NAHM 2020: 20 Leaders from the Past and Present

Native American Heritage Month. Celebrating hope, honoring resiliency, and engaging tribal nations.
Native American Heritage Month. Celebrating hope, honoring resiliency, and engaging tribal nations.

Past Native Leaders

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull (1831-1890). Sitting Bull was a Teton Dakota Chief who united the Sioux tribes of the American Great Plains against the white settlers taking their tribal land. He was born near Grand River, Dakota Territory in what is today considered South Dakota. He was the son of Returns-Again, a renowned Sioux warrior who named his son “Jumping Badger” at birth. As a holy man, Sitting Bull was a symbol of Native American resistance against U.S. government policies. In 1875, after an alliance with various tribes, Sitting Bull had a triumphant vision of defeating U.S. soldiers, and in 1876, his premonition came true: He and his people defeated General Custer’s army in a skirmish, now known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in eastern Montana territory. In 1885, Sitting Bull joined Oakley in performing in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Buffalo Bill was by then a celebrity with a storied past straight out of a Western: He’d rode horses for the Pony Express, fought in the American Civil War and served as a scout for the Army. Sitting Bull was buried at Fort Yates Military Cemetery in North Dakota by the army. In 1953, family members reburied the bones they found near Mobridge, South Dakota, overlooking the Missouri River.

Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse (1841-1877). He was born in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the son of the Oglala Sioux shaman also named Crazy Horse and his wife, a member of the Brule Sioux. Crazy Horse was a leader of the Oglala Lakota peoples and known for his refinement and grace. Crazy Horse was a courageous fighter and protector of his tribe’s cultural traditions — so much so, that he refused to let anyone take his photograph. Crazy Horse was not a traditionalist with regard to his tribe’s customs, shrugging off many of the traditions and rituals that the Sioux practiced. He is known to have played key roles in various battles, chief among them, the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, where he helped Sitting Bull defeat General Custer. Crazy Horse remained in the U.S. to fight the American troops, but he eventually surrendered in May 1877. Cray Horse is remembered for his courage, leadership and his tenacity of spirit in the face of near-impossible odds. His legacy is celebrated in the Crazy Horse Memorial, an uncompleted monumental sculpture located in the Black Hills, not far from Mount Rushmore. Started in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziółkowski (who also worked on Mount Rushmore), the Crazy Horse Memorial would be the largest sculpture in the world when completed.

Susan La Flesche Picotte

Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915). LaFlesche became the first Native American to earn a medical degree. In 1886, La Flesche attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia. In 1889, she graduated with a medical degree, not only one year early but first in her class of thirty-six members as well. After earning her medical degree, it was back to the Omaha Reservation for long, hard work. Dr. La Flesche was the reservation’s only doctor. She did a great deal to help her people understand that they needed to make changes to protect their health. Dr. La Flesche wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs about alcoholism and tuberculosis. She persuaded the Office of Indian Affairs to ban liquor sales in towns formed within the reservation boundaries. Before she passed away, La Flesche solicited enough donations to build a hospital in Walthill, Nebraska, the first modern hospital in Thurston County.

Lucy Covington

Lucy Covington (1910-1982). Lucy Covington, a long-time tribal rights activist and Colville Tribal Council member, helped change the course of American Indian history through her courageous leadership. Covington was one of many tribal peoples who worked in the 1950s and 1960s to bring an end to “termination” – an ill-conceived federal policy designed to wrest control of land and natural resources from tribal ownership, by terminating tribal status. Lucy worked with other Native people to help preserve tribal sovereignty and self- determination for not only the Colville but for tribes across the country. Covington’s actions and success contributed toward reversing the United States government’s effort to extinguish its responsibilities to American Indian tribes. Covington dedicated her time to protect tribal resources and rights, develop services to assist tribes, govern the reservation for the benefit of tribe members, and promote inter-tribal cooperation.

Dennis Banks

Dennis Banks (1932-2017) Banks was an American Indian teacher, author and activist. After a painful childhood separated from his people and years struggling with alcoholism and crime, he helped found the American Indian Movement (AIM). The organization advocated for American Indian civil rights. AIM brought American Indian issues to national and international attention, sometimes engaging in civil disobedience and clashing with law enforcement in the process. Throughout his time with AIM and as an individual activist, Banks spent his life writing about American Indian concerns and championing the legal rights and cultural values of American Indians.

Present Native Leaders

Jonathan Nez

Jonathan Nez currently serves as the Navajo Nation President. He began his public service after being elected as Shonto Chapter Vice President. He was later elected to serve three terms as a Navajo Nation Council Delegate, representing the chapters of Shonto, Oljato, Tsah Bi Kin, and Navajo Mountain. He was also elected as a Navajo County Board of Supervisor for District 1 and served two terms. In 2015, Nez was elected Navajo Nation Vice President. Nez believes in education. He is currently a doctoral student in political science and completed research on local empowerment and mobilizing local communities of the Navajo Nation to reinstate their inherent local way of governance. His research focuses on the reduction of dependence on the central tribal government, upholding and enhancing the local inherent sovereignty of the chapter areas.

Bernadette Demientieff

Bernadette Demientieff the Executive Director of Gwich’in Steering Committee is Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in she was raised in Fort Yukon and spent her summers in Venetie. Bernadette is the mother of 5 children and grandmother of 5 beautiful grandchildren. She takes this position very serious and it has transformed her life to better serve her people. Bernadette stands strong to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge-Coastal Plain, the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Gwich’in way of life. Bernadette is a council member for the Arctic Refuge Defense Council. She also serves as an advisory board member for NDN Collective, the Care of Creations Task Force, Native Movement Alaska, and Defend the Sacred Alaska. She is a tribal member of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribal Government, and on the leadership council for ITR.

Deionna Vigil

Deionna Vigil is Tewa from Nanbé Ówîngeh (Nambe Pueblo), New Mexico. In 2018 she graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO with a Bachelor of Science in cellular and molecular biology. Currently, Vigil is a postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) fellow in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). For two summers prior to her postbac, she worked with the same research group in the NINDS Summer Internship Program (SIP). Vigil does research that focuses on ensuring that American Indian and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have the opportunity to ethically enroll in clinical research studies at the National Institutes of Health that are not specific to AI/ANs or a Native Nation.

David Wilson

Dr. David Wilson serves as the first directorof the Tribal Health Research Office (THRO). In this leadership role, Wilson brings together representatives from the NIH ICOs to leverage trans-NIH resources and build collaborations through the research portfolio to address tribal health concerns. He works to build a unified NIH presence with which to engage and ensure input from tribal leaders across the nation and aims to expand training opportunities for American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Wilson comes to the NIH Office of the Director from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health where he served as Public Health Advisor and the American Indian/Alaska Native Policy Lead. He also serves as an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health at the Center for American Indian Health.

Princess Daazhraii Johnson

Princess Daazhraii Johnson is Neets’aii Gwich’in and her family is from Arctic Village, Alaska. She is committed to social and environmental justice and sits on the board of Native Movement and NDN Collective and is the former ED of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. Johnson received a B.A. in International Relations from The George Washington University and a Master’s in Education at the University of Alaska Anchorage with a focus on Environmental and Science Education. She has served on the SAG-AFTRA Native American Committee since 2007 and in 2015 she was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Board of Trustees for the Institute of American Indian Arts. Johnson is the Creative Producer and a screenwriter for the new PBS Kids series “Molly of Denali”.

Emerging Native Leaders

Nicolette Brown

Nicolette Brown is a member of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone from the beautiful Wind River Reservation of Wyoming. Currently she resides in Bozeman, Montana where she works as a Medical Assistant at Hatch Pediatrics and a Project Coordinator for the American Indian Alaska Native Student Support Service at Montana State University. She has a bachelor’s degree in Cell Biology/Neuroscience and master’s degree in Health Science from Montana State University. This past summer, she was fortunate enough to be a part of the Health Disparities in Tribal Communities program with the National Institutes of Health.

Currently, Brown is in the process of applying to medical school. She hopes to one day serve the Native American community and bring quality, compassionate and patient centered health care.

Cole T. Dittenthole

Cole T Dittentholer is a freshman at the Yakima Valley College majoring in Biology. Dittentholer started at the NIH when he was a Junior at White Swan High School housed on the Yakama Reservation in Washington. He was interested in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Summer Internship Program (SIP) because he is attracted to the medical field.

Through this internship experience he hopes to gain more knowledge about his future career. Dittentholer’s future plans include finishing college and attending medical school.

Teressa Baldwin

Teressa Baldwin has been directly impacted by suicide and wanted to take action to help reduce the rate of suicide in her home state of Alaska. As a junior in high school, she was appointed by Governor Sean Parnell to the Statewide Suicide Prevention council and became one of the youngest appointed representatives in the state of Alaska. Following her appointment, Baldwin started her own organization teaching her peers about the signs of suicide and sharing her own story about how suicide affected her life. After facing common hurdles to suicide prevention programs, including high costs and low enrollment numbers in trainings, she has been able to work with 12 schools on suicide prevention programs and is hoping to expand to more. Baldwin feels that her work is part of her life goal to help lower the rates of suicide in not only Alaska but the rest of the country.

Dallas Duplessis

Dallas Duplessis is an advocate for healthier eating on her reservation. After seeing firsthand the negative effects of unhealthy eating habits, she was focused on making a difference. Duplessis and her family have been involved in the Hilbulb Cultural Center program “Growing Together as families” which teaches families healthy eating habits. From her involvement with the Cultural Center, she was inspired to start the Tulalip Youth Gardeners Club to inspire other kids to garden together with their families. Since the start of the club, they have been able to teach kids to learn about gardening during the opening of the Hilbulb Center, at the Boys and Girls Club and at the Evergreen State Fair where they won ten ribbons. As their club says, their goal is not to be couch potatoes but to grow some potatoes.

Morgan Fawcett

Morgan Fawcett was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) when he was 15 years old. At the time of his diagnosis, he knew that he wanted to help educate others about FASD both among Native Youth and all youth and adults across the country.

Fawcett has organized concerts and benefits that allow to him to speak about FASD at school assemblies, colleges, community colleges, hospitals, churches and many more. He has also created a flute program that has allowed him to donate over 650 Native flutes to at risk youth and challenged individuals.

The Alaska State Legislature recognized Morgan for his work by awarding him the NOFAS leadership award in 2011. Fawcett hopes to begin college this year and show others that just because you are born with a disability, with help from friends, family and the community you can succeed.

Native Allies

Angel de la Cruz Landrau

Dr. Angel de la Cruz Landrau was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico where he attended the University of Puerto Rico, Bayamón Campus and graduated with a B.S. in Biology with a concentration in Human Biology and a minor in General Sciences and Biology Teaching. Afterward, he enrolled in the Universidad Central del Caribe to obtain his PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology. Over the years, De la Cruz has developed an interest in helping scientific trainees at every level. He joined the leadership of the NIH Society for the Advancement of Chicanos, Hispanos and Native Americans in Science to provide opportunities in career development and mentoring to the NIH community. He is a Program Coordinator for the NINDS Summer, Diversity and Postbacs Program. De La Cruz oversees the training and career development of the IRTA trainees and is a champion for diversity.

Ryan Mahon

Ryan Mahon has served, since the inception of the office, as the program analyst for the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO) in the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, located in the NIH Office of the Director. In this capacity, they support all aspects of the SGMRO, including the implementation of the trans-NIH SGM Research Strategic Plan, collaborations with the Tribal Health Research Office and other ICOs, data collection and analysis, and the measurement of progress towards our strategic goals. Mahon has worked in a wide range of clinical and social science research settings, with supranational, national, state, provincial, and local governments, always contributing to ground-breaking research, and organizational evolution in vulnerable populations, including children, the poor, sexual and gender minorities, the imprisoned, and Native Americans.

Lawrence Agodoa

Dr. Lawrence Agodoa serves as thedirector of the Office of Minority Health Research Coordination (OMHRC). He led the development of the Institute’s Strategic Plan on Minority Health Disparities and is responsible for monitoring its implementation. The OMHRC addresses diseases and disorders that disproportionately impact the health of minority populations and fosters the recruitment and training of minority biomedical investigators, who are currently in short supply. Some of the new initiatives under NIDDK’s Strategic Plan on Minority Health Disparities include the Diabetes Education in American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Schools Program, the National High School Student Summer Research Program, the Network of Minority Research Investigators, and the Short-term Education Program in Underrepresented Persons. Agodoa also serves as director of the Minority Health Program in the Division of Kidney, Urologic, and Hematologic Diseases. His duties also include oversight of the Minority Organ Tissue Donation Program.

This program, which began as a collaboration between the NIDDK and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, aims to increase organ donation among members of racial and ethnic minority communities. With more organs and tissues from minority groups in the donor pool, the survival rates and quality of life of their members are expected to improve.

Frances Davis

Frances Davis serves as the Outreach Specialist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In her current role, she leads the NIAID Employment Outreach Program, where she directs outreach activities by collaborating internally with other NIH offices as well as creating partnerships with outside entities such as universities and private organizations. Davis has represented NIAID at over 25 different colleges and universities and has participated in over 40 diversity outreach events. She develops and implements innovative outreach strategies and tools targeting populations of interest including Native Americans. Frances also manages the NIAID Management Directive 715 report, a directive to all federal agencies to ensure a diverse and inclusive workforce. In addition, she leads the NIAID Reasonable Accommodations Program which focuses on providing equal opportunities and benefits to applicants and employees with disabilities.

Allyson Brown

Allyson Browne is a Management Analyst with the Data Analytics Branch of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Office of the Director. She began her career in public health as a Commissioned Nurse Officer with the United States Public Health Service, working with the American Indian community in Santa Fe, NM. She provided direct patient care at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital and made community health visits to the residents living in “pueblos”. She delivered educational services to families regarding diabetes management and healthy lifestyle options.

She has always appreciated “cultural competence”, recognizing the importance of cultural beliefs and norms on patient compliance, and practiced this concept in her interactions with her patients.