BILLINGS, Mont. – Members of the Crow Nation are mourning the death of revered visionary leader, Carl Venne, who died suddenly Sunday, Feb. 15, at the age of 62.
Chairman Venne was found at his sister’s house in Hardin, according to a statement issued by the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office. The county coroner later determined that Venne had suffered from coronary artery disease.
Venne’s Crow name, Aashiise Dakatak Baacheitchish, is interpreted as “One who crosses the big river and becomes a leader.” A member of the Ties the Bundle clan and the Piegan clan, Venne represented the Black Lodge District. He was serving his second full term as chairman, elected in November 2002 after the resignation of chairman Clifford BirdinGround. Venne was elected again in 2004 when he ran on the platform, “Peace Through Unity.”
As word of Venne’s death spread, messages of sympathy poured in to his family and the Crow Nation from friends, colleagues and officials across the country. More than 1,000 people attended Venne’s services according to some reports.
James Steele Jr. of the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, praised Venne’s leadership.
“Chairman Carl Venne was a very important leader for all the tribes. He worked hard for the progress of Indian country and his leadership will be missed by all of us,” said Steele, chairman of the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes.
Lawrence T. Morgan, speaker of the 21st Navajo Nation Council, worked closely with Venne on various projects related to the Council of Large Land-based Tribes.
“Mr. Venne was more than just a wonderful person, he was our friend and colleague as we worked together to improve the lives of all Native Americans in protecting the sovereignty of Indian nations. He was always so kind and considerate to everyone, and we were always glad to see him.”
Joe. A. Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians, expressed his sympathy in a written statement.
“On behalf of Indian country, I extend my condolences to the Crow Nation and the family of Chairman Venne during this most difficult time. We have lost a true, strong Indian leader. Chairman Venne was a champion for his people, tribes in his region and an excellent example in leadership to tribal leaders across Indian country. As a former member of NCAI’s executive board, Chairman Venne helped to promote the mission of NCAI and worked diligently to help protect tribal sovereignty for all Indian nations. May the Great Spirit be with Chairman Venne’s family and may his work and legacy live on through those who lead by his example.”
The White House issued a statement of condolence from President Barack Obama.
“It is with deep sorrow that Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the people of the Crow Nation and of Montana, who lost a leader and a friend in Chairman Carl Venne.
“I was honored to have worked with Chairman Venne, a strong tribal leader, who implored us to uphold treaties and honor Native ancestors. Carl’s leadership of his tribe and his fervent quest for a better life for his people is inspiring, and his passing serves as a reminder of the work that lies ahead.
“It was only a few short weeks ago that I last saw Carl, leading the spectacular delegation of Crow Nation horsemen in the Inaugural Parade. We join the Crow Nation and fellow citizens everywhere in observing the loss of Chairman Venne,” Obama said.
It was largely through the efforts of Chairman Venne that Obama came to Crow country last May on a campaign stop. Venne raised the profile of indigenous rights worldwide when he asked Obama before his speech to support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Venne’s “tireless work to improve education, make communities safer, and expand opportunities for those who follow is an indelible legacy and an inspiration for the Crow Nation, Indian country, and all of the American people.”
Big Horn County Sheriff Lawrence C. Big Hair was among the first to express his sympathy. “He was a great tribal leader and instrumental to the growth of the Crow Nation. Not only has the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office lost a strong proponent of law enforcement, but also a good friend.”
Montana’s two Democratic senators praised Venne, calling him a “respected statesman through and through.”
“Carl leaves behind an entire nation strengthened by his hard work and his dedication,” said Sen. Jon Tester.
Sen. Max Baucus said Venne “provided quite progressive leadership, he always cared, and time after time he went to bat for a better life for the Crow people.”
“I came to really respect and like him. He was a confidant to tribal leaders, and he always pushed the envelope when fighting for better health care and economic prosperity for the reservation.”
Venne was recognized as a strong leader dedicated to improving the quality of life for his people. He placed priorities on tribal and individual self-sufficiency, job creation, quality health care, educational opportunities, language and cultural preservation, developing the tribe’s natural resources, including a plan for a coal-to-liquid project which is underway, and strengthening its sovereignty.
Under Venne, the popular Crow Heritage Festival returned to the reservation, becoming Crow Native Days, to correspond with the anniversary of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Venne was also an advisory council member to the Montana Meth Project and worked tirelessly to combat methamphetamine abuse in Indian communities.
He served in tribal government for more than three decades in various capacities. He was a former police officer and law enforcement official, and recently served as a counselor at Little Big Horn College.
Venne earned a degree in law enforcement from the University of Minnesota at St. Paul. He later joined the U.S. Army, and was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. He was a former chairman of the 10-member Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, and also of the Council of Large Land-based Tribes, which represents Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Vice Chairman Black Eagle will serve as interim chairman until a special election is held, a procedure mandated by the Crow Tribal Constitution.
Venne is survived by his wife Edwina, and daughters Mallory and Zena. A son, Carl Jr., died in 2002.