Native Women Who Influenced Indian Politics and Federal Policy

Dina Gilio-Whitaker • August 25, 2016

The turn of the 20th century was a time of intense change for American Indians. Native military resistance to U.S. domination had been vanquished, the population was at its nadir, and the U.S. policy of forced assimilation had produced unprecedented levels of poverty and land loss. By the early 20th century, however, Native people were organizing at the national level to improve conditions on the reservations, and to articulate and assert their political sovereignty. In 1911, they formed the Society of American Indians.

In an era known for its generally progressive political movements, SAI—the first major Native political organization (and the forerunner of today’s National Congress of American Indians)—was composed of many Native intellectuals, not just men but women as well, at a time when their white female counterparts had not yet won the right to vote.

Continuing our series on notable Native women, we look at three turn-of-the-century activists who helped pave the way to a better future for Indian country. All three lived their lives at the crossroads of the old life and the new, as the modern white world demanded change.

Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin

Born in 1863, Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin was Ojibwa from the Turtle Mountain reservation, in what was then Dakota Territory. Her mother was indigenous, and her father was a Frenchman who worked as the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Nation’s attorney and was known to be a fierce advocate for the nation. Marie would follow in her father’s footsteps and become an attorney in 1914.