OCTOBER 14, 1930


Born near Shields, on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, she was surrounded by the storytelling of her Dakotah-speaking family.  In 1954, Wilson became the second Miss Indian America. Wilson held administrative jobs with Native American-related government agencies before returning to the reservation in 1976.  In the 1980s, she began teaching tribal culture and language at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, North Dakota.  In 1999, Wilson released her first spoken word album, The Elders Speak.  In 2002, her second album, My Relatives Say, won the Nammy for Best Spoken Word Album.  Her honors include:  National Heritage Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts (1999); H. Councill Trenholm Memorial Award, National Education Association for Human and Civil Rights; Best Spoken Word Album, Native American Music Awards (2002), for My Relatives Say; Community Spirit Award (2009), First Peoples Fund; and Enduring Vision Award (2009).

Source:  “Mary Louise Defender Wilson,” National Endowment for the Arts: NEA National Heritage Fellowships.  Retrieved 7/16/2009, https://www.arts.gov/honors/heritage/fellows/mary-louise-defender-wilson
Photo:  Stephen Winick, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, August 16, 2006. AFC 2006/031.  Public Domain.  Photograph taken by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.

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