Robert Kennedy's Day of Affirmation speech to the apartheid youth of South
Africa in 1966 presents a best frame for knowing the visionary adult life
and career of Vine Deloria Jr.
Vine's life's pursuits have carried hallmark recognition that the "one man
or one woman" are many, in each generation, who can or will make a
favorable difference. Although prodigious in singular thought and
presentations, Vine often shares collaboration workloads with others - or
gives others his help and hand.
I met Vine first more than 40 years ago. A year later, he hired me as an
aide when moving to Washington, D.C. as the National Congress of American
Indians' executive director. Vine had been drafted into that position in
1964 by an overwhelming request from NCAI's Executive Board in Sheridan,
That was sacrifice. In answering NCAI's call for what became a three-year
life in D.C., Vine's wife Barbara and their two young sons and daughter
remained in Denver for long periods without him.
Left too was Charles Kettering II. When United Scholarship Service hired
Vine in 1963 to place Indian students in independent schools nationally,
Chuck - famed Ohioan family heir - had been his mainstay advocate.
While visiting NCAI, Kettering insisted that Vine write a book: "You have
to show America that being Indian is more than just a state of mind ...
that Indians have the ability to laugh at themselves."
Vine would do that in 1969 with his first book, "Custer Died for Your
Sins." He went, however, beyond Chuck's initial urgings: He tested also
white Americans' ability, first, to see themselves and, yet then, to laugh
- and to change.
In 1967, I listened to Vine advise a young law student, Tom Tureen, that a
greatest need for an attorney legal aid lay with forgotten tribes of the
East, who held un-extinguished rights and land claims.
Later Vine helped enlist William Rodgers, University of Washington
professor of environmental law, in litigation on treaty fishing rights. For
a decade Bill represented tribes, won a "sovereign immunity" ruling in the
U.S. Supreme Court's Puyallup Trilogy, and was impetus for a 1980 habitat
protection decision in Phase II of the famous Boldt case.
The 1974 Boldt Decision itself centered upon expert testimony from another
Deloria colleague, cultural anthropologist Barbara Lane. Dr. Lane's social
and economic histories for each litigant tribe was second in import only to
biological evidence produced by Jim Heckman's federal team in securing the
Earlier, after a brutal police assault on tribal families at Franks Landing
on Oct. 13, 1965, Vine helped direct Episcopal Church funds to their
support through Bishop Ivol Curtis of the Olympia Diocese. Deloria's
cultivation of the new U.S. Community Relations Service activated an
investigation that generated a new federal policy for defending arrested
When presiding Bishop John Hines answered Vine's 1968 call for greater
Episcopal Church commitments to Indian people, Vine brought me onboard.
In intertwined roles, we were able to deliver $10,000 in church emergency
funds to Alcatraz in December 1969. And we placed $20,000 with Lucy
Covington for election of an anti-termination government on the Colville
Indian Reservation. That effort reversed extermination of an Indian nation
under an act already legislated by Congress.
We called upon Vine again in 1970, when the silver salmon price dropped to
eight cents a pound for Indians, having been 10 times that for the
non-Indian harvests. We located him at The Lion's Head restaurant in New
York's Greenwich Village. Vine quickly took a cab to the Fulton Fish Market
- and found us a market.
Our volunteer laborers butchered and cleaned all the fish of four tribes
for shipment across the country. Buyers here restored value to
Indian-caught fish and we prevailed against what Suzette Mills had termed,
"their other way of killing us."
A few months later, Vine was back in New York to join Iroquois Six Nations
leaders in a press conference on the issue of wampum belts recovery. I
recently met the woman assigned in 1971 to watch Vine and the wampum belts
to protect against any being pilfered and spirited out of the city.
Knowing of Vine's and Suzan Harjo's work over ensuing decades to secure the
George Gustav Heye treasure and bring the National Museum of the American
Indian into being, I said: "Vine wouldn't do that. He'd take the whole
collection." A career archivist, she laughed, "I know that - now!"
His early 1971 appearance on "The Dick Cavett Show" proved timely also for
a felony riot trial of Maiselle Bridges and her daughter Suzette in Tacoma,
Wash. Vine asked for photographs from the Sept. 11, 1970 state attack on
the Puyallup fishing encampment where more than 300 agents had made 62
One stark photo showed Gestapo-styled plainclothes-men, one directing his
rifle toward the camp from a high bridge vantage. The sniper testified it
was Maiselle in his cross-hair sights. Her identified activity: "Cooking
breakfast." She was acquitted.
Most poignant was that of Maiselle's daughter, Alison, her eyes closed by
tear gas. Uniformed policemen cinched her arms tightly behind her, while
their white protective face-shielding helmets contrasted her tortured pain.
Vine told Cavett: "Alison can fight. She's 90 pounds of dynamite."
Vine then directed me to Helen Peterson and Art Gajarsa in the offices of
Indian Commissioner Louis Bruce. Gajarsa, an attorney, reviewed land title
records of the Puyallup encampment, determining it to be a reservation area
under exclusive federal and tribal jurisdiction.
Prompted by columnist Jack Anderson's top writer, Les Whitten, Gajarsa set
in process issuance of Solicitor's Opinions declaring that the entire
20,000-acre Puyallup Indian Reservation remained intact as defined by
original 1857 and 1873 boundaries. Previously, the tribe's rights had been
confined largely to a small cemetery tract.
For another victory, Vine entered collaboration with attorney John Thorne.
They together crafted the historical and documentary treaty defense at
Lincoln for 65 Pine Ridge Oglala indicted for the 1973 siege at Wounded
In short, Vine Deloria has sought to join vision with vision, his and
others, to compound their effects - while always fostering or nurturing the
emergence and sustenance of other visionaries among Indian people - and
Hank Adams, Assiniboine-Sioux from Fort Peck, Mont., is president of the
Survival of American Indians Association, Inc., PMB 64, Olympia WA 98516.