organizes the annual National Prayer Day for Sacred Places (2003-present) and coordinated The 1992 Alliance (1990-1993). Morning Star funded NCAI’s cultural rights activities from 1984 through 1989; the Wahelut Indian School and Frank’s Landing Indian Community; WOJB-FM Radio on the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Chippewa Indians’ reservation; and other community and grassroots programs.
Suzan Shown Harjo is one of seven Native people who filed the 1992 landmark case, Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc., against the Washington football team’s disparaging name. They won in 1999, when trademark judges unanimously ruled to cancel trademark protections; their victory was reversed on a technicality, laches, but not on the merits, and the Supreme Court declined review (2009). Dr. Suzan Shown Harjo organized an identical suit, Blackhorse et al v. Pro Football, Inc., brought in 2006 by young Native people, who won a second favorable decision from trademark judges in 2014 and the first federal district court ruling on summary judgment in 2015. Pro Football appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case was tried in 2016. She and other Native people in 2010 filed formal protests of new trademark requests. These cases were accepted and are being held in abeyance by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, pending the outcome of the Blackhorse case. Her essays, Fighting Name-Calling and Just Good Sports, are published in Team Spirits (University of Nebraska, 2001) and For Indigenous Eyes Only: A Decolonization Handbook (SAR Press, 2005).
A National Museum of the American Indian Founding Trustee (1990-1996), she began work with a coalition in 1967 that led to the NMAI and to federal repatriation laws reforming nationwide museum policies dealing with Native Peoples. She wrote about it in It Began with a Vision in a Sacred Place, an essay in Past, Present and Future Challenges of NMAI (2011). A Trustee of NMAI’s predecessor collection, the Museum of the American Indian (1980-1990), she was Chair of NMAI’s first Program Planning Committee; Principal Author of the NMAI Policies on Exhibits (1994), Indian Identity (1993) and Repatriation (1991); and Director of the 2004-2005 NMAI/ANA Native Languages Archives Repository Project (print report, 2005; Native Language Preservation CD, 2007). Host of the first three seasons of the NMAI Native Writers Series (2004-2007), she was organizer and panel moderator of NMAI’s 2013 Symposium, “Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports,” and presenter in the NMAI 2014 symposia, “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations” and “Going Home: 25 Years of Repatriation Under the NMAI Act.”
Curator of American Icons Through Indigenous Eyes for the District of Columbia Arts Center (DC/AC-2007), she curated the first Native art exhibit ever shown in the U.S. Senate and House Rotundas, Visions from Native America (1992), and the 1998-2000 Healing Art exhibit at the American Psychological Association. Guest Curator of the Peabody Essex Museum’s 1996-1997 major exhibition (Eitlejorg Museum, 1998), her curatorial essay appears in the catalogue, Gifts of the Spirit. She curated print gallery exhibits for Native Americas Journal: Native Images in American Editorial Cartoons (2001); New Native Warrior Images in Art (2001); Identity Perspectives by Native Artists (2002); and 9-11 Art by Native Artists for Native Peoples (2002). She co-founded Indian Art Northwest and chaired its Judges Committee (1997-2000); judged the Sundance Institute’s first Native American Film Initiative; and co-chaired with Oren Lyons the 1992 gathering of 100 Native wisdomkeepers, writers and artists at Taos Pueblo, “Our Visions: The Next 500 Years.”
Dr. Suzan Shown Harjo’s writings are widely published and anthologized. Selected poems were exhibited in Blood of the Sun: Artists Respond to the Poetry of Suzan Shown Harjo (Ahalenia Studios, Santa Fe, 2011), curated by America Meredith and featuring work by Marcus Amerman, David Bradley, Kelly Church, Anita Fields, Decoy Gallerina, John Hagen, Bob Haozous, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, April Holder, Kenneth Johnson, Linda Lomahaftewa, Marlon Melero, Melissa Melero, Diego Romero, Mateo Romero, Hoka Skenadore, John Torres-Nez, Richard Ray Whitman and Brandon Williams. In New York City in 1975, Suzan Shown Harjo was selected as one of 20 American Women Poets, along with Nikki Giovanni and Alice Walker, for “Women/Voices at Town Hall.” Her most recent One-Woman Poetry Readings were presented by the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (2013 and 2014) and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (2015), and she was Poet In Residence for the 2014 Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival.
In addition to her columns for Indian Country Today, Suzan Shown Harjo has recent work in Politico, The Guardian, First American Art Magazine, NMAI’s American Indian Magazine and HowlRound, and in catalogues of David Bradley’s artwork at the MIAC and Blue Rain Gallery. Suzan Shown Harjo wrote the Foreword, Camp Criers Speaking Across the Generations, and 11 featured e columns in America Is Indian Country (Fulcrum, 2005), and Redskins, Savages and Other Indian Enemies: An Historical Overview of American Media Coverage of Native Peoples, in Images of Color/Images of Crime (2005). She is Co-Author with Mary Kathryn Nagel of My Father’s Bones, a short play that is part of the Sac and Fox Nation’s and Thorpe sons’ Bring Jim Thorpe Home Campaign. The play was updated and revised to reflect each of the 2013-2015 decisions in the case about Jim Thorpe’s remains, which was finally decided against his nation and sons in 2015. The play was performed as staged readings at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles, Penn Museum in Philadelphia, Oklahoma Supreme Court Judicial Center in Oklahoma City, NCAI Mid-Year Conference in St. Paul, Unity Native Youth Conference in Washington, DC, and Yale University in New Haven.
A UNITY: Journalists for Diversity Board Member for the Native American Journalists Association, 2013-2015, Suzan Shown Harjo has been News Director, American Indian Press Association; NCAI’s Communications Director and Sentinel Editor; and Founding Co-Chair, The Howard Simons Fund for American Indian Journalists. Co-Producer of “Seeing Red,” with Frank Ray Harjo, and Drama & Literature Director for the Pacifica Network’s WBAI-FM Radio Station in New York City, Suzan Shown Harjo produced and premiered three plays for radio written by Samuel Beckett and directed by Joseph Chaikin; directed and produced the New York and broadcasting premieres of Eric Bentley’s Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been; and produced and premiered the first New York and broadcast premieres of readings by Feminist Poets and by Vietnam Veterans. Twice featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Suzan Shown Harjo has appeared on many broadcasts and been profiled in myriad publications.
Suzan Shown Harjo’s noted works on ICMN are as follows: