BILLINGS, Mont. – Carl Venne, the leader of the Crow Tribe, died suddenly Sunday, Feb. 15, at the age of 62.
Venne, the tribal chairman, was found at about 8:30 a.m. at his sister’s house in Hardin, according to a statement issued Feb. 15 by the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office.
On the following day, the sheriff’s office issued another statement reporting that the county coroner had determined that Venne had suffered from coronary artery disease, which he said was the cause of death.
Venne is survived by his wife Edwina, and daughters Mallory and Zena. A son, Carl Jr., died in 2002.
Crow tribal members were distressed. More than 100 relatives and community members had already gathered for prayers and to express their support to Venne’s family when the sheriff’s office responded to the call at Venne’s sister’s house, according to the Associated Press.
Venne’s niece, Rita Half, was among the first to be notified of his death, the report said.
“In our tradition an aunt and uncle is just like a mother and father. I had the utmost respect for him,” Half said.
Venne’s Crow name, Aashiise Dakatak Baacheitchish, is interpreted as “One who crosses the big river and becomes a leader.”
Venne was serving his second full term as chairman of the tribe. He was elected in November 2002 to fill the unexpired term of Chairman Clifford BirdinGround who resigned in September 2002. According to the tribe’s Web site, Crow members elected Venne again in 2004 when he ran on a platform of “Peace Through Unity.”
Venne was recognized as a strong leader who was 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.
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 was a Vietnam veteran and 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.
As word of the chairman’s death spread, messages of sympathy poured in to Venne’s family from local and state officials.
“He was a great tribal leader and instrumental to the growth of the Crow Nation,” Big Horn County Sheriff Lawrence C. Big Hair wrote. “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 issued statements.
“Sharla and I are saddened by Carl Venne’s death,” wrote Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “He was a visionary, a strong tribal and state leader, and a respected statesman through and through. Carl leaves behind an entire nation strengthened by his hard work and his dedication to all Crow people. Sharla and I send our thoughts and prayers to Carl’s family and to the entire Crow Nation as we mourn his passing and celebrate his life.”
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) described Venne’s passing as “tragic.”
“My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and the entire Crow Nation. Carl was a man wholly dedicated to his people. He 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. I was honored to call him my friend and I join the many who are grieving today.”
Venne and other Crow members took part in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade in January. Last spring during a campaign stop, Obama was adopted into the tribe by the family of Vice Chairman Cedric Black Eagle, and given the name Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuuxshish, or “One Who Helps People throughout the Land.”
Black Eagle will serve as interim chairman until a new chairman is elected as a special election mandated by the Crow Tribal Constitution.