SARAH WINNEMUCCA

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From Biography.com

By Sara Kettler

Born circa 1844 in present-day Nevada, Sarah Winnemucca — the daughter and granddaughter of Northern Paiute chiefs — learned English and Spanish as a child, in addition to three Indigenous dialects. In the 1870s, these abilities led to her serving as an interpreter at Fort McDermitt and then on the Malheur Reservation.

After the Bannock War of 1878 — during which Winnemucca showed her mettle by working as an army scout, and also rescued a group of Paiute that included her father — some Paiute were forcibly relocated to the Yakima Reservation. Winnemucca, who had already seen how American Indians were at the mercy of sometimes corrupt reservation agents, decided to advocate for Native American land rights and other systemic improvements.

In 1879, Winnemucca lectured in San Francisco. The next year she met with President Rutherford B. Hayes in Washington, D.C. Winnemucca also became the first Native American woman to produce a published book, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883). The work included powerful statements such as: “For shame! For shame! You dare to cry out Liberty, when you hold us in places against our will, driving us from place to place as if we were beasts.”

The U.S. government committed to reforms, including a return to Malheur for the Paiute. However, in the end nothing changed.

Winnemucca died in 1891. Despite the setbacks she’d encountered, she was a forceful advocate for her people.

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