Recent public discussion of the proposed $20 bill change has caught the attention of native youth on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in northeast South Dakota.
The late Wilma Mankiller, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, is among the final four women being for considered to grace the new currency, anticipated to be introduced in the year 2020. Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks are also on the final ballot.
For the organization proposing the change, Women on 20s (W20), the effort is about elevating women who shaped American history. But to high school students at Tiospa Zina Tribal School (TZTS) on the Lake Traverse Reservation, it is about much more than just elevating women. With Wilma Mankiller, among the ranks of other trailblazing candidates, the issue is also one of elevating the true history and accurate image of Native Americans.
Having a Native American leader on the face of American currency could potentially institute a redirection in American consciousness concerning Native Americans.
America has long continued a history of generating and justifying stereotypes concerning Native Americans, ranging from the dehumanizing language in nationally treasured historical documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, to the scores of disparaging Indian mascots. Such stereotypes have shaped popular American consciousness while simultaneously damaging the psychological development of Native American youth, and moreover, keeping the greater Native American community relegated to the sidelines of American society.
Today, Native American youth speak out, and students at Tiospa Zina Tribal School are taking action. Having background knowledge and coursework in Tribal Government, Federal Indian Policy, and American Indian History, TZTS high school students took to the online ballot to cast their votes for Mankiller.
Here, Tiospa Zina Tribal School students weigh in on the discussion, and speak to what it would mean to them to have a Native American woman on the face of the new $20 bill:
1. Demi Dumarce, Senior
“To me, having a Native American woman replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill is empowering because it shows how resilient native people are. It shows everyone that even though Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act to get rid of indigenous people, we persevered and we’re still here today, 185 years later.” -Demi Dumarce, Senior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
2. Terrell Cook, Junior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota: “This would bring a lot of pride to all Natives. She will be remembered as one of the Native American leaders, and it’s for positive change.”
3. Jarrod Appenay, Junior
“A president who targeted the Cherokee nation could possibly be replaced by a Cherokee woman, which would be pretty cool.” -Jarrod Appenay, Junior, Shoshone Bannock/Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
4. Jennifer Rondell, Junior
“It is important to have a Native American female figure to look up to. I think having Wilma Mankiller on the $20 bill is a big deal in Indian Country. She is my role model, and I’m sure many people/children look up to her.” -Jennifer Rondell, Junior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
5. Fidelity Eastman, Senior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota/Sicangu Lakota: “It’s good to show equality between men and women. We need to be represented just as much as men. It’s awesome that Wilma Mankiller is Native American too. Every other race is represented in history, so we should be, too. She needs to be known.”
6. Gabe Derosier, Jr., Senior
“It would mean a lot to me considering that Andrew Jackson moved Native Americans onto reservations and he signed the Indian Removal Act. I think it would be cool seeing a native person take his spot.” -Gabe Derosier, Jr., Senior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota/Anishinaabe
7. Julissa Max, Junior
“If she got put on the $20 bill it would be so cool because finally natives would be remembered. But it would also be amazing to know that finally a woman is being on the same level as a man on the currency.” -Julissa Max, Junior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
8. Jurae Renville, Junior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota: “She represents our native culture, and with respect. She is showing that all native people are humans too.”
9. Savannah Pomani, Junior
“If Wilma Mankiller replaced Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, I would be very pleased. In my opinion, I think that they should have a Native American woman on the $20 bill to show that all men, women, children, and elders from all races are equal.” -Savannah Pomani, Junior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
10. Matthew German, Junior
“It would mean a lot to me because Native Americans are making a move- getting noticed.” -Matthew German, Junior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
11. Dominicque Souksavath, Freshman, Oglala Lakota: “It is important to me because our people have been mistreated and disrespected for years, and this is a step closer to acceptance of us.”
12. Alyssa Redday, Junior
“She is a role model to people who lost relatives on the Trail of Tears. And plus, it would be nice if we had a woman on the $20 bill.” -Alyssa Redday, Junior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
13. Mona Jackson, Junior
“I think it would be a positive change. Changing the bill would bring our people a little relief. I think it will also help the true history of our people be known.” -Mona Jackson, Junior, Potawatomie/Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
14. Keisha Kirk, Senior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota:“It would mean a lot to have Wilma Mankiller on the $20 bill, because she’s one of our people, and it will show that we are equal with everyone else, and this would make us feel better.”
15. Tyler Bellonger, Junior
“I think having a Native American figure on the $20 bill would do a lot of healing, especially for the Cherokee. Andrew Jackson did a lot of damage to Native Americans for their land. Replacing him is just what we need, and I think it will help change how people look at natives and maybe they will become more understanding. Hopefully this will help us in the future.” -Tyler Bellonger, Junior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
The growing public dialogue regarding the proposed change gives voice to the history of the first nations of America, our truth, and our existence today as beautiful thriving people. We are still here, and with each small victory, the savage Indian myth is fading.
On their website, W20 stated “Our money does say something about us, about what we value.” To Native American youth, even just the possibility of having one of their own on American currency, says that they are valued. In Wilma Mankiller, they see a true reflection of themselves that represents strength, compassion, intelligence, and resiliency. They finally see themselves, in an authentic reflection of who the first nations of America truly are, and always have been.
“It’s important to me to have Wilma Mankiller on the $20 bill because she is a great role model and leader. She not only was the first female chief of her nation, but was also one of the first women to break the idea that only men can be leaders. She set and defied women’s roles in society.” -Amber Anderson, Senior, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
Go here to cast your vote.
Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) is a mother, educator, activist, and an advocate for youth.