Prima ballerina Maria Tallchief, shown here in the New York City Ballet's production of "Swan Lake" in 1953, is one of two Indigenous women who will be featured on a quarter as part of the 2023 edition of the American Women Quarters Program. (Associated Press file photo)
A U.S. Mint montage of the women who will be featured on the 2023 American Women Quarters Program.

A relative of one of a handful of Indigenous women who have appeared or will appear on the quarter coin said her inclusion is part of history that needs to be celebrated more. 

Maria Tallchief is the latest Native American woman from Oklahoma who will appear on the quarter as part of the U.S. Mint’s 2023 American Women Quarters Program. Tallchief was a member of the Osage Nation. She passed away in 2013 and was known as America’s first prima ballerina.

Russ Tallchief is the nephew of Maria Tallchief.

“When I attend the ‘Nutcracker’ every year, I mention to dancers and audience members that Maria was the very first Sugar Plum Fairy, and I am amazed at how many people don’t know that,” he said in a statement to the Daily Yonder. “She was America’s first prima ballerina, not just the first Native prima ballerina, the first of any American dancer. That is a history we need to celebrate more.”

He added that having her appear on the quarter will be a reminder for those who know about her and an education for those who don’t know about how a young Osage woman from Fairfax, Oklahoma, made history on the world stage. 

“Honoring Maria on the quarter will create more awareness and appreciation for her contributions to ballet, which still remain unequaled in dance today,” he said in the statement. 

Maria is not the first Native American woman from Oklahoma to appear on the quarter. Wilma Mankiller, the first woman principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, the largest tribal nation in the United States, was part of the 2022 cohort. She appeared on the quarter as the third woman in the American Women Quarters Program.

The 2022-issued coin featuring Wilma Mankiller, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. The special series of quarters features a traditional Washington quarter on the front with a new design on the reverse. (U.S. Mint)

Another Indigenous woman who will appear on the quarter in 2023 is Edith Kanakaʻole, an Indigenous Hawaiian composer, chanter, dancer, teacher and entertainer. According to the U.S. Mint’s telling, her moʻolelo, or stories, served to rescue aspects of Hawaiian history, customs, and traditions that were disappearing due to the cultural bigotry of the time. 

The American Women Quarters Program features coins with designs showcasing contributions of prominent American women. That covers a wide spectrum of fields, including suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space and the arts. The women honored come from a variety of backgrounds and as required by public law, must be deceased. The Mint is issuing five coins with different reverse designs annually over the four-year period from 2022 through 2025.

“The range of accomplishments and experiences of these extraordinary women speak to the contributions women have always made in the history of our country,” said Mint Deputy Director Ventris C. Gibson in a press statement. “I am proud that the Mint continues to connect America through coins by honoring these pioneering women and their groundbreaking contributions to our society.”

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