Jean Chaudhuri was a Native American activist, author and storyteller. Wherever she lived she was involved in some aspect of community service from voting rights marches to counseling Native Americans in the Arizona Corrections system. Born in 1937 in Oklahoma, she was a full-blood Creek and a member of the Muscogee-Creek Nation. Jean showed an early interest in American Indian affairs when she fought alongside her parents for the Indians right to elect their own officials among their people, instead of the US Government choosing for them. She moved to Arizona in 1972 where she became the Executive Director of the Tucson Indian Center and Director of the Traditional Indian Alliance. The Center assisted in service programs related to tutoring, employment assistance, alcoholism counseling and health issues for Native Americans in the Tucson area. She was also the founder of the first off-reservation Indian Health clinic in Tucson.
Jean moved to Phoenix in 1985 and lived there until her death in 1997. As founder and President of the Arizona Indian Women in Progress (IWP), Jean built an inter-tribal network of Indian women on and off the reservation who were influential in articulating issues of native American cultural survival in key areas of resources, education and the arts. During the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus, she wrote and produced a musical, “Indians Discover Christopher Columbus,” a comedy about his misadventures and the hospitality of the American Indian. Jean was a traditional Indian storyteller. She spoke at many public meetings on the importance of Native American cultural heritage, the traditions of tribal peoples, Native American rights and relations with the rest of the Arizona population.
In 1986 she founded and co-chaired the Native American Heritage Preservation Coalition, an organization that fought hard to prevent a land swap of the BIA Phoenix Indian School for the limited surface rights of a private developer’s swampland in Florida. Chaudhuri mobilized considerable public opposition to the land swap and, in spite of the resistance of Arizona’s entire Congressional delegation, was able to get a Congressional hearing on the matter. She worked to educate community and governmental leaders about the importance of honoring the legacy of the Phoenix Indian School, where Indian children learned to read, write and adapt into American culture for 100+ years. In 1992, she and her group worked especially hard to prevent the construction of commercial buildings and high rise condos on the Indian School property. She wanted the public to be able to use the Indian School property and to learn about boarding school policies of earlier times, the people it affected and the continual attempts to preserve Indian cultures. Through her leadership and the work of many others, a part of the Indian School land was preserved for public use.
Jean co-authored A Sacred Path: the Way of the Muscogee Creeks with her husband, Joy Chaudhuri. For her work in Tucson, in 1977 she received the American Institute of Public Service’s Jefferson Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. Jean Died in 1997 at the age of 59. In 2000 she was posthumously given the Outstanding Native American Leader Award and in 2003, the Dr. Martin Luther King Living the Dream Award.
See below for women who have been inducted for their achievements improving the environment in Arizona.