Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


pictograph divider


Native Americans Everyone Should Know

by Terri Jean

Recently I polled 38 young children - ages 4 to 12 - asking them to name 5 famous Native Americans. Most, of course, knew the historical figures: Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Tecumseh, and Squanto. When asked to name Native people alive today, only a handful had an answer and, for over half, it was Wilma Mankiller. Not one child knew of the Native American astronaut, race car driver, golfer or Olympic figure skater. And when I said there was a Native American rap artist, they were astonished!

So I decided to list some of the Native people of today that I admire most. Enjoy!

Charlene Teeters1. CHARLENE TEETERS - Activist, of the Spokane Nation. Teeter has been referred to as the "Rosa Parks" of the American Indians. She campaigned against her alma mater, the University of Illinois, for using a Native American-looking effigy - Chief Illiniwek - dresses in feathers and war paint, as their school mascot. Chief Illinewek would dance to a drumbeat at local football games, humiliating and offending Teeters and others. She began protesting against the Indian mascot at the University of Illinois, then created an 1994 exhibit called "It Was Only an Indian: Native American Stereotypes" which identified Native American racism and stereotypes in the media and corporation advertising. She eventually became the subject of the highly acclaimed documentary, "In Whose Honor" of which Brenda Farnell, Professor of Antropology from the University of Illinois said, "It is an important piece of work, perfect for waking students up to contemporary issues facing Native peoples today."

2. JOHN HERRINGTON - Astronaut, of the Chickasaw Nation. Herrington is the first Native American to walk in space when launched November 23, 2002 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Serving as the flight engineer for launch and landing, Herrington vowed to carry the Chickasaw Nation flag with him into space. Members of his tribe watched the historic launch, and Herrington honored his Native American heritage by carrying six eagle feathers, a braid of sweet grass, two arrowheads, and his nation's flag.

3. CORY WITHERILL - Race Car Driver, of the Navajo Nation. Witherill has been racing for more than 15 years, including three seasons in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship. In 2001 he finally debuted in the Indy Racing League and then the Indy 500 (placing 19 out of 33). The first full-blooded Native American to run in the Indy 500, he also holds two U.S. championships for off-road stadium racing and in 2001 became the first person to be a four-time champion at the Motorcross Valvoline de Montreal. His career goal is to be the first Native American to win the Indy 500. His website is

Notah Begay4. NOTAH BEGAY - PGA Pro Golfer, of Navajo, San Felipe and Isleta lineage. Begay is the first Native American Indian to join a PGA Tour. He turned professional in 1995 and joined the tour in 1999. His former teammate, Tiger Woods, said he is "happy to represent the Native American people, and in some regards be a role model." When asked why he thinks there are not more professional Native American athletes, he responded, "A lot of it is opportunity, and a lot of it is a lack of support networks, whether it?s just simple encouragement or financial... There's not a lot of facilities."

5. WINONA LADUKE - Activist/ Author/ Vice President Candidate, of the Mississippi Band of the Anishinabeg of the white Earth reservation located in Minnesota. LaDuke, a Harvard graduate, works on restoring the local land base and culture. In 1994 she was named by Time Magazine as one of America's 50 most promising leaders under 40 years of age. She has authored several books, received the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1988, and ran for Vice President in 2000 with Ralph Nader under the Green Party ticket. For more information go to

6. LITEFOOT - Actor/ Rapper/ Corporation Owner, of the Cherokee Nation. Litefoot, considered the first commercial Native American Rap Artist, first gained notoriety after releasing the album, "The Money" (1992) on his own Red Vinyl Records. After subsequent albums and touring, he won the Native American Music Award in 1996, 1998, and 1999. Litefoot made his major motion picture debut in 1995, starring in "The Indian in the Cupboard." He then went on to act in several movies including "Kull, the Conqueror", "Mortal Kombat, Annihilation", and "Adaptation".

Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev7. NAOMI LANG - Pairs Figure Skater, of the Karuk Tribe of California. Lang, who partners with Russian-born Peter Tchernyshev, is the first Native American to participate in the Winter Olympics. The two have competed and placed several times in the U.S Nationals, and also placed 8th in the World Championships. In addition, the two are the 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003 U.S. Ice Dance Champions. They plan to compete in the 2005/2006 Olympic Winter Games and is to perform across the United States in the 2003 Summer Champions on Ice Tour.

8. SANDRA SUNRISING OSAWA - Film producers and director, of the Makah Indian Nation. Osawa is considered one of America's premier Native American independent film producers and directors, known for her touching contemporary films such as the award-winning "Lighting the 7th Fire" and "On & Off the Res with Charlie hill." Her works have been screened at numerous film festivals including Sundance, as well as on television.

Sherman Alexie9. SHERMAN ALEXIE - Poet/ Novelist/ Film Producer/ Screenwriter, of the Coeur d'Alene/ Spokane Indian Nations. Alexie has published 7 books of poetry, a book of prose, a short-story collection titled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993), and the novels, Reservation Blues and Indian Killer (New York Times Notable Book). The award winning author was named by The New Yorker as one of the best American fiction writers under forty. In 1998 he produced the renowned, award-winning film Smoke Signals, which was the first Indian-produced, Indian-written, Indian-acted, Indian directed feature film ever to be distributed in the U.S. Alexie's new short story collection is titled, The Toughest Indian in the World.

10. PATTY TALAHONGVA, Journalist and News Program Host, of the Hopi Nation. Patty Talahongva, vice president of the Native American Journalists Association, is the first Native American to host national news program , Village America. She has produced TV newscasts, documentaries, and special projects for television, plus she writes for various national newspapers and magazines and contributes to the national radio talk show, "Native America Calling."

Unfortunately, many children, when thinking in terms of Native American people, conjur up images of Native people portrayed in movies and in books from the 19th century. Many of the students I spoke to were surprised to learn that Native people are involved in their favorite sports, recording their favorite music and heading towards the Olympics! It is important to teach children today that Native people are just like any other person, with the same lifestyles, clothing, jobs, school work and hobbies as anyone else. Ending the stereotype of the savage, half-naked Indian, or the sad, pathetic reservation Indian, should be a goal that we all share.

If you know of someone who deserves to be on my list, please send me their name, tribal nation, and accomplishment to:!

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!