Column: Standing Rock Sioux chairwoman a strong fighter
"The first female Native American to head a major tribe was at the Standing Rock Reservation.

While she was tribal chairwoman, Josephine Gates Kelly was a tenacious fighter for the rights of Indians, especially those living on her reservation. Her fight began long before she became head of the tribal council and continued long after she was chairwoman. It is also believed she was the first Indian woman delegate to a Republican National Convention.

Josephine was first elected to the Standing Rock Tribal Council in 1940. In 1944, she was chosen as one of the delegates to the National Republican Convention in Chicago, where delegates adopted a constitutional amendment advocating equal rights for women.

Also in 1944, Josephine ran for auditor of Sioux County. Prior to this time she had worked as deputy county auditor for Corson County in South Dakota and Sioux County in North Dakota. In the July primary, Josephine was one of the two highest vote getters, qualifying her for the general election. One week before the election, she withdrew because of “ill health.”

In November 1946, Josephine was elected chairwoman of the Standing Rock Nation. She was re-elected each year until 1951. One of her granddaughters, Josie Chase, summed up Josephine’s philosophy as tribal chairwoman: “(Josephine) recognized the value of our culture. She saw the need to be part of the process of improving our lives. Taking responsibility for ourselves and taking initiative. Understanding who we are and that we are a highly evolved civilization.”

It was reported that while she was chairwoman, she once convinced the entire council to hitchhike with her to Washington. At many of the larger cities along the way, Josephine conducted news conferences. When the council arrived at the Capitol, “the Feds were only too happy to surrender on the issues involved,” and they paid the train fare for the return trip for all council members."

Get the Story:
Curtis Eriksmoen: Did You Know That ...: First tribal chairwoman fighter for Indian rights (The Fargo Forum 3/28)