Tetona Dunlap is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Montana. She is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe from the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.If well-behaved women seldom make history, this explains why two influential women who passed away this past week will never be forgotten.
On April 6, Wilma Mankiller died after battling pancreatic cancer. Three days later Minnie Two Shoes died after her own struggle with cancer. I had the chance to meet both of these inspiring Native American women through journalism.
Mankiller came to speak to my class when I participated in the American Indian Journalism Institute in South Dakota in 2003. Mankiller was the first woman to serve the Cherokee people as principal chief. She was an advocate for Native American and women’s rights. She has also written two books. One is an autobiography titled, “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People” and “Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women.” As a result of her activism, she was received several awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. She was also inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in New York City in 1994.
Mankiller was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee nation, on November 18, 1945. Mankiller’s family relocated to San Francisco as part of the 1952 Urban Indian Relocation Program, which was designed to entice Natives living on reservations to live in one of seven major urban cities where jobs were suppose to be abundant. It was here in San Francisco that Mankiller said she had her political awakening. In 1969, San Francisco State student Richard Oakes, Mohawk, along with other Native Americans of different tribes, occupied an abandoned prison on Alcatraz Island to call attention of the mistreatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government. It was then that she decided that she could better serve her people through the areas of law and legal defense.
The events that took place after Alcatraz and the social activism of the 1960s and 70s also inspired Minnie. Two Shoes was born March 24, 1950 and is an Assiniboine Sioux from the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. She was a publicist for the American Indian Movement from 1970-1976. She was also a founding member of the Native American Journalists Association. Two Shoes was a member of the NAJA team that worked to uncover information regarding the murder of Anna Mae Pictou, a member of AIM who was found murdered on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1976. She owned MTS Productions in Minneapolis and was a freelance writer and media consultant.
I had the pleasure to meet Minnie during NAJA conferences and journalism-related events. Her trademark humor will be missed from this year’s NAJA conference in Minneapolis, in which she was conference chair. In a video that has been uploaded to YouTube in her memory, her playful personality is on full display, as she talks about why she loves NAJA conferences.
Throughout their lives, Mankiller and Two Shoes were leaders, but especially for Native American women. As one who is inspired by their strength and passion, I aspire to accomplish even a minuscule amount of what these two women achieved in their lifetimes. Shaped by the times in which they both lived, these two women will now join other important figures in history that are also impossible to forget.
Tags: Alcatraz island, Alcatraz occupation, American Indian Journalism Institute, American Indian Movement, Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, Assiniboine Sioux, buffalo post, Cherokee, Fort Peck Reservation, Gwen Florio, Minnie Two Shoes, Mohawk, MTS Productions, Native American Journalists Association, Native American news, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Richard Oakes, Tetona Dunlap, Urban Indian Relocation Program, Wilma Mankiller, Women's Hall of Fame