WASHINGTON - Sarah Winnemucca, a Northern Paiute woman who dedicated her
life to improving living conditions for American Indians in the West, was
honored by the state of Nevada recently when a 6-foot bronze statue bearing
her likeness was erected in the U.S. Capitol.
Winnemucca is just the eighth woman and fourth American Indian to have a
statue enshrined in the National Statuary Hall. Every state is allowed to
have two statues in the hall. This was Nevada's second.
"The story of Sarah Winnemucca is a testament to the difference one
individual can make," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., at the dedication
ceremony March 9. "As an advocate for justice, educator and noted author,
Sarah Winnemucca blazed new trails for women and Native Americans. Sarah's
courage and brave deeds will inspire future generations who will now have
the chance to learn about her remarkable life as a result of this sculpture
being added to our national collection. This beautiful statue also serves
as an important reminder of Nevada's rich history and the story of the
Paiute people and their struggles."
Winnemucca's birth in 1844 coincided with the beginning of dramatic changes
for American Indians. As the daughter of Chief Winnemucca and granddaughter
of Chief Truckee, she learned to interact with white settlers and
throughout her life worked to defend Paiute rights.
By the time Winnemucca was 14, she could speak three Indian dialects,
English and Spanish. She later served as an interpreter for the BIA and,
during the Bannock War of 1878, as a scout for the U.S. Army.
In 1880, Winnemucca made her first trip to the nation's capital and in a
tearful plea asked Interior Secretary Carl Schurz and President Rutherford
B. Hayes to help improve living conditions for the Northern Paiutes. They
promised they would but never did. She continued her fight, and in 1883 her
book "Life Among the Paiutes" was the first book ever written by an
American Indian woman.
Winnemucca was also an educator who opened a school for Indian children in
Lovelock, Nev., and she delivered more than 400 speeches - mostly on the
East Coast - advocating for equal rights and fair treatment for all
Benjamin Victor, a 26-year-old sculptor from South Dakota, captured
Winnemucca as a young woman with her hair falling to her waist and the wind
fluttering through her dress. She's holding a shell flower (for which she
is named) in her outstretched right hand and a book is tucked under her
left arm. Victor said the statue's sense of movement signifies the energy
she carried with her throughout her life.
"She was so fearless," Victor explained. "She never considered herself a
success. She just did what she felt was the right thing to do and fought
relentlessly for her people who were being treated badly. Her life is
inspiring. It shows what great things a person can do with their life."
A second Winnemucca sculpture will be placed in Carson City, Nev. at the
State Capitol Building and a third in the Grant Sawyer Building in Las