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Native American Heritage Month: Celebrating Cinda Hughes

‚ÄčTo help celebrate Native American Heritage Month, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion acknowledges Cinda Hughes (Kiowa), a social advocate, intellectual, and defender of Native American rights who also identified as having a disability.

Born in Anadarko, Okla., with a condition that affected the use and growth of her limbs, rendering her wheelchair dependent, she was highly influenced by her Kiowa grandparents.

She developed a strong will to succeed and was the first Native American student body president in her high school. Upon graduating from high school, she attended Brigham Young University and the University of Oklahoma. The following are just a few of the barriers she surpassed:

  • Hughes worked from the time she was in high school to advocate for rights of Native Americans with disabilities. Hughes' viewpoint was that while she could not be as active in school as all the other kids, she could be active in academia.
  • Hughes was nominated student body president, served as a member of the National Honor Society, and was appointed by the United States Secretary of the Interior to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Advisory Council on Exceptional Children, where she advocated for children with disabilities. 
  • After graduating from the University of Oklahoma, Hughes had a difficult time finding full-time employment. As a result, she volunteered at numerous non-profit organizations working on behalf of those with conditions like hers, creating her own opportunities.  
  • Hughes' would eventually work for the Oklahoma State Legislature; the Office of Disability Employment Policy; the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI); CANAR, an organization providing vocational rehabilitation and training to Indigenous peoples living with disabilities; and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
  • Hughes decided to live in metropolitan Washington, D.C., as cities were more accessible for people with disabilities than rural towns or tribal communities in Oklahoma where, in her experience, there were few provisions for those who depend on wheelchairs. 
  • In 2004, she became Miss Wheelchair America, representing the state of Oklahoma. Soon after winning her title, Hughes campaigned to be included in Macy's Thanksgiving parade with Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Universe. After Macy's said no, Hughes solicited the assistance of her fellow Miss Wheelchair America contestants and Native American organizations to start an email campaign to Macy's. Hughes received a call from the Macy's vice president who personally invited her to come to New York for the parade.
  • Hughes also saw there was a lack of funding for Native Americans with disabilities and fought for more funding.   

Hughes' brilliance, drive and determination surpassed any perceived physical constraints. Thank you Cinda Hughes (Kiowa) for breaking barriers.