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Susette La Flesche Tibbles

“A struggle for existence is not a decent living. A man or woman or child may die of starvation in a city teaming with plenty. Only human life is concerned.”

Photo Credit: Smithsonian Institution/National Anthropological Archives/Public Domain

Susette La Flesche Tibbles, a.k.a. “Bright Eyes", was born in Bellevue, Nebraska in 1854 in the same year that the Omaha tribe had given up their hunting grounds and moved to a reservation in northeastern Nebraska. She was the eldest daughter of Joseph La Flesche, a.k.a. “Iron Eyes”, the last recognized chief of the Omaha tribe and older sister to Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American physician. After completing her studies and returning back to the reservation to teach, she became more aware of the ongoing dislocation and discrimination of Native American tribes and later served as an interpreter in a court case involving the Ponca Tribe, in which her grandmother belonged. The tribe ultimately won the case with La Flesche’s help, and the victory became a crucial legal case in securing the ability of Native Americans to choose where they wanted to live. La Flesche went on to work with Thomas H. Tibbles of the Omaha Herald, whom she later married, to raise awareness of the Ponca Tribe’s plight and to advocate for the civil rights of Native Americans. It was at that time that she was given the name “Bright Eyes” by her community. She continued to work as an expert witness and interpreter in major court cases in which Native Americans were suing the U.S. government. She then began scheduling speaking tours in the U.S. for herself and others to speak out against the injustice directed towards Native Americans. La Flesche even traveled across the Atlantic to conduct speeches in England and Scotland and also appeared in front of U.S. Congressional committees to address the lack of Native American rights. Her testimony on behalf of Native American people helped to pass the 1887 Dawes Act, which was initially believed to be a well-intentioned law in granting Native Americans U.S. citizenship. However, this law also stripped the indigenous population of their tribal and communal lands. After the passing of the Dawes Act, La Flesche continued her efforts in expanding the rights of Native Americans. In 1994, she was inducted in the National Women’s Hall of Fame for all her contributions in fighting for Native American rights.

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