Indigenous Firsts: A History of Native American Achievement and Events

by Yvonne Wakim Dennis, Arlene Hirschfelder and Paulette F Molin
Indigenous Firsts

A celebration of achievement, accomplishments, and courage!

Native American Medal of Honor recipients, Heisman Trophy recipients, U.S.

Olympians, a U.S. vice president, Congressional representatives, NASA astronauts, Pulitzer Prize recipients, U.S. poet laureates, Oscar winners, and more. The first Native magician, all-Native comedy show, architects, attorneys, bloggers, chefs, cartoonists, psychologists, religious leaders, filmmakers, educators, physicians, code talkers, and inventors. Luminaries like Jim Thorpe, King Kamehameha, Debra Haaland, and Will Rogers, along with less familiar notables such as Native Hawaiian language professor and radio host Larry Lindsey Kimura and Cree/Mohawk forensic pathologist Dr. Kona Williams. Their stories plus the stories of 2000 people, events and places are presented in Indigenous Firsts: A History of Native American Achievements and Events, including …

  • Suzanne Van Cooten, Ph.D., Chickasaw Nation, the first Native female meteorologist in the country
  • Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, Wampanoag from Martha’s Vineyard, graduate of Harvard College in 1665
  • Debra Haaland, the Pueblo of Laguna, U.S. Congresswoman and Secretary of the Interior
  • Sam Campos, the Native Hawaiian who developed the Hawaiian superhero Pineapple Man
  • Thomas L. Sloan, Omaha, was the first Native American to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court
  • William R. Pogue, Choctaw, astronaut
  • Johnston Murray, Chickasaw, the first person of Native American descent to be elected governor in the United States, holding the office in Oklahoma from 1951 to 1955
  • The Cherokee Phoenix published its first edition February 21, 1828, making it the first tribal newspaper in North America and the first to be published in an Indigenous language
  • The National Native American Honor Society was founded by acclaimed geneticist Dr. Frank C. Dukepoo , the first Hopi to earn a Ph.D.
  • Louis Sockalexis, Penobscot, became the first Native American in the National Baseball League in 1897 as an outfielder with the Cleveland Spiders
  • Jock Soto, Navajo/Puerto Rican, the youngest-ever man to be the principal dancer with the New York City Ballet
  • The Seminole Tribe of Florida was the first Nation to own and operate an airplane manufacturing company
  • Warrior's Circle of Honor, the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian
  • The Iolani Palace, constructed 1879–1882, the home of the Hawaiian royal family in Honolulu
  • Loriene Roy, Anishinaabe, White Earth Nation, professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information, former president of the American Library Association
  • Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, U.S. representative and U.S. senator from Colorado
  • Hanay Geiogamah, Kiowa /Delaware, founded the American Indian Theatre Ensemble
  • Gerald Vizenor, White Earth Nation, writer, literary critic, and journalist for the Minneapolis Tribune
  • Ely S. Parker (Hasanoanda, later Donehogawa), Tonawanda Seneca, lieutenant colonel in the Union Army, serving as General Ulysses S. Grant’s military secretary
  • Fritz Scholder, Luiseno, painter inducted into the California Hall of Fame
  • The Native American Women Warriors, the first all Native American female color guard
  • Lori Arviso Alvord, the first Navajo woman to become a board-certified surgeon
  • Kay “Kaibah” C. Bennett, Navajo, teacher, author, and the first woman to run for the presidency of the Navajo Nation
  • Sandra Sunrising Osawa, Makah Indian Nation, the first Native American to have a series on commercial television
  • The Choctaw people’s 1847 donation to aid the Irish people suffering from the great famine
  • Otakuye Conroy-Ben, Oglala Lakota, first to earn an environmental engineering Ph.D. at the University of Arizona
  • Diane J. Willis, Kiowa, former President of the Society of Pediatric Psychology and founding editor of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology
  • Shelly Niro, Mohawk, winner of Canada’s top photography prize, the Scotiabank Photography Award
  • Loren Leman, Alutiiq/Russian-Polish, was the first Alaska Native elected lieutenant governor
  • Kim TallBear, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, the first recipient of the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Environment
  • Carissa Moore, Native Hawaiian, won the Gold Medal in Surfing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
  • Will Rogers, Cherokee, actor, performer, humorist was named the first honorary mayor of Beverly Hills
  • Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations by Lois Ellen Frank, Kiowa, was the first Native American cookbook to win the James Beard Award
  • Diane Humetewa, Hopi, nominated by President Barack Obama, became the first Native American woman to serve as a federal judge
  • Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail, Crow, the first Native American nurse to be inducted into the American Nursing Association Hall of Fame

Indigenous Firsts honors the ongoing and rich history of personal victories and triumphs, and with more than 200 photos and illustrations, this information-rich book also includes a helpful bibliography and an extensive index, adding to its usefulness. This vital collection will appeal to anyone interested in America’s amazing history and its resilient and skilled Indigenous people.

About Yvonne Wakim Dennis

Yvonne Wakim Dennis Yvonne Wakim Dennis is an award-winning author of nonfiction books for children and adults, many written with Arlene Hirschfelder, including the award-winning Children of Native America Today and A Kid's Guide to Native American History. She currently serves as the Education Director for the Children’s Cultural Center of Native America and is a columnist for Native Hoop Magazine.


About Arlene Hirschfelder

Arlene Hirschfelder Arlene Hirschfelder is the author or editor of over twenty-five books about Native peoples, including Native Americans: A History in Pictures and The Extraordinary Book of Native American Lists. She worked at the Association on American Indian Affairs (a civil rights organization), for over 20 years and has years of experience consulting with publishers, museums, schools, and universities.


About Paulette F Molin

Paulette F. Molin, a citizen of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe from White Earth, is an award-winning author and curator. Her writings include The Encyclopedia of Native American Religions and The Extraordinary Book of Native American Lists, both coauthored with Arlene Hirschfelder, as well as American Indian Themes in Young Adult Literature. She lives in Hampton, Virginia.

Hometown: Hampton, Virginia

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