Three New Mexico trailblazers receive honor
Over the course of her 87 years, Native American activist LaDonna Harris has campaigned to be vice president of the United States, helped return federal land to Taos Pueblo and served on commissions appointed by five presidents.
But her proudest accomplishment, her daughter Laura Harris said, has been mentoring Native Americans early in their careers.
“She believes in replacing herself,” Laura Harris said. “That’s one of her core indigenous values, is to find and nurture the upcoming leaders to take her place.”
The elder Harris, an Albuquerque resident and a member of the Comanche tribe, was among 12 Native American trailblazers -- including three from New Mexico -- inducted into the newly formed National Native American Hall of Fame Oct. 13 in Phoenix.
Harris was introduced by a handful of the 250 people for whom she has served as a mentor.
“She was thrilled and very honored, especially to be a part of this first cohort,” Laura Harris said. “Almost all of her life she’s been an activist for human rights. It’s just nice to be recognized for it.”
Renowned Native artist Allan Houser, who lived in Santa Fe until his death in 1994, and Pulitzer Prize-winning Santa Fe writer N. Scott Momaday also were inducted. The New Mexico trio joined a who’s who of native innovators living and dead including prima ballerina Maria Tallchief, football and track and field star Jim Thorpe and NASA astronaut John Herrington, the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to fly in space.
Montana resident James Parker Shield, of the Little Shell Chippewa and Cree tribes, is the founder and CEO of the hall of fame. He said he came up with the idea about 10 years ago.
“Americans are doing a better job of recognizing Native Americans -- that we’re still here, that we survived,” he said. “But typically when there’s attention paid ... it’s usually to the same cast of characters from the Indian war days.”
Instead of honoring those long-gone heroes of yore, Shield decided to focus on more contemporary honorees from the Civil War to today.
The hall of fame will induct new members each year, he said. And until the group can afford a building, it is working to put on a traveling exhibit to educate visitors -- including young Native Americans -- about these accomplished individuals.
“In our Indian communities and reservations, there are so many things our young people are facing that are challenges, whether it’s suicide, abduction of young women, the opioid crisis,” Shield said.
“We feel our Native American Hall of Fame will provide good news and hopefully inspiration to our young people.”
N. Scott Momaday