Document Type


Publication Date

January 2012


Native American, Indian, tribal, sovereignty, women, law, Creek, Cherokee, Wyandotte, Shoshone, Sally Ladiga, Lyda Conley, Helena Conley, Mary Dann, Carrie Dann, Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Dawes Act, Indian Reorganization Act, Marshall Trilogy


Three short stories about three families, the Ladigas, the Danns, and the Conleys, show that the law eventually catches up to social justice if we are willing to persevere with faith and passion in what looks like a losing fight. This essay highlights the experiences of three Native American women and their families and how their families have shaped the law over time. First, Sally Ladiga, a Creek indian, brought suit to quiet title her family's land after the federal government questionably took and sold the land. Ladiga's heirs fought for their land, pushing the United States Supreme Court to declare that the definition of a family could include a grandmother and her grandchildren. Second, the Conley sisters guarded a Wyandotte cemetery against state officials that wanted take the land. The sisters used both physical and legal means, and their efforts led to the first protective federal legislation for Native American burial places. Third, the Dann sisters, who were members of the Shoshone tribe, became international human rights icons for resisting federal control over their family's tribal lands for decades. Their stories and records of perseverance, while ultimately unsuccessful in court, have now been recognized by the government through decisions and legislation such the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indian women have continuously worked to advance and evolve the law, and the stories highlighted in this essay are only three among thousands of similar stories. Despite losing battles in court, the injustices that these families spent a lifetime fighting against are now nationally and internationally recognized wrongs, which the law has responded to and evolved to confront.