For Immediate Release

Contact: Eric Davis, Marketing & Communications Director 
505.424.2351 or 

Institute of American Indian Arts
IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
and National Museum of the American Indian Present
"A Promise Kept: The Inspiring Life and Works of 
Suzan Shown Harjo"

Symposium to be Held in Washington, DC on Friday, September 20, 2019

Santa Fe, New Mexico: September 11, 2019
Influential policy advocate, writer, curator, and 2014 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee) will be recognized for a lifetime of achievement at the symposium "A Promise Kept: The Inspiring Life and Works of Suzan Shown Harjo," Friday, September 20, 2019, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. A founding trustee of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, Harjo's legacy of activism and artistic accomplishment continues to inspire American Indian people and influence U.S. policies about Native sovereignty and culture. Free and open to the public, the symposium will be held in the museum's Rasmuson Theater.  

Presented by the National Museum of the American Indian and the Institute of American Indian Arts' (IAIA) Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, the symposium coincides with the 15th anniversary of the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

"Suzan has worked tirelessly on behalf of Native peoples as an activist, journalist and leader," said Kevin Gover (Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma), director of the National Museum of the American Indian. "Her list of achievements is long and includes being the founding president of The Morning Star Institute, a national Native rights organization that promotes Native peoples' traditions, cultures and arts. Her continued work as an inspiring leader and role model has made Indian Country proud."  

Suzan Shown Harjo

The symposium will bring together Native American activists, scholars, artists and writers to offer insights from their areas of expertise into Harjo's impact on Native American issues, including: 

Jodi Archambault (Hunkpapa & Oglala Lakota) , director, Indigenous Peoples Initiatives, Wend Ventures
Philip J. Deloria   (Yankton Dakota), professor, Harvard University
Kevin Gover  (Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma), director of the National Museum of the American Indian
Duke Ray Harjo II  (Muscogee & Cheyenne) 
Tina Kuckkahn-Miller (Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe), vice president, Indigenous Arts and Education, The Evergreen State College 
Robert G. Martin  (Cherokee), president, Institute of American Indian Arts
Michael D. McNally , professor, Carleton College 
Mary Kathryn Nagle (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma), partner, Pipestem Law P.C., and playwright
Patsy Phillips (Cherokee), director, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
Wilson Pipestem (Otoe-Missouria), founding partner, Pipestem Law P.C.
James Riding In (Pawnee), professor, University of Arizona
Gabrielle Tayac (Piscataway Nation), Smithsonian Research Associate
Mark Trahant (Shoshone-Bannock), editor, Indian Country Today 
W. Richard West Jr.(Cheyenne/Arapaho), president and CEO, Autry Museum of the American West, and founding director emeritus, National Museum of the American Indian. 

U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (Muscogee [Creek] Nation) will give the opening poem.  

The symposium is focused on the discussion of the struggle for Native religious and cultural rights; repatriation and protection of ancestors; Native Nations' sovereignty, citizenship, artist identity, and authenticity in the marketplace under tribal and federal law; and racist stereotypes and cultural appropriation.  

Harjo is widely recognized for her intensive efforts to address issues at the core of Native American identity: treaty rights, abolition of racist sports mascots, sacred places' protection and access, religious freedom, and language revitalization. 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as a broadcaster she co-produced " Seeing Red,"   the first national Native news show in the United States, on WBAI-FM Radio in New York City; and in the mid-1970s, she was the news director for the American Indian Press Association  in Washington, D.C. As a special assistant for Native American legislation in President Jimmy Carter's administration, Harjo was the principal author of the "President's Report to Congress on American Indian Religious Freedom." She served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) from 1984 through 1989. She is one of seven Native people who filed the 1992 landmark lawsuit Harjo et al v. Pro Football Inc. , regarding the name of the Washington, D.C., football team, and she organized the identical Blackhorse case that was brought by Native young people. Both cases involved a quarter-century of litigation.  

Harjo was also part of the coalition that first envisioned the National Museum of the American Indian in 1967. A principal drafter of the National Museum of the American Indian and repatriations laws, she was the principal author of the new museum's first trustees' policies on repatriation, identity, and exhibitions, and helped to draft its bylaws and collections policy. She chaired   its first public programs committee and served on the search and selection committees for the museum's founding director and architect.  

"Dr. Harjo's achievements for IAIA and NMAI are lasting features of our institutions," said Patsy Phillips, director of IAIA's Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. "Her contributions to arts and letters, activism and laws, and institution-building are amazing and the reason she is so widely recognized and awarded, including by IAIA, whose Honorary Doctorate in Humanities she earned with a lifetime of realized ideas and hard work."  

Harjo curated the first exhibition of artwork by contemporary Native artists shown in the U.S. House and Senate rotundas, "Visions from Native America" (1992). Her poetry is widely anthologized and published, including in the exhibition "Blood of the Sun: Artists Respond to the Poetry of Suzan Shown Harjo," curated by America Meredith  (Cherokee) in Santa Fe (2011). Harjo was the host of the first three seasons of the Native Writers Series and directed the Native Language Repository Project at the National Museum of the American Indian. She is one of eight Native women honored on "Winyan Wánakikśin" ("Women Defenders of Others"), a buffalo horn belt created by artists Kevin Pourier (Oglala Lakota) and Valerie Pourier (Ogala Lakota), newly placed on exhibit in the museum's Potomac Atrium.  

Details about the symposium program are available at the NMAI and IAIA websites: and 

About IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

The mission of the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) is to advance contemporary Native art through exhibitions, collections, public programs, and scholarship. MoCNA's outreach through local and national collaborations allows us to continue to present the most progressive Native arts and public programming. MoCNA's exhibitions and programs continue the narrative of contemporary Native arts and cultures.

About the National Museum of the American Indian 

In partnership with Native peoples and their allies, the National Museum of the American Indian fosters a richer shared human experience through a more informed understanding of Native peoples. The museum in Washington, D.C., is located on the National Mall at Fourth Street and Independence Avenue S.W.  

About IAIA:


For over 50 years, the Institute of American Indian Arts has played a key role in the direction and shape of Native expression. With an internationally acclaimed college, museum, and tribal support resource through the IAIA Land Grant Programs, IAIA is dedicated to the study and advancement of Native arts and cultures -- and committed to student achievement and the preservation and progress of their communities. Learn more about IAIA and our mission at   


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