Six Native American Women Changemakers To Know

In honor of Native American Heritage Month and Day, we want to uplift a few Native American women changemakers that have paved the way in their fields–both past and present. From the pilot’s seat to the center stage, we are grateful for these barrier-breakers.

Bessie Coleman

Also known as “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bess,” Coleman was the first Black American and first Native American woman pilot; and the first Black American to earn an international pilot license. Throughout her career, she encouraged other Black Americans and women to fly. Her legacy continues even today. Earlier this year, an all-Black women airline crew took flight in honor of “Queen Bess.”

Quannah Chasinghorse

The fashion industry has long been characterized by its lack of diversity. Activist and model Quannah Chasinghorse is part of a movement to challenge that and bring more representation to the industry. In a touching essay in CNN, Chasinghorse shared the importance of honoring her Sičangu/Oglala Lakota identity in her career: “Being someone who can shift how others see beauty is important, because I know a lot of girls who look like me and who can feel out of place.”

Deb Haaland

Secretary Haaland currently serves as a cabinet secretary in the United States Department of Interior–the first Native American person to ever hold the position. Secretary Haaland has also made history as the first Native American woman to lead a state party and one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress. Of her accomplishments, she has said, “I believe Native Americans, women, and all of us deserve representation, and that we all need to fight with everything we have to make it so.”

Mary G. Ross

Ross is the first known Native American woman engineer. Originally hired as a mathematician, she later transitioned into working on aerospace technology. Ross described how her heritage influenced her career in STEM: “I started with a firm foundation in mathematics and qualities that came down to me from my Indian heritage.” In her retirement, she recruited Native American girls into engineering.

Maria Tallchief

Tallchief excelled in dance from a young age and pursued ballet as a career in her late teens. Despite frequently facing discrimination due to her heritage, she became the first American prima ballerina. The Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker is one of her most well-known roles.

Wilma Mankiller

A Native American and women’s rights activist, Mankiller was the first woman elected Deputy Chief and Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. In her position, she championed housing, healthcare, and children’s programs. She continued to be a fierce social justice advocate after leaving office. In 1983, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Take Action! Honor and celebrate Native American women changemakers on social media with #ChangeIcons.