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New $1 coin to feature Native American ballerinas ‘Five Moons’

The United States Mint announced a new $1 coin will be releasing this year featuring esteemed Native American ballerina dancer, Maria Tallchief, along with four others representing the Five Moons – an Oklahoma-based group of Native American ballerinas during the 20th century. 

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The 2023 Native American $1 Coin is:  Maria Tallchief and American Indians in Ballet.

The coin is the latest addition to the U.S. Mint’s Native American $1 Coin Program which began in 2009. Authorized by the Native American $1 Coin Act (Public Law 105-124), which was signed into law in 1997, these coins feature designs celebrating the important contributions made by Indian tribes and individual Native Americans to the history and development of the United States, according to the U.S. Mint. 

This year’s coin features Maria Tallchief, a member of the Osage Nation and one of the Five Moons ballerinas that had tremendous success in their art while defying racial barriers, opening the door for women of color in the ballet industry, and helping shape ballet in America during the 20th Century in general. 

Alongside Tallchief was Myra Yvonne Chouteau, Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin, and Tallchief’s sister Marjorie. Although Tallchief is the only name featured on the coin, releasing later this year, it is suggested the four other dancers in the background are the other members of the Five Moons. Each of these women performed with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo before pursuing successful careers both on stage and in leadership roles with companies like the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Tulsa Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, and the Paris Opéra Ballet.

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From left: Moscelyne Larkin, Yvonne Chouteau (center, on floor), Marjorie Tallchief and Rosella Hightower in photo from around 1957. SOURCE: University of Tulsa, McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections & University Archives

A bronze sculpture was even erected in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2007 to honor the Five Moons and several dance festivals in their name occur frequently. The sculpture, however, was unfortunately destroyed by thieves in 2022.

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On April 29, 2022, the statue of Marjorie Tallchief was stolen from the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum. Pieces of the statue were recovered from a recycling center in Catoosa. SOURCE: Tulsa Police Department via Facebook
five moons
On April 29, 2022, the statue of Marjorie Tallchief was stolen from the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum. Pieces of the statue were recovered from a recycling center in Catoosa. SOURCE: Tulsa Police Department via Facebook

Tallchief, who is considered America’s first major prima ballerinas and is said to have revolutionized ballet, was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996, and received a National Medal of Arts in 1999. Tallchief passed away in 2013 due to complications related to a dancing injury she sustained the year prior. 

Since 2009 one coin has been added every year to the Native American $1 Coin Program beginning with the Three Sisters of Agriculture in 2009 and followed by the Great Tree of Peace in 2010, Wampanoag Treaty With Plymouth Bay in 2011, Trade Routes in 17th Century in 2012, Delaware Treaty of 1778 in 2013, Native American Hospitality to Lewis and Clark in 2014, Mohawk Ironworkers in 2015, Code Talkers in 2016, Sequoyah in 2017, Jim Thorpe in 2018, American Indians in Space in 2019, Elizabeth Peratrovich in 2020, Military Service in 2021, and Ely Parker in 2022. The coins can be used as legal tender but are mostly intended to be collectibles. 

The program builds on the Sacagawea Golden Dollar, released from 2000 to 2008, which featured a portrait of Sacagawea carrying her infant son, Jean-Baptiste, on the obverse (heads side) and an eagle on the reverse (tails side). While the reverse side of these coins changes year-to-year the obverse side retains the central figure of the Sacagawea design with the inscriptions “Liberty” and “In God we Trust.”

Like Presidential $1 Coins, Native American $1 Coins have a distinctive edge, are golden in color, and feature edge-lettering of the year, mint mark and E PLURIBUS UNUM.

During the years of the program that correspond with the Presidential $1 Coin Program, Native American $1 Coins will be issued, to the maximum extent practicable, in the chronological order in which the Native Americans depicted lived or the events recognized occurred, the U.S. Mint said. 

The Native American $1 Coin Program coins will be issued in any order determined to be appropriate by the Secretary of the Treasury after consultation with the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the Congressional Native American Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Congress of American Indians, and after public review by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.

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