Ramona Bennet (she/her)

By Nihal Verma

A drawing of a fishing rod with pink accents.
“Fishing Rod” by Anonymouse.

In 1976, Ramona Bennett was refused entry to the National Tribal Chairman’s Committee, despite being the chairwoman for the Puyallup tribe, due to the fact that she was a woman. However, she fought for her right to exist in these spaces and paved the way for other women Native American leaders, opening doors for others like her to be heads of tribes. She served as tribal chairwoman from 1971 to 1978. Currently, Ramona Bennett continues to be active in protesting and organizing, like in the Tacoma Natural Gas project. She also runs a nonprofit called Rainbow Youth and Family services, whose goal is to protect Native children from traumatic situations and connect them to trauma informed foster parents.

Before all of her activism began, Ramona Bennett was born to a Native American mother, who did her best to ensure that her daughter was proud of her heritage. She was born in Seattle and earned a Bachelor’s degree from Evergreen State college and a Masters in education from the University of Puget Sound. She began her activism with social service work for the Seattle American Indian Service League and co-founded the Local Indian Child Welfare Act, a precursor to her work with the National Indian Child Welfare Act.

During the 1960’s and 70’s she was present in many high profile acts of protest like the fish ins to secure fishing rights for Native American tribes and her work with the takeover of Tacoma’s Cushman hospital, which was built on Puyallup land but not properly treating Native people. It was later given over to the Puyallup tribe, who converted it to a medical and social welfare center for their people. Bennett was also present at the 1969 Alcatraz takeover and the 1972 occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington DC. In 1978, she helped create the National Indian Child Welfare act, which was intended to assist Native children who were mistreated and separated from their families unter the Washington Child Service laws and allow those who had been separated to find and contact their families. In the 1980’s she served as an administrator for the Wa He Lut Indian school in Olympia and she joined the National Coalition to support Indian Treaties.


Ramona Bennett has received numerous awards for her work with social services and activism including the Enduring Spirit recognition by the Native Action Network in 2003 and the Bernie Whitebear award in 2018.


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