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Political and Social Advocacy

Since European colonization, American Indians have dealt with oppression and inadequate rights. Over the centuries, Native Americans have fought for land ownership, environmental protection and recognition as a respected people. Although this battle is ongoing in some areas, advances have been made. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was created under the Department of the Interior to protect and care for tribal land held in trust by the U.S. government. Additionally, Native Americans themselves have made many individual and group efforts to further their causes. In 1911, the Society of American Indians was established as a lobbying group advocating reform. Since then, many Native American activist groups have been formed to promote unity, encourage cultural identity, and fight for Native American rights. Today, Native Americans continue to make great strides in overcoming past difficulties and embracing their own identity. In this section, we’ve identified just a few of these individuals who are active today:

Charlene Teters

Despite advances, American Indians still struggle with pervasive racism and stereotypes. Many activists have spoken out against the stereotypic image portrayed by much of mainstream culture. One such activist is Charlene Teters, a member of the Spokane nation. Outraged by her university's inappropriate use of the "Indian Chief" as its team mascot, Teters protested against the school, which eventually led to the school's removal of the mascot from all games. Teters continues making waves with her politicized art exhibits, which showcase media portrayal of American Indians.

Charlene Teters
Teters' website includes links to her artwork as well as resources regarding her work against racism.

In Whose Honor: American Indian Mascots in Sports
The website for this documentary film also includes a listing of schools that have changed their mascots due to the activism of Teters and others.

Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke was born in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1959 to an Anishinaabe father. Influenced by her parents and Jimmy Durham (a Cherokee activist), LaDuke became active in Native American environmental issues while attending Harvard.  At the age of 18, she spoke before the United Nations about Native American issues and continued to fight for Indian rights. LaDuke founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project and ran for vice president of the United States on Ralph Nader's ballot in 1996 and 2000. LaDuke has authored several books and remains an active voice in the Native American community.

Honor the Earth
The website for this Native environmental activism group, of which LaDuke is the executive director, provides resources and information on the cause.

Buffalo Nation
An article authored by LaDuke.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Campbell, part Cheyenne, was born in 1933 in Auburn, Calif. Campbell attended San Jose State College, where he joined the judo team and eventually became the captain of the U.S. Olympic team in the 1964 Olympics. Campbell has studied physical education, fine arts and Japanese culture, and has been employed as a jewelry designer, rancher, and horse trainer. He was elected to the Colorado General Assembly in 1983, and to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1987. Campbell also served as a U. S. senator from 1993-2005, for some of which he was the only Native American serving in Congress. During his service, Campbell helped pass landmark legislation to settle Indian water rights, establish the National Museum of the American Indian within the Smithsonian Institution, and rename the Custer Battlefield Monument to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

Challenges Facing American Indian Youth: On the Front Lines With Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Interview with Ben Nighthorse Campbell on challenges facing American Indian youth today.

A Century Old Water Fight
Read a transcript from PBS's Jim Leher News Hour discussing Indian water rights and Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s efforts to facilitate a compromise between the Ute Indians and the government.

National Museum of the American Indian
Housed within the Smithsonian Institution, this museum is dedicated to the preservation, study and exhibition of the life, languages, literature, history and arts of Native Americans.