The Helen Peterson collection includes correspondence, notes, miscellaneous administrative documents, financial records, calendars, questionnaires, notes from interviews, survey forms, copies of resolutions, proceedings, speeches, programs, press releases, printed and processed material, and many other types of documents. Mainly these relate to Petersons's career and special interests between 1953 and 1970. There are also a few documents that concern the organizations which Peterson served for periods preceding or following her periods in office. Of special interest are the materials related to the NCAI, many of which supplement the records in that organization's files. The collection also includes documents that concern a wide range of Indian interests and activities.
Scope and Content:
These papers reflect the professional and personal life of Helen L. Peterson from her birth in 1915 until her 80th Birthday in 1995. Peterson worked for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), 1953 through 1961; the City and County of Denver Commission on Community Relations (CCR), 1962 to 1970; and American Indian Development, Inc. (AID), 1967 to 1970. Peterson worked for the Bureau of Indian (BIA), 1970 through 1985. She was founder of the Church of the Four Winds which started as the Ecumenical Indian Congregation. She was leader of the Church of the Four Winds starting in 1989. She also served as chair of the National Committee of Indian Work (NCIW) beginning in 1980. Peterson also served as chair of the Province of the Pacific (Province VIII) Indian Commission.
Professional materials in this collection include information from Peterson's time working for NCAI, CCR, AID, BIA, Church of the Four Winds/Ecumenical Indian Congress, Province of the Pacific, and NCIW. Personal materials in the collection include personal documentations (baby book, yearbooks, etc.), personal letters, personal photographs, and news articles about her personal life, among other materials related to her personal life.
The Helen Peterson papers are organized into 13 Series. Series 1: National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is divided into four subseries; Subseries 1.1: Executive Council, Subseries 1.2: NCAI Conventions, Subseries 1.3: Chronological Correspondence, Subseries 1.4: Subject Files. Series 2: Commission on Community Relations (CCR), City and County of Denver, Colorado is divided into three subseries; Subseries 2.1: Subject Files, Subseries 2.2: Denver Indian Study Project, Subseries 2.3: Jobs for Indians. This is followed by Series 3: American Indian Development, Inc. (AID), Series 4: White Buffalo Council, Series 5: Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Series 6: Religious Organizations is divided into five subseries; Subseries 6.1: Church of the Four Winds, Subseries 6.2: Province of the Pacific (Province VIII), Subseries 6.3: Episcopal Church, Subseries 6.4: Other Religious Organizations, Subseries 6.5: Subject Files. This is followed by Series 7: Organizations, Series 8: Events and Series 9: Individuals. Series 10: Newspapers and Newsletters is divided into three subseries; Subseries 10.1: Native American Owned Newspapers and Newsletters, Subseries 10.2: Indian Related News Items, Subseries 10.3 Religious News Items. This is followed by Series 11: Indian Tribes, Series 12: Miscellaneous Subject Files and Series 13: Personal Materials.
Helen L. Peterson, born in 1915 on the Pine Ridge Reservation, was an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux tribe. She attended Chadron State College in 1932, beginning an educational process that included course work at Colorado State College of Education and the University of Colorado. She received a B.S. degree in Business Education from Chadron State College in 1957. In 1935 she began working with the Department of Agriculture's Resettlement Administration, a New Deal Agency. She served as director of the Rocky Mountain Council on Inter-American Affairs at the University of Denver Social Science Foundation and set up the Colorado Inter-American Field Service Program which later came under the Extension Division of the University of Colorado.
In 1948, she was appointed as the first director of the Mayor's Committee on Human Relations in Denver, Colorado. As the "Commission on Human Relations," the committee became a permanent part of city government in 1949 transitioning to the "Commission on Community Relations" in 1959. Peterson acted as an adviser to the United States Delegation to the Second Inter-American Indian Conference in Cuzco, Peru in 1949 and in 1953 she was selected as the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), a position she held through 1961. During these years, NCAI experienced tremendous growth, becoming firmly established as a national organization during her tenure.
Peterson returned to Denver in 1962 as the director of the Commission on Community Relations. From 1967 to 1970 she served as part-time executive director to American Indian Development, Inc. She was appointed Assistant to the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1970 and remained with the Bureau of Indian Affairs until 1985.
Throughout her career, Peterson was an active member in the Episcopal Church and in later years served various Episcopal organizations. She was a chair of the National Committee of Indian Work (NCIW) beginning in 1980, chair of the Province of the Pacific (Province VIII) Indian Commission, and founder of the Ecumenical Indian Congregation. Ecumenical Indian Congress became the Church of the Four Winds in 1989. During that year Peterson became the chair of Church of the Four Winds.
Peterson received many awards and honors throughout her life. In 1955, Peterson was named "Outstanding American Indian of 1955" at the Anadarko Exposition. She received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the University of Colorado in 1973. She was also the recipient of distinguished service awards from Columbia University, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Congress of American Indians, the White Buffalo Council of Denver, the Multnomah County Commissioners, and the National Institute for Women of Color. She passed away on July 10, 2000.
This collection was received by the National Anthropological Archives from Helen Peterson in June 1987. It was then transferred from NAA to the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center in 2007.
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Permission to publish materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center. Please submit a written request to firstname.lastname@example.org. For personal or classroom use, users are invited users to download, print, photocopy, and distribute the images that are available online without prior written permission, provided that the files are not changed, the Smithsonian Institution copyright notice (where applicable) is included, and the source of the image is identified as the National Museum of the American Indian.