Most Americans can count on one hand the Indigenous Americans who they know contributed to the colonial history of this land — from Sacagawea and Geronimo to Pocahontas and Sitting Bull. However, the reality is the one-sided nature of American history taught to children in the U.S. has minimized the contributions of Indigenous people, making for a challenging journey to truth and reconciliation with the native people of this land.
With the discoveries of a burial site for Indigenous children in Albuquerque in September 2021 and the unmarked graves of children in Canada in the summer of 2021, the world finally began reckoning with the brutal realities of the boarding school system and the insidious legacy of colonization — injustices that Indigenous activists and concerned communities have been speaking up about for years.
Speaking as an expert on a panel about Indigenous boarding schools, Dena Ned, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, stressed the importance of remembering and learning our history. By doing so, Ned explained, we can understand why it's important for policies, systems, and institutions to recognize and respond to certain members of the community.
That's starting to happen more and more. In August, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formally apologized to Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather for what she endured when Marlon Brando famously had her decline his 1973 Best Actor Oscar due to the mistreatment of Indigenous people in Hollywood.
By learning about the backgrounds, contributions, and sacrifices of Indigenous leaders, you can take action to break down the systems of oppression that threaten the rights of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. and around the world.
Backed by news articles and historical sources, Stacker compiled a list of 20 influential Indigenous Americans you might not know about, including Littlefeather who died in Oct. 2022. Read on to find out about these unsung Indigenous heroes and revolutionaries from across North America who resisted oppression, broke down barriers, and changed the course of history.
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