Suzan Shown Harjo

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Suzan Shown Harjo
Suzan shown harjo 09.jpg
Born (1945-06-02) June 2, 1945 (age 68)
El Reno, Oklahoma, United States
Education University of Arizona, School for Advanced Research
Occupation Advocate for American Indian rights
poet, writer, lecturer, curator
Spouse(s) Frank Ray Harjo (deceased), John Alan Shown (deceased)
Children Duke Harjo, Adriane Shown Deveney
Parents Susie Rozetta Eades and Freeland Edward Douglas

Suzan Shown Harjo (born June 2, 1945)[1] is a Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee advocate for American Indian rights. She is a poet, writer, lecturer, curator, and policy advocate, who has helped Native peoples recover over a million acres (4,000 km²) of land. She serves as President of the Morning Star Institute, a national Native American rights organization based in Washington, D.C.

Early years[edit]

Harjo was born on June 2, 1945[2] in El Reno, Oklahoma[3] and lived on her Muscogee family's allotment near Beggs, Oklahoma.[4] Her great-grandfather was the Cheyenne Chief Bull Bear.

Between the ages of 12 and 16 she lived in Naples, Italy where her father was stationed while in the US Army. Upon her return to the States, Harjo moved to New York City, where she worked in radio and the theater.


The roots of her activism date from the mid-1960s, when she produced "Seeing Red," a bi-weekly radio program on New York's WBAI FM station which was the first Indian news show in the United States.[5] Harjo moved to Washington D.C. in 1974.

In 1978 President Jimmy Carter appointed her a congressional liaison for Indian Affairs. Suzan Harjo appealed to multiple subcommittees within Congress to voice what Native Americans wanted from nation government. Suzan Harjo and fellow members spoke of and debated such as hunting, fishing, voting, & land contracts rights. In a Statute of Limitations for Indian Claims hearing on Feb, 17,1982, Suzan Harjo points out the national government administration has failed to comply with laws already in place in giving monetary funds back to tribes since 1966.[6] It is unclear though how much money was received by tribes. In another example Suzan Harjo also fought for land rights. Unfortunately instead of dealing with the problem, Congress only gave back time. As a Washington Post article reported on this issue, Suzan Harjo stated, “They’re adding 10 to 15 yrs. to litigations process that is now going on…What I’m fearful is that tribes that are now negotiating in good faith…will back off & refuse to compromise”.[7]

National Congress of American Indians[edit]

Harjo has been involved in major advances in US federal Indian policy, and served as the Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1984 to 1989. The National Congress of American Indians or NCAI, was founded in 1944, a non-profit organization that represents all Native American Indians as well as Alaska Native Americans. According to the NCAI constitution their mission is to 1) protect and advance tribal governance & treaty rights, 2) promote the economic development & health & welfare in Indian & Alaska Native communities, & 3) educate the public toward a better understand of Indian & Alaska Native tribes.[8]

As elected the Executive Director of the NCAI, from 1984-1989, Suzan Harjo began to become a greater leader in Native American rights. She dedicates more time asking Congress to keep their end to the deal in dealing with hunting and fishing rights and even asking for more funds for education, the NCAI goal to educate their people as well as others, as seen in the Dept. of Interior & Related Agencies Appropriations in ’84, ’86, & ’88.[9][10][11] Some key issues that are revealed during this time is that Suzan Harjo is not getting her desired results, as she claims that the committee in ’88 are not doing its duty in allowing the access of governments documents and aiding the economy of Native Americas, her last hearing as a NCAI representative. To reasons unknown, Suzan Harjo is not elected to be Executive Director in 1990.

She has also spoken out against the negative portrayals of Native Americans in movies and television.[5] One of Harjo's biggest concerns is the decline in health clinics on reservations and the subsequent higher mortality rate amongst Native Americans.[5]

Harjo is outspoken against author Ward Churchill's controversial claim of Native American ancestry and has publicly denounced him.[12]

She has appeared on many television programs including The Oprah Winfrey Show, C-SPAN, and Larry King Live. She has been the president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington D.C. since 1984. Harjo is also a columnist for the newspaper Indian Country Today.[13]

Federal laws[edit]

Harjo developed important federal laws protecting Native sovereignty, arts and cultures, language, and human rights. These include the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act;.[13] Which allowed the protection of Native Americans from assimilation and also in doing so, hold onto their cultural rituals within one’s tribe. the 1989 National Museum of the American Indian Act; the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which allows tribes to reclaim their human remains and ceremonial items from publicly funded institutions;[14] and the 1996 Executive Order of Indian Sacred Sites.[13]

Morning Star Institute[edit]

A president of the Morning Star Institute, founded in 1984, Harjo promotes traditional cultural rights, artistic expression, and research. The organization sponsors Just Good Sports, devoted to ending stereotypes.

Along with seven Native plaintiffs, including Vine Deloria, Jr. and Mateo Romero, Suzan Shown Harjo was a party in Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc., filed on September 12, 1992 with the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to cancel the registration of the Washington Redskins football team, as the name was disparaging to Native Americans. The three PTO judges unanimously ruled in favor of the Native Americans plaintiffs. However, Pro Football appealed to the United States District Court, which ruled against the plaintiffs on the question of laches.[15] The US Supreme Court declined the plaintiff's petition for judicial review and refused to hear the Native American group's appeal.[16] This case was followed by Blackhorse et al v. Pro Football , in which six young Native American plaintiffs challenged the federal trademark licenses of the Washington football team's disparaging name.[15]

Suzan Harjo still believes that the Redskins name will be changed as she speaks about this issue on ESPN Radio.[17] She has turned her attention to high school sport teams to eliminate Native-used names.[18]

The Morning Star Institute organized the National Prayer Day for Sacred Places, which in 2009 fell on June 22,[19] and the 1992 Alliance, which addressed the Native response to the Quincentennial of Columbus' arrival in the Americas.


In 2008, Harjo became the first Vine Deloria, Jr. Distinguished Indigenous Scholar at the University of Arizona.[20] The School for Advanced Research (SAR), in Santa Fe, New Mexico, awarded her two back-to-back fellowships in 2004, the Dobkin Artist Fellowship for Poetry and the Summer Scholar Fellowship.[13] At SAR, Harjo chaired two seminars, about Native Identity and Native Women's Cultural Matters. At the University of Pennsylvania Museum in 2006, she chaired a seminar on US Civilization and Native Identity Policies.[21]

In 2011 Suzan Harjo received the Honorary Doctorate Award from the Institute for American Indian Arts or IAIA, in May 2011 commencement “for a lifetime of advocacy and contributions to Native arts & culture”.[22]


Harjo first published her poetry in an Italian magazine, when she was 12 years old.[4] "I began writing poetry because of the poetics and density of Cheyenne and Muscogee oral history as related by my Cheyenne mother and her parents and my Muscogee father and his parents," says Harjo. For the first International Women's Day in the 1970s, Harjo wrote the poem "gathering rites" and read it at "Women/Voices at Town Hall" in New York City, where she was one of 20 American women writers, including Alice Walker and Nikki Giovanni. Harjo also presented the poem on the West Steps of the US Capitol.[13]

As an Eric and Barbara Dobkin Fellow and an IARC Summer School at the School for Advanced Research in 2004, Harjo developed oral history poetry about her experiences working for repatriation laws and policies.[13]

Personal life[edit]

She has a son, Duke Harjo, graduate of Reed College with her late husband Frank Ray Harjo, and a daughter, Adriane Shown Deveney, actor, artist, poet, with her late husband, artist, John Alan Shown.

Published by Suzan Shown Harjo[edit]

Suzan Harjo also was a writer for the documentary of Sacred Earth: Makoce Wakan (1993), which is about the Native American’s sacred lands and their need of protection.[24]


  1. ^ Liz Sonneborn, A to Z of American Indian Women, p.87
  2. ^ Sonneborn, p.87
  3. ^ Suzan Shown Harjo , 1945-. The Internet Public Library: Native American Authors Project. (retrieved 26 May 2009)
  4. ^ a b Harjo, Suzan Shown. "Grace of Water, Focus of Rock." Talking Stick: Native Arts Quarterly. Issue 12.4, Oct-Dec 2009 (retrieved 14 Jan 2009)
  5. ^ a b c WIMN’s Voices
  6. ^ "Statue of Limitations for Indian Claims Feb. 17, 1982". Proquest. Retrieved April 13, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Indians Face Loss of Land Claims". Washington Post. Feb 1982. 
  8. ^ "About the NCAI". NCAI. Retrieved April 23, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Department of Interior & Related Feb, 23-4, 1983 Agencies Appropriations". p. 1-5. Proquest. Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Department of Interior & Related Agencies Appropriations April 3-4,18 1985". p. 397-407. ProQuest. Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Department of Interior & Related Agencies Appropriations Mar. 4-5, 1987". p. 1-8. ProQuest. Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
  12. ^ Harjo, Suzan Shown. Ward Churchill, the white man's burden. Indian Country Today. 3 Aug 2007 (retrieved 20 Oct 2009)
  13. ^ a b c d e f "Suzan Shown Harjo: Eric and Barbara Dobkin Native American Artist Fellow." Dobkin Fellowship: Indian Arts Research Center. 2004 (Retrieved 17 Jan 09)
  14. ^ "Native American Grave and Burial Protection Act (Repatriation); Native American Repatriation of Cultural Patrimony Act; and Heard Museum Report May 14, 1990". Proquest Congressional. Retrieved April 15, 2012. 
  15. ^ a b "Blackhorse et al V. Pro Football, Inc.: Case/Background Status as of 1/4/10." Morning Star Institute. 4 Jan 2010.
  16. ^ Richey, Warren. "Washington Redskins Can Keep Team Name: Supreme Court Refuses Native Americans' Suit." Christian Science Monitor. 16 Nov 2009 (retrieved 16 Nov 2009)
  17. ^ Harjo, Suzan. "Get Educated June 3, 1999". ESPN. Retrieved April 16, 2012. 
  18. ^ Harjo, Suzan. "Ending Stereotypes in Oregon School Sports Mar. 13, 2012". Indian Country. Retrieved April 20, 2012. 
  19. ^ Sacred places prayer. Daily Herald. 24 June 2009 (retrieved 25 June 2009)
  20. ^ "Vine Deloria Scholar Series, Fall 2008. American Indian Studies Newsletter, University of Arizona. Fall 2008: 2 (retrieved 25 June 2009)
  21. ^ Suzan Harjo. Jodi Solomon Speakers Bureau. (retrieved 25 June 2009)
  22. ^ Jasna, Kristen. ""IAIA Awards Suzan Shown Harjo Honorary Doctorate" Aug.15, 2011". Tribal College Journal. Retrieved April 15, 2012. 
  23. ^ Painting the Underworld Sky: Cultural Expression and Subversion in Art. (retrieved 14 Jan 2009)
  24. ^ "Makoce Wakan: Sacred Earth". WorldCat. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 

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