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Death of Yakama Leader Leaves Ripples in Many Communities

The October 27, 2011 death of Yakama General Council chair Moses Dick Squeochs created serious ripples not only within his family and the Yakama people, but also with the higher education, environmental and Native rights communities in which he served. Squeochs had served as chair of the Fourteen Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation since 2007.

According to his obituary in the Yakima Herald-Republic, Squeochs was born June 3, 1944 on the southern boundary of the Yakama Reservation, in a village in the Bickelton Ridge area of Washington state. His interests in life were highly diverse and included treaty rights for the Yakama people, competing in rodeos, fishing, and raising cattle on his ranch. Injuries that occurred while ranching were the cause of his death.

During his lifetime, Squeochs served on many federal and state boards that included higher education, agriculture and Native rights. One of these was as a member of Central Washington University’s Board of Trustees. Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, who appointed Squeochs, said in a statement that Squeochs “was a dedicated tribal leader who was committed to the service of his community. It was my great pleasure to have previously appointed Moses to serve as a Board of Trustee member at Central Washington University from 2009-2010.”

Another board on which Squeochs served was the National EPA-Tribal Science Council, a joint council of tribal environmental officers and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Mr. Squeochs served on the Council from 2006 to 2007 representing the Yakama Nation as well as tribes in Idaho, Oregon and Washington,” wrote Monica Rodia, the senior Indian program manager of the EPA Office of Research and Development. “He participated on the sub-committee to establish equal partnerships between tribal and EPA scientists in the development and application of sound science where his dedication to protecting human health and the environment in Indian country was most evident.”

Squeoch’s passing occurred prior to the opening of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) annual convention in Portland, Oregon. Thom Wallace, communications director for NCAI, said “the organization offered its prayers and respects on the closing day of the national gathering for Chairman Squeochs’ family and the entire Yakama Nation.”

As a Native authority on caring for Mother Earth, Squeochs was sought out by scholars and scientists about the current and potential future of the environment. In Katrine Barber’s book Death of Celio Falls, Barber wrote of Squeochs speaking of the damming of the Columbia River, and that it was as equally damaging to Washington tribes as the allotments created by the Dawes Act.

Squeochs was also a contributor to “Thoreau’s Legacy: American Stories about Global Warming,” an online anthology of articles about global warming compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Penguin Classics.

During the interview for the anthology, Squeochs said: “It is up to us to determine our destiny and direction and our own sustainability. And we need Americans to understand our path. We must continue to practice our culture and recapture our language.”

Squeochs is survived by his wife of 35 years, Lynn Squeochs; his three children Lester Spencer, Jonalee Squeochs and Graysen Squeochs; brothers Evans Dick, Cyrus Squeochs and Roger Dick; sisters Marion Squeochs and Edith Frank; five grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.