In honor of November’s celebration of National Native American Heritage Month, we salute the rich contributions of Native American nurses who opened doors for the many nurses who have followed in their footsteps.
One of those trailblazers was Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail, RN (1903-1981), who was an accomplished registered nurse and a tireless advocate for better healthcare for Native people throughout the 20th century. She became the first Native American nurse to be inducted into the American Nursing Association’s prestigious Hall of Fame in 2002.
Born on the Crow Agency reservation in Montana, Yellowtail was an activist who fought to transform healthcare for native populations. After graduating from Boston City Hospital School of Nursing in 1923, she returned to the reservation to work in the Bureau of Indian Affairs Hospital. While working at the hospital from 1929 to 1931, she observed discrimination against Native American patients, including the non-consensual sterilization of Crow women. Outraged, she spent the next 30 years fighting to end abuses in the Native American healthcare system.
In 1962, Yellowtail received the President’s Award for Outstanding Nursing Health Care. She later joined several state health advisory boards, leading to her appointment to President Richard Nixon’s Council on Native Health, Education, and Welfare in the 1970s. The appointments gave her a national platform advocating for the health needs of her people.