Cinda Hughes: Remembering a Lifelong Champion for Native Americans with Disabilities

Cinda Hughes, a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, passed away on May 19, 2021 at the age of 59.

On May 19, Indian Country lost one of its fiercest defenders of the rights of Native Americans with disabilities—and for Native American rights in general—when Cinda Hughes, a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, passed away at age 59. Her passing came after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Hughes was born in Anadarko, Oklahoma with a condition that impacted the use and growth of her limbs, Hughes used a wheelchair since birth. According to a 2003 article about her in a newsletter serving Oklahoma’s disability community, “she was taught by her late grandparents, Charles and Alice Toyebo, that she is a person first who happens to have a disability.”

Her life was defined by advocacy for the causes she cared about, fighting for recognition and respect for people with disabilities and for Native American rights.

In 1980, she graduated from Anadarko High School before studying at Brigham Young University and Oklahoma University. After college, she started her career working with the Oklahoma State Legislature. Over the course of her professional life, she would also work as a Legislative Associate for the National Congress of American Indians; a Native American Program Specialist in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment; a Tribal Affairs Liaison at the U.S. Census Bureau; Legislative Affairs Director at the Consortia of Administrators of Native American Rehabilitation, a Training Instructor at the Fairmouth Institute, and, most recently, a Tribal Relations Specialist at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Native Business Magazine founder and publisher, Gary Davis, with Cinda Hughes in 2015 at the Consortia of Administrators for Native American Rehabilitation conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Among her many accomplishments were leading the successful passage of six bills into law within three years, increasing the response rate to the Census Bureau’s Tribal Boundary Survey by 33 percent in one year, negotiating two memorandums of understanding for the Census Bureau with a federal agency and a national tribal organization, and writing two national research papers on disability and youth in critical issues. She also helped pass the Navajo Code Talkers legislation honoring all 29 code talkers who assisted in World War II.

She was the Co-Founder of the National Center for American Indians with Disabilities, a Founding Member of Federal Employees with Disabilities, the recipient of a 2007 National Youth Leadership Award from the National Indian Health Board, the American Association of People with Disabilities’ 2006 Emerging Leader, and named Ms. Wheelchair America in 2004.

She will be remembered not just for her advocacy and achievements but for her tenacity, her approach to life, and her determination to leave the world a better place than she found it.

Native Business Magazine

Native Business Magazine

Carmen Davis - Founder, Publisher and Executive Editor

Mrs. Davis is the founder, publisher and executive editor of the only Native American wholly owned and operated national tribal business publication, Native Business Magazine, and the producer of the annual and nationally attended Native Business Summit.

Mrs. Davis is also president of Davis Strategy Group has over 23 years of service to Indian Country and as an entrepreneur she has successfully established, operated, managed and grown several businesses in multiple sectors. She is equal parts a strategic visionary and behind-the-scenes implementor, essential in guiding and overseeing every process of brand development, business expansion, nation-to-nation relationship building and more.

She was named in 2009 as one of the first recipients of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s, “40 Under 40” award which recognizes up and coming community and business leaders from across Indian Country.