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8 Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 1 (1996) Reprinted with permission of the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism from the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp.1-30.


Lyda Burton Conley, Kansas attorney and direct descendant of the great Wyandot Chief Tarhe, appeared before the Supreme Court in January, 1910 to appeal a dismissal of a lawsuit she had filed against Secretary of the Interior James Garfield in 1907. She was seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the sale of a parcel of land in which her ancestors were buried, by the federal government to private developers. This case appears to be the first on record in which a plaintiff argued that the burying grounds and cemeteries of Native American peoples are entitled to federal protection. This lawsuit to prevent the sale of the burial ground was but one of the many battles Lyda Burton Conley fought on behalf of her Native American community. She is a woman "whose story must be remembered." This essay tells one part of her story: that of the aforementioned lawsuit. The essay recounts not only Conley's legal battle but also something of the history of her people, the Wyandot, and of the context and culture in which Conley acquired the passion to dedicate herself to the preservation of her mother's memory, her people's sacred territory, and the traditions of the Wyandot nation. The author hopes this essay will prove Conley to be a remarkable woman: a woman attorney at a time when women were not supposed to be lawyers: a person who fought powerful adversaries that people were not supposed to fight and articulated legal theories that people were not allowed to assert.