The death of Dr. Arthur “Art” Taylor (Téewispel’uu) came as a shock to all who knew him. He was still a young man and a leader. A car crash took his life on November 28 at the age of 48. He was a Nez Perce tribal member and descendent of the Chief Joseph Band of Wallowa, Oregon and Chief Eagle in the Light.
Taylor was the Indigenous Affairs Officer at the University of Idaho and had been working there since 2007. He worked closely with students at the Native American Student Center who referred to him as “Uncle Art.” Just last May he completed his Ph.D. degree in education at the university.
Prior to that he earned a bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and literature from Washington State University and a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University. He then completed a second master’s degree from Loyola University in cultural and educational policy studies.
His passion for education and working with Native students eased the transition from reservation life to university living for many students from throughout the northwest.
“The loss of Art Taylor is profound, not only for his students but also for his peers and the entire university community,” a University of Idaho release stated. “Art was a true champion of Native American access and inclusion in higher education and a tireless advocate for Native research and Native ways of knowing and teaching.”
Before working with the University of Idaho, he worked in the multicultural student programs and services at the University of Notre Dame. He is still fondly remembered at that institution and a Mass was held for him in the Grotto after his death.
University of Idaho
This image shows Steve Martin, Art Taylor, and Sherman Alexie at HooPalousa at the University of Idaho.
Taylor not only worked with university students, he developed and coordinated the Nez Perce Tribal Youth Council and served on the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. He also served as the Tribal Council’s senior citizen’s liaison, education liaison, and was on the natural resources subcommittee, intergovernmental affairs subcommittee, and land enterprise subcommittee. He also represented the tribe in areas of tribal sovereignty regarding both national and international treaty rights. He was an active member of the National Indian Education Association and the National Congress of American Indians.
Nez Perce tribal chairman, Silas Whitman, knew Taylor well. “He was one of my boys, Sonny as I called him. His mother was my cousin.”
“He was a very religious person, very giving and very broadminded about things in general. His life’s work was to seek education, to get his own opportunities and pass it on to other folks. All the guys he ran with were of the same mindset, all gifted educators, artists, musicians. Cultural values drove them whether it was in tribal ceremonies, powwows, or language. He was one of a small group that was really attempting to get into conversational Nez Perce,” Whitman explained.
“He was very astute. He was able to make the transition from one world into another by putting one foot firmly in each world but not forgetting where you come from. He always searched for that and sought that in others to make sure he would be able to promote a greater understanding.
“The intangible thing was his humor,” Whitman said. “He always had humor. You don’t see many like him come along.
“He was a guy where much was given and much required. That’s leadership among my people. He was the epitome of that.”
Loretta Tuell, a cousin, added, “I always thought of him as the Native American renaissance man. He could speak some Russian. He could speak French. He was well spoken and also traveled and learned, but also knew stuff that others wouldn’t know about Native people, which put him in a unique position. I always felt he gave and gave to everyone. Art never played favorites; he seemed to treat everyone equally.”
Joyce McFarland, a relative said, “His legacy in education will continue, not only through his research and writing, but also in his advocacy and inspiration to others to push oneself to the next plateau of knowledge. He always looked ahead to the next challenge.”
The President and Provost of the University of Idaho attended the funeral services. A Washington State University liaison also attended as Taylor was a WSU Cougar at heart, and their flag draped his casket.
His memoriam concluded with, “Arthur lived the life he loved and now leaves us with a remarkable legacy of achievement to inspire us all to strive to make a difference.” Arthur Taylor walked on much too early in life. He will be greatly missed by the Nez Perce Tribe, the University of Idaho, and his many friends everywhere.