Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, American Indian advocate and museum official, dies at 75

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Schudel, Matt. "Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, American Indian advocate and museum official, dies at 7." Washington Post December 25, 2010.


Helen Maynor Scheirbeck was an American Indian activist who expanded educational opportunities and led efforts for greater self-determination by Indians. She was born Aug. 21, 1935, in Robeson County, N.C. She was a member of the Lumbee tribe. She began working for the rights of American Indians in the 1960s.

She was a staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she helped gain recognition of Native Americans in the War on Poverty of the 1960s. She helped establish education for Native Americans across the country.

Working with Sam Ervin, Dr. Scheirbeck pushed the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 through Congress, which guaranteed that the Bill of Rights and other constitutional protections would be extended to Indian tribes.

She was the director of the Office of Indian Education in the 1960s and 1970s. "She had a hand in every major initiative in Indian education for the last 40 years," Kevin Gover, director of the National Museum of the American Indian, said in a statement.

Dr. Scheirbeck received a doctorate in education from Virginia Tech in 1980 and was the founding director of the Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Lumberton, N.C., in the 1980s.

Dr. Scheirbeck worked as as program director of the White House Conference on Children, Youth and Families in 1980. After this she devoted the next couple of decades to improving education for Native Americans from Florida to Alaska. She was a major force behind the National Museum of the American Indian, holding many different positions inside the museum. She was especially known for setting up exhibitions about education.

At the tribal level, Dr. Scheirbeck was an advocate for voting rights, setting up school and voter registration drives. She has been known for spreading her ideas about Indian rights to the entire country.

"The country needs to understand the struggle of Indians to be Indians," Helen Scheirbeck said in 2007. "Every tribe had a Trail of Tears."

Her family has been involved with Native American rights since the 1950s. Her father, Lacy Maynor, was a judge who was presiding over the local court at the time of the Klu Klux Klan Routing of  1958.  His ruling put the KKK ringleader in prison, thus effectively removing the KKK from the eastern part of North Carolina.

She retired in 2007 to her hometown of Pembroke, NC, and was in the process of writing a history of the Lumbee Indians. She died December 19, 2010, at her home in Ocean Pines, Md. due to complications from a stroke she suffered last year. She is survived by a daughter, Mary L. Miller, three sisters, and two grandchildren.

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