The Most Important Native You've Never Heard Of

January 21, 2014

The first non-European to reach the pinnacles of American politics wasn't Barack Obama. An astonishing 80 years earlier, before the Indian Civil Rights Act, Charles Curtis became the 31st VP of the United States (1929 -1933). He was Native American. And if you're thinking he was probably 1/64th Native cashing in a symbolic Native identity tied to a story his grandma once told him, you'd be way off. He was an enrolled Kaw, and he was raised on the Kaw reservation by his grandmother (like me).

Wikipedia reports his ancestry as "three-quarters Native American: Kaw, Osage and Pottawatomi".  In response to the timeless question "What are you?", VP Curtis is famously quoted as quipping "I'm part Kaw, 100% conservative."

You gotta ask yourself why the stereotype-busting story of a community-based Native's historic rise to national prominence has never made its way into our middle school Social Studies textbooks.

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