Suzan Shown Harjo

Presidential Medal of Freedom Response - Nov. 25, 2014

Suzan Shown Harjo
November 25, 2014
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You know patience is something you just have to learn over a long period of time. And when you work on projects, like the National Museum of the American Indian, which we started in 1967 and finally got the Enabling Act in 1989, and then didn't get the last of the three facilities on the Capital Mall until 2004, you know that things take a really long time, but it's very good work. It's much like gardening, you're not doing it all the time and you just plant things here and there, and you can go away from them because they're going to grow themselves in some cases and then sometimes they need your attention, but that's the part that where you really merge experience with patience with the kind of movement that you need in order to make something happen – because if you do nothing then you're just patient and sit back, nothing will happen really. You might get more weeds than anything.

There's not a single thing I've done, except write poetry, that has been just myself. Everything else, whether it's making a federal Indian law, or making an institution, or changing society, changing history, rewriting history – all of those things are grand collaborations, and they take – they just take a mighty effort. Unless you have the people, and the energy, and the will, and the people who really have a passion for doing a certain thing, nothing will happen. But if you have all of those things, everything's going to happen. And, if you just stick it out long enough, you prevail – and that's been my experience.

As a Cheyenne woman, one of our first instructions was, well to the whole of the Cheyenne nation, was that the nation would be strong as long as the hearts of the women were not on the ground. So what that means is, we're going to have a strong nation as long as the women are optimistic. So it's my job, as a Cheyenne woman, to be optimistic and to be … rich in holding that goal, of something that's positive that can be achieved. So I always think that we're going to prevail in whatever we do, and by golly we've done in most of it.

Harjo, S. S. [The Obama White House]. (2014, November 25) Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient - Suzan Harjo [] Retrieved on April 9, 2022 from