It is not surprising that you might have an easier time naming historic African Americans than famous Native Americans who made history; this is because African Americans typically get more attention for colonialism and oppression than the Native Americans who suffered and continue to suffer a similar oppression by white imperialism
The Native Americans who once owned and dominated the land known as America today are now a minority constantly waging one battle after the other as the greed of American corporations and governments continues to try and claim their lands for its resources. Today, the battles are fought in courts and protests in front of buildings whereas before, the war was fought with spears and knives, with several Native Americans losing their lives and their loved ones to the ruthlessness and greediness of the colonials.
You’d be surprised to know that while the initial arrival of colonists at the shores of America was met was skepticism; they were ultimately accepted by Native Americans. However, the sharing of resources began a long war between the two factions that has continued until this day.
As each generation of Native Americans stood in the protection of their heritage, various great men and women have emerged in the fight to protect the people and their culture. In this list, we examine 10 famous Native Americans who made history in their fight to protect their heritage. It is important that note that this list appears in no particular order.
1. Red Cloud (1822 – 1909)
In a list about famous Native Americans who made history, it is fitting to start with one of the warriors whose actions helped in protecting the culture and heritage of his people. Red Cloud was one of the most courageous men to go up against the US military in history. A warrior from the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribesmen, Red Cloud (real name Makhpiya Luta) led his fellow tribesmen into a battle with the US Military and earned a victory that saw the battle named after him as Red Cloud’s War. The battle was for the right to Powder River Country in Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana. Having won, Red Cloud became the chief of his tribe in the reservation.
2. Will Rogers (1879 – 1935)
As modern life approached, there was a period of peace between Native Americans and the colonial residents, which grew into a period of coexistence between the two groups. During this time, some Native Americans willingly chose to participate in American life and some even excelled at it. One of them was William Peen Adair Rogers, a Native American who was famous for many things such as being an actor, a social commentator, a philanthropist, a comedian, and at the height of his career, a presidential candidate. He was a Cherokee Cowboy who set the world record for throwing three ropes at once. He had 71 film credits in his entertainment career and over 4,000 newspaper columns in his writing career. He died unfortunately in a plane crash in 1935.
3. Sitting Bull (1831 – 1890) – Famous Native Americans Who Made History
Warriors and fighters who fought against the whites invaders will always remain prominent names in the history of Native Americans. One of those noble warriors was Sitting Bull, whose name is as prominent in Native American history as Abraham Lincoln is in American history. He fought in the Sioux warfare that led to the death of George Armstrong Custer in 1876. He was later forced to escape to Canada and only returned in 1881 after a pardon and was placed in a reservation. Until his death, he was a loud voice for the protection of the heritage of Native Americans.
4. Pocahontas (1595 – 1617)
Pochantas’ name has featured prominently in the lineup of Disney’s repertoire of princesses and most recently in Donald Trump’s mockery of Senator Elizabeth Warren, but her true story is much greater than what Americans have made of it. As one of many famous Native American who made history, Pocahontas spent her life as a peacemaker between her tribe and Englishmen who resided in Virginia. One of the popular stories about her says she saved the life of Capt. John Smith who was at the point of execution by the Powhatan. She was later captured and held hostage in exchange for English prisoners at the hands of the Powhatan tribe. She eventually got married to an English man, John Rolfe and headed to England as a princess. Her marriage to the English man endured peace between the Powhatan and the English. She died leaving behind a child, Thomas Rolfe.
5. Maria Tallchief (1925 – 2013)
While Pocahontas elevated the Native American reputation through kindness and marriage, Maria Tallchief did so through art. The popular American ballerina was of Osage descent. Having decided to pursue a career in arts, she trained as a pianist and a dancer. She finally settled for a career in ballet dancing and trained further under icons like Bronislava, Ernest Belcher, and George Balanchine. Maria Tallchief performed for many years, contributing to the growth of American Ballet. She received many recognitions during her lifetime, including an ultimate recognition by President Bill Clinton in 1999 when he awarded the National Medal of the Arts to Maria.
6. Sacajawea (1784 – 1884(?)
Her exact year of death is unknown but what isn’t debatable is her contributions to the Native American community and all round greatness while she was alive. Sacajawea is one of the most famous Native Americans who made history. She is famous for being the North American guide on the Lewis and Clark expedition that explored the Louisiana Purchase. Sacajawea, who had initially been captured from her tribe – the Shoshone, was an interpreter and helped the Americans navigate the new territory which she was more familiar with having previously lived there with her tribe. She was married to Toussaint Charbonneau and reportedly died in 1884, although some historians claim she died in 1812. Her discovery helped the Americans expand their reach to the Pacific Ocean. Her face currently appears on the dollar coin.
7. John Herrington (1958 – present)
The integration of Native Americans into American Life has birthed some remarkable achievements. One of them is John Herrington, a member of the Chickasaw Nation. He is a former US astronaut, what flew to space in 2002, becoming the first Native American to go to space. He was born in Wetumka, Oklahoma. A former naval pilot, he also has a degree in applied mathematics.
During his flight to the International Space Station, he carried a flag of the Chickasaw Nation to the ISS. The flag had been a present to him by the Chickasaw Nation Governor, Bill Anoatubby. He is a National Native American Hall of Famer and also an International Air & Space Hall of Famer. It is easy to see why he makes this lost of famous Native Americans who made history.
8. Charles Curtis (1860 – 1936)
With the inevitable victory of the Caucasian invaders in taking over the land of Native Americans, the survival and protection of the Native Americans were no longer achievable through knives and spears, but with laws and diplomacy. One of the men who helped create a more peaceful coexistence of whites with Native Americans is Charles Curtis. A half-Native American who helped create the Curtis Act. He was a US Congressman from 1892 to 1906, US Senator from 1907 to 1913, 1915 to 1929 and served as Vice President to Herbert Hoover in 1928. Despite being part Native American, he spent three years on a Kaw reservation and studied law under a Topeka attorney.
9. Scott Momaday (1934 – present)
For the creative and talented, art is a definite path to greatness. Art, alongside technological invention, are forms of greatness that live forever after the death of the creator. While N. Scott Momaday is not yet dead, he has created pieces of work that will live on after him, echoing the sounds of his greatness. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for his novel, House Made of Dawn.
He is the child of two different tribesmen, a father who was a Kiowa Indian and a mother of Cherokee ancestry. He has several essays and a memoir to his name. Committed to all branches of art, he is also a painter who has had some of his works illustrated. He currently teaches creative writing and English.
10. Sequoyah (1766 – 1843)
Language – it is the very tool that historians have identified to be responsible in our evolution and creation of complex societies. Our ability to communicate across any spectrum helped us build larger communities and achieve great things. In a battle for their heritage and existence, language was a necessary tool in helping different tribes of Native Americans communicate and work together against the colonial invaders. It was also necessary for understanding their enemy. This was a tool that was given to Native Americans by Sequoyah. He was a Native American leader who created the Cherokee syllabary. He taught thousands of Native Americans how to read and write and with his help, the Cherokee became leaders of the Native American community. Aside from the thousands of young Native Americans who grew up with the ability to read and write, his greatness was also established by naming the giant tree, Sequoia after him.
Other famous Native Americans who made history include Leslie Marmon Silko, Jim Thorpe, Wovoka, Uncas, among many others.