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Betty Mae feted at D.C. women’s event

Family of the late Betty Mae Tiger Jumper pose March 19 at The Hamilton restaurant in Washington, D.C. following a National Women’s History Project luncheon during which Jumper was honored along with 15 other women throughout the United States for contributions to public service and government.
Family of the late Betty Mae Tiger Jumper pose March 19 at The Hamilton restaurant in Washington, D.C. following a National Women’s History Project luncheon during which Jumper was honored along with 15 other women throughout the United States for contributions to public service and government.

WASHINGTON — A whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. by family of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper featured the late Seminole leader among distinguished women, living and passed, who have contributed historically to public service and government.

The March 19 event, hosted by the National Women’s History Project, honored 16 women whose dedication put faces to what it means to be powerful American females. They ranged from Isabel Gonzalez, who secured citizenship for the people of Puerto Rico, to NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman, who is considered the “Mother of Hubble” in outer space.

A full page in the event program heralded Betty Mae Tiger Jumper’s 88-year lifetime of accomplishments.

Her struggles began as a baby in 1922 when her very existence as the daughter of a Seminole mother and French father was threatened.

“Back then, the Tribe was prejudiced. My mother had to fight most of her life for not being full-blood but she proved not only was she Native American, she was tribal,” her son Moses Jumper Jr. said during the first Betty Mae Jumper Memorial Rodeo Feb. 20 at Big Cypress Reservation.

Jumper rose to challenges early on. By age 14 she was the first Seminole to speak Creek, Mikasuki and read and write English so perfectly that she became an interpreter for Tribe leaders. Later, she became the first Seminole to graduate high school, first to earn a nursing degree, first woman to hold the seat of Tribe Chairman among all Tribes nationwide, and the only female founder of the United South & Eastern Tribes (USET) coalition of 26 federally recognized Tribes.

Jumper helped establish the Tribe’s first newspaper, was the first Health Department director and served as the reservation truant officer and crossing guard at Stirling Road and State Road 441 for Broward County Schools.

Eight family members including Moses Jumper Jr. and two of his siblings, Boettner “Ruggy” Jumper and Scarlett Young, attended the D.C. event dubbed “Working to Form a More Perfect Union; Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.”

Also attending were Laquita Jumper, Mike Tiger, Judy Tiger, Alexis Jumper, Rhonda Jumper and TJ Young.

Molly Murphy MacGregor, executive director and a co-founder of the National Women’s History Project, greeted the family before the presentation began.

“It’s incredible that you could travel all this way to be here,” MacGregor said. “We had to have Mrs. Jumper celebrated today. She was the first female chief among Native American Tribes and here it is 2016 and we might elect our first female president.”

For tribal children, Betty Mae Tiger Jumper was always a mother figure. While she worked tirelessly to establish the Tribe, manage the newspaper, run the Health Department, write books about her life and timeless Seminole stories, she also fed and clothed countless children and ensured they attended school.

Mike Tiger recalled his aunt, the sister of his father Howard Tiger, catching children cutting school and countering their every excuse.

“The Tribe is just a big family. It always was and it still is,” Mike Tiger said.

If the kids said they didn’t have shoes to wear, she reached into her car and pulled a pair out. Every few weeks she’d park at a street corner, beep her horn and wait for children to gather around to receive clothes that she had collected from donations and sized specifically for them. In the mix were loads of canned goods and other staples, especially Spam, coffee, sugar and flour.

“I remember going ‘shopping’ for clothes before the first day of school. We’d all get two pairs of pants, six pairs of socks, a pair of shoes and two shirts. She made our world a better place,” Mike Tiger said.

Suzan Shown Harjo, a Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee nations activist and journalist, was the only other Native American honored at the Washington, D.C. event. Harjo was noted for helping create the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004; for serving as a congressional liaison under President Jimmy Carter; and for her tireless efforts that led to the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.

She is also credited with regaining more than 1 million acres of land for Native Tribes and for the renaming of Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument in 1991, which had been known previously as the location of Custer’s Last Stand.

Harjo, who in 2014 received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, accepted the honor from MacGregor but shared credit for her greatest achievements with all those who worked with her.

“When I was a little girl I would get awards for things I did immediately, like a ribbon after spelling better or being able to swim a certain distance … those were things I strived for, planned, trained for and accomplished on my own,” Harjo said. “Then somehow I got awards for conglomerate work that now I must accept for the greater collective.”

According to the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) website, the organization was founded in 1980 to spotlight historic accomplishments by women and to lobby Congress to name March as National Women’s History Month.

Currently, NWHP is the national clearinghouse for multicultural information on women’s historical achievements.

Annually, the group collects nominations nationwide for women to honor at the yearly luncheons. MacGregor said this year’s nominations were whittled down to 16 honorees via four vetting cycles.

“This is about what women do and would do for free, in a country that does not give enough honor to the ones who did the work,” MacGregor said. “This is where we can say we are grateful to women like Betty Mae.”

MacGregor used Betty Mae Tiger Jumper’s own quote to wrap up the presentation: “I proved I could do a lot of things. People also knew I do what I say I’ll do.”

 

 

 

 

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