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Myers, Ruth A. (1926–2001)

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Ruth Myers, date unknown.

Ruth A. Myers was known as the “grandmother of American Indian education in Minnesota.” A persistent voice for Native children and their families, Myers focused on education policy as well as learning opportunities for Native students. She also produced curricula and resource materials that reflected Native American history and culture for all Minnesota learners.

Myers was a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) whose interest in education arose not from professional training but from her concerns as the mother of four children. During her own childhood, Myers was sent to an Native American boarding school. This fact shaped her life. She spoke little of her experiences there but harnessed the pain to inspire positive change.

Always an active member of her tribal community, Myers was urged to run for the Duluth School Board in 1971. She won, becoming the first person of color elected to public office in Duluth. Four years later, Myers sought to take her advocacy to the state level when she asked Governor Rudy Perpich to appoint her to the Minnesota State Board of Education (SBE). He agreed, and she became its only Native member. From that position, she was appointed to numerous other posts and served a term on the Education Commission of the States.

Myers had a strong impact on the direction of the SBE and served for two terms as its chair. She encouraged review of how Native Americans were presented in textbooks, library materials, and the core curriculum. She fought for preservation of Native American languages in schools and insisted that every Minnesota student know something about Native cultures. At the same time, she looked at proposed rules from the perspective of their effect on Native American families. She charged, for example, that educators ignored Native students' unique nutritional needs and dietary restrictions, including the sensitivity to dairy products associated with some Native youth.

Myers reminded policy-makers of the Native American origins of the University of Minnesota–Morris (UM–Morris) campus. With this history in mind, she advocated for Native students to attend UM–Morris without paying tuition. In the early 1990s, she joined the staff of the University of Minnesota–Duluth (UM-D) Medical School. She had been at UM–D since 1973 as part of the Education Department. While there, she started sixteen of seventeen UM–D programs for Native American students.

As co-director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health at the UM–D School of Medicine, Myers recruited students and gave them academic coaching. She also helped them with life’s details. For example, she regularly bought food for the UM–D medical students who did not have time to shop or could not afford it.

Myers' interest in education showed in other ways. In 1986, she chaired the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FLTCC) task force, which helped establish the permanent campus of Fond du Lac Community College in Cloquet. The FLTCC library is named the Ruth A. Myers Library in her honor. The library contains a wealth of Native American materials, including Ojibwe and Minnesota regional collections,and holds a juvenile/young adult collection of Native materials.

During her lifetime, Myers represented the interests of Native Americans in many ways. She was on as many as seventy boards and commissions. She was named the Elder of the Year by the Minnesota Indian Education Association. Other awards included the Marvelous Minnesota Woman Award, the Marge Wilkins Award, the UM–D Chancellor’s Distinguished Civil Service Award, and University of Minnesota President Hasselmo’s Diversity Award.

When Myers retired from UM–D in 1994, the university honored her by establishing the Ruth A. Myers Endowed Chair of American Indian Studies. She died in 2001, at the age of seventy-five.

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Haller, Edwin W., and Ruth A. Myers, eds. Searching, Teaching, Healing: American Indians and Alaskan Natives in Biomedical Research Careers. Proceedings of a conference sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and held at the School of Medicine, University of Minnesota-Duluth, August 1–3, 1984.

“Legacy, Trust & Challenge: UM-D and the American Indian Program.” Bridge: The Magazine for UMD Alumni and Friends 23, no. 1 (Winter 2000).

Roadfeldt, Erik. “Who Was Ruth A. Myers?”
Fond du Lac Community College Library: Ruth A. Myers Library/Ojibwe Archives.
Description: Biographical sketch of Ruth Myers.

"Ruth Myers to Keynote." Newsletter of the Minnesota Library Association (October 1987): 1.

Related Images

photograph of ruth myers
photograph of ruth myers
Ruth A. Meyers Center for Indigenous Education logo
Ruth A. Meyers Center for Indigenous Education logo
Ruth Myers
Ruth Myers

Turning Point

Myers shifts her political goals when she chooses to run for the Duluth School Board in 1971. She becomes the first person from a racial minority to be elected to public office in Duluth.



Myers is elected Education Chairman and Charter Member of the American Indian Fellowship Association in Duluth.


Myers begins a four-year stint as a charter member of the Duluth Public Schools Human Relations Committee.


Myers serves as an invited witness at U.S. Senate Hearings on S-659 in Washington, DC.


Myers is elected to the Board of Duluth Public Schools and appointed commissioner of the Education Commission of the States.


Myers joins the staff of the American Indian and Minority Health program at the University of Minnesota, Duluth's School of Education.


She is appointed to the Minnesota State Board of Education.


The University of Minnesota–Duluth creates the Ruth Myers Endowed Chair in American Indian education.


The library at Fond du Lac Community College is re-named the Ruth A. Myers/Ojibwe Archives.