Suzan Shown Harjo to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Suzan Shown Harjo. Photo from West Virginia University

Activist Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne / Muscogee Creek) will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a ceremony at the White House this month.

Harjo is well known for her fight against racist mascots. She was the lead plaintiff in the first complaint against the trademarks of the Washington NFL team, a battle that continues today.

"There were about 3,000 of these stereotypical images and today there are only about 900," Harjo said last year at the annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians.

As executive director of NCAI from 1984 to 1989, Harjo was at the forefront of major pieces of Indian legislation. She helped pass the National Museum of the American Indian Act of 1989 and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and she led the fight against budget cuts to federal Indian programs during the Reagan administration.

Harjo later founded the Morning Star Institute, one of whose major causes is the protection of sacred sites. She oversees the annual National Prayer Days to Protect Native American Sacred Places every June.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor. It recognizes "individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," the White House said yesterday.

Harjo will receive her medal on November 24. She is being joined by 18 other notable people, including journalist Tom Brokaw, former Congressman John Dingell and musician Stevie Wonder.

“I look forward to presenting these nineteen bold, inspiring Americans with our Nation’s highest civilian honor," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "From activists who fought for change to artists who explored the furthest reaches of our imagination; from scientists who kept America on the cutting edge to public servants who help write new chapters in our American story, these citizens have made extraordinary contributions to our country and the world.”

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