Cecelia FireThunder

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Cecelia FireThunder is a nurse, tribal community health advocate, and former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Born Cecilia Apple in 1946 on the prairies in South Dakota, she is the third of seven daughters of the late Stephen and Lollie Apple. In the spring of 1963, her family moved to Los Angeles as part of a Bureau of Indian Affairs–sponsored relocation program, designed to migrate Native Americans to big cities for educational and job opportunities.

In California, Cecelia completed high school while working full-time as a nurse’s aide. She eventually got married and had two sons. After becoming a single mother, Cecelia completed the necessary training to become a licensed nurse to take care of her family. As a young nurse, she started community-based health clinics for Native Americans in both Los Angeles and San Diego.

By 1987, Cecelia started to feel the tug of home and returned to South Dakota to work at a small community hospital. She established herself as a voice for Native American women and families. She is a founding member of the Oglala Lakota Women’s Society, WEWIN (Women Encouraging Women in Indian Nations), and the Native Wellness Institute. She serves on the National Advisory Board of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and is an appointed member of the Democratic National Committee.  

In 2004, Ms. FireThunder was elected as the first female president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She fought against domestic abuse and was a leader for women’s reproductive rights. In June 2006, she was impeached by the Oglala Sioux tribal council surrounding her efforts to bring a Planned Parenthood clinic to the reservation. Her term would have expired in October of that year.

Today, she continues her work as a health advocate with the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board, serving 18 tribes in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa. She is a well-known speaker, facilitator, and trainer, and is recognized internationally for her traditional doll making.

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