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Suzan Shown Harjo

Susan Shown Harjo 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.

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Suzan Shown Harjo's Blog Introduction

Women, Media, AND... Native America


Suzan Shown Harjo's Biography

SUZAN SHOWN HARJO 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: 1996 Executive Order on Indian Sacred Sites; 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; 1989 National Museum of the American Indian Act; and 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Ms. 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).

Ms. Harjo is one of seven prominent Native Americans who filed the Morning Star-sponsored lawsuit, Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc., regarding the name of Washington’s professional football team, before the U.S. 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.” Their victory was reversed in federal district court in 2003, and is pending before the federal appeals court, which heard oral argument on April 8, 2005. Ms. Harjo’s essay on the case, Fighting Name-Calling: Challenging “Redskins” in Court, is published in Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy (University of Nebraska Press, 2001). She also authored “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: Decolonization Workbook (SAR Press, 2005).

A Columnist for Indian Country Today, the leading Native American newspaper (2000-2005), she received the Native American Journalists Association’s first and second awards for “Best Column Writing” (2004 and 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 & 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 1998-1999 Brain Trust Member for UNITY: Journalists of Color and an organizer, moderator and presenter for UNITY ’04 in Washington, D.C., UNITY ’99 in Seattle and UNITY ’94 in Atlanta. Her essay, “Redskins, Savages and Other Indian Enemies: An Historical Overview of American Indian Media Coverage of Native Peoples,” is in Images of Color: Images of Crime (Roxbury, 1998, 2001 and 2005).

The School of American Research’s 2004 Dobkin Artist Fellow, Ms. Harjo received unprecedented back-to-back fellowships and was a SAR 2004 Summer Scholar. 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 (1984-1989), 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 wrote the introduction to 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” in the category of “Heroines” for her work to protect sacred places.

A Founding Trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian (1990-1996), she worked to establish the NMAI and gain repatriation policy from 1967 to 1990, and was a Trustee of its predecessor museum and collection in New York City throughout the 1980s. She serves on NMAI’s Advisory Committee on Seminars & Symposiums and as Moderator of the NMAI Native Writers Series, and was Project Director for the NMAI Native Languages Archives Repository Project (2004-2005). She was NMAI’s first Program Planning Committee Chair and Principal Author of the NMAI Policies on Exhibits (1994), Indian Identity (1993) and Repatriation (1991).

Guest Curator of the Peabody Essex Museum’s 1996-1997 major exhibition, 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, D.C., and “Visions from Native America,” the first Native art exhibit ever shown in the U.S. 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, she 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).

Ms. Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee) is the mother of Adriane Shown Harjo and Duke Ray Harjo II.

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