Indian Life Newspaper -

Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail (1903-1981)

First Native American Registered Nurse; Elected to Nursing Hall of Fame

 

Last updated 11/14/2015 at 5:04pm

K.B. Schaller

Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail was appointed to President Richard Nixon's Council on Indian Health, Education and Welfare and the Federal Indian Health Advisory Committee. She founded the first professional association for Native American nurses. Throughout her life, Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail maintained her Crow identity and heritage and was a talented craftsperson who created exquisite traditional Crow beadwork that she presented to family and friends.

Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail was born on the Crow Indian Reservation near Pryor, Montana to Walking Bear (Crow Tribe) and Jane White Horse (Sioux). When she graduated from Boston City Hospital School of Nursing (1923), Susie Walking Bear became the first American Indian graduate registered nurse.

Walking Bear returned to serve on the Crow Reservation and married Tom Yellowtail, a Crow religious leader (1929). She was appointed to Indian Health Services and worked in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Hospital. Under the auspices of the U.S. Public Health Service (1930-1960), Yellowtail traveled to reservations throughout the Nation to assess and make recommendations for health, education, and social needs.

Among the atrocities she saw were forced sterilizations of Crow women without their consent. She also witnessed seriously ill Navajo children die on their mother's backs during the 20-miles or more walk to the nearest hospital. It launched her on a life's mission to end such suffering and health care abuses.

Yellowtail joined state health advisory boards to fight such inequities, and before long, was known among health care policy-makers at the national levels. She was also a bridge between Indian and non-Indian people.

During the 1970s, Yellowtail was appointed to President Richard Nixon's Council on Indian Health, Education and Welfare and the Federal Indian Health Advisory Committee. The appointments gained her a national platform to advocate for health care needs of Indian people.

Yellowtail founded the first professional association for Native American nurses and was instrumental in obtaining tribal and government funding to assist Native Americans in entering the nursing profession.

Among her many honors, she was presented the President's Award for Outstanding Nursing Health Care (1962); was director of the Montana Advisory Council on Vocational-technical Education; appointed to the President's Special Council on Aging, and was a board member of a number of other Indian-related agencies and associations.

Her photograph hangs in the State Capitol at Helena as one of Montana's most outstanding citizens. In 2000, the Franklin County Public Hospital Nurse's Alumnae Association proposed a commemorative postage stamp in her honor.

Besides their two daughters and one son, Yellowtail and her husband also had two adopted sons, a number of tribally adopted sons, and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Throughout her life, Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail maintained her Crow identity and heritage and was a talented craftsperson who created exquisite traditional Crow beadwork that she presented to family and friends.

She is listed in the Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, established in 1979 by the State Legislature and managed by the Montana Historical Society to honor its state's citizens who have made significant state or national contributions.

An outstanding Native leader, Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail challenged and surpassed obstacles of gender and race and took a stand for health care rights for Native American Indian people.

A version of this article appears in 100+ Native American Women Who Changed the World by KB Schaller, Winner, 2014 International Book Award, Women's Issues category.

Cherokee/Seminole heritage author KB Schaller's books are available through Amazon.com and most major book sellers. She lives in South Florida. Contact:

soaring-eagles@msn.com; http://www.KBSchaller.com

 
 

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