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The National Native American Hall of Fame (NNAHOF) this week announced eight new inductees from across Indian Country, celebrated for their contributions in Native advocacy, politics, athletics, arts, health, and culture preservation and revitalization.

Inductees include: Dave Anderson (Ojibwe), a businessman and entrepreneur; Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne); Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek), a poet; Marcella LeBeau (Cheyenne River Sioux), a health policy leader; Emil Notti (Athabascan), a political leader; Katherine Siva Saubel (Cahuilla), a language preservationist and museum founder; Ernie Stevens Sr. (Oneida), a Indian Policy leader; and W. Richard West, (Southern Cheyenne), the founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian.

The Native American Hall of Fame was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2016, and has since held three cycles of awards. This year’s cycle will bring the total number of Hall of Fame members to 32 living and dead Native American and Alaska Natives that have made significant contributions to Indian Country. Inductees are selected by a board of eight members, based on public input, research, and a matrix to ensure fair representation among tribal nations, according to the group’s founder and CEO, James Parker Shield (Little Shell Chippewa). 

“One thing we try to do is make sure this doesn't boil down to a popularity contest where only the well known Native Americans are selected,” Parker Shield told Native News Online. “We want to make sure that even those people that are not well known—that maybe toiled in obscurity—but nonetheless worked to improve things for their people or Native Americans as a whole (are recognized).”

For example, Parker Shield said, Katherine Siva Saubell of the Cahuilla Tribe on the Morongo Reservation in California, was among the 2021 inductees. Saubell, who died in 2011 at 91 years old, founded the first Native American museum created and managed by Native people, according to the NNAHOF’s research. She also created the first Cahuilla-English dictionary, wrote several ethnobotanical books on medicinal plants and made recordings of Cahuilla songs, preserving sacred ceremonies, culture and traditions. She was the first Native woman from California to be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993, and awarded the Chancellor’s Medal from the University of California, Riverside as well as an honorary doctorate from La Sierra University. 

The 2021 honorees will be officially inducted into the Native American Hall of Fame on Nov. 6 at the site of the future museum in Oklahoma City, Okla. The group has signed a memorandum of understanding with the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City to build a new wing in their existing building, Parker Shield said. Pending a funding appropriation from Congress, the wing will likely open in three years, he said.

Parker Shield was inspired to found NNAHOF after watching the show Shark Tank, a reality television show that gives entrepreneurs the chance to secure financial backing for their ideas. He said the show begs the questions: What problem does your product solve? Is there a marketplace for this?

“In my mind, what's missing in America is a Hall of Fame for Native Americans, particularly Native Americans of contemporary history,” he said. “Most of America, what they see about Native Americans in books or movies relates back to the old days. A lot of them can probably name people like Geranamo or Sitting Bull or Sacajawea or Pochahontas or on and on, but they would be hard pressed to name any contemporary Native Americans or what they were well known for. That's important for the rest of America, but it's even more important for our young Native Americans, because these people are inspirational.”

Also this week, the North Dakota Native American Hall of Honor, an annual program that similarly recognizes significant efforts made by local Native Americans, announced four new inductees: Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Chairman Mark Fox, Hunkpapa Lakota Chief Sitting Bull, Three Affiliated Tribes cultural leader and teacher Lydia Sage Chase, and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Vietnam War hero, Dave Dauphinais.

But Parker Shield said the Native American Hall of Fame is set apart from others because of its inclusion of Native people from all areas of what is now known as the United States.

“We wanted to make sure that it was national in scope and that the people that are in it are of stature, because otherwise we could be enrolling my uncle,” he laughed. “And he didn’t do anything.”

To read more about the 2021 inductees, visit the NNHOF website here

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About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna Kunze
Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as lead reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.