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Gary Sherwood Rhine -- the great 'Rhino'

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Hundreds of family members and friends of Gary Sherwood Rhine gathered in
San Francisco Jan. 15 and 16 to honor the life and contributions of a
generous and talented man who dedicated his life to friendship and
partnership with Indian peoples and Indian causes. Rhine died Jan. 9 in a
single-engine plane crash in Lancaster, Calif. He was 54.

Many memories poured forth of the great "Rhino" in San Francisco and
certainly -- from the growing publishing record on his untimely and tragic
passing -- in many other places as well. Quietly, progressively throughout
25 years, this wonderfully gifted man was there for many people, families
and on behalf of major and important issues. Our most sincere and heartfelt
condolences are extended to family and friends of this fruitful and
creative individual whose path through life touched the Four Winds.

The sentiments and memories shared by those gathered in San Francisco
provide the beginning of a narrative on a life of many merits. At the
funeral service a close friend, in recalling the high human quality being
celebrated, embraced Gary's full circle of friends who, he said, now come
to him "pre-screened" by Rhino's own integrity.

At a memorial hosted by the Intertribal Friendship House, CEO Helen
Waukazoo expressed that "the Bay Area Indian community will always be
grateful for his generosity and selflessness." She offered the prayers of
the Indian community for "his wife Irene; his mother Sherlee; his children,
Leah, Emmy, Odessa, Casey and David; his sister, Gail; brother, Michael;
and all the others who loved and will miss him."

Hana Brown, Ho-Chunk, spoke of meeting Rhino through the late Winnebago
leader, Reuben Snake, when Rhino produced a crucial documentary that helped
turn the tide in the struggle by the Native American Church of North
America to preserve the right to use its sacred sacrament. And Martin
Waukazoo, Lakota, expressed that "Gary was a gift to our community. He
persisted in helping. He was a rare individual of genuine concern. He
recognized the importance of recovering spirituality. He walked that good
Red Road in a good way. Rhino was an Indian."

Also at the Friendship House, prayers were formally offered in a cleansing
ceremony by Lakota spiritual leader Richard Moves Camp. The next day, in a
service held at Congregation Beth Israel-Judea in San Francisco, Tom Cook,
Mohawk, and his wife, Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook, Lakota, were requested
to assist in offering prayers and another cleansing burn to the four
directions. A strong representation of Native people, including film
notables Benjamin and Peter Bratt, Native American Rights Fund attorney
Walter Echohawk, Cante Pierce, Katsi Cook and Grandmother Beatrice Weasel
Bear, among others, joined the family and hundreds of friends in mourning
and celebration.

If a man's life is a record of his deeds, the full recounting of the deeds
of Rhine will take more than one volume. He was a big man, with many
interests and skills, mostly known for the past decade as a superb and
award-winning documentary maker. The record of that particular career --
just one in the chronicle suggested by his well-lived life -- will endure
the test of time and these will come to be seen as magnificent pieces
produced by an individual who consistently married his craft to the
elevation of Indian voices to emerge into the discourse. This valuable and
fresh approach, one that spoke to the Indian community consciousness
directly, resonated with audiences. Rhine's love of truth and justice
shines through each and every one of the productions, many of them in
partnership with Native producers, whom he always mentored wisely.

Rhine's first film, "Wiping the Tears of Seven Generations" (1992), was
directed at helping bring peace and harmony among various sides in the
tumultuous legacy of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. Rhine filmed the 100th
anniversary of the Big Foot Memorial Ride, a ceremonial pilgrimage by young
and old Lakotas that retraced the route of Chief Big Foot's Band, massacred
in 1890. It was favorably reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, which called
it "moving" and "an effective consciousness-raiser."

This was followed in 1994 by "The Peyote Road," a hugely useful documentary
that told the Indian point of view of the use of the Peyote sacrament.
Attorney James Botsford, who assisted Snake in taking the Peyote case to
court and Congress, recalled in San Francisco how the well-respected Snake
recruited him and Rhine, among others, into the successful campaign. "Once
I met Rhino and his writer, Phil Cousineau, I knew we had won," he said.

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From his experiences with Snake in the Peyote issue, Rhine produced one of
the finest-ever profiles of Indian leadership with his documentary on
Snake, called "Your Faithful Serpent." The death of elders from diabetes
propelled Rhine to produce next the highly acclaimed and useful "The Red
Road to Sobriety" (1995) which, again, allowed the Indian people -- in this
case, those challenging the deadly cycle of alcoholism -- to speak for
themselves. "Rez Robics for Couch Potato Skins" is another gem of
well-meant usefulness. His most recent documentary and book, "A Seat at the
Table: Struggling for American Indian Religious Freedom," is on the
protection of traditional indigenous spirituality and languages.

Rhine, a fifth-generation San Franciscan, left the University of Oregon in
1970 to join a caravan of several hundred hippies in Tennessee, where he
lived for 13 years. "The Farm" in Tennessee became a high-service
community, which allied with Native causes naturally. Under the banner of
Plenty USA, the too-easily dismissed "hippies" organized volunteer efforts
in relief and reconstruction and later development projects with Native
people from Pine Ridge to Guatemala. Rhine was often point man in these
relations, always making things possible.

The Farm's signal service of health and midwifery training was enjoined in
the mid-1970s by women crews from the Haudenosaune communities in New York
state, particularly Akwesasne and Onondaga. Rhino and his family were among
the leaders in receiving, hosting and helping to train Native midwives.
With Rhino's participation, the Farm provided the medical back up for the
Longest Walk events of 1978; and as early as 1981, Rhino played a central
role in developing and training an emergency medical technician and
ambulance service for the Akwesasne Mohawk community. As one speaker said,
"There are a lot of Mohawk people alive today because of Gary Rhine."

Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook, who trained in Rhine's health clinic, sang an
honor song for "brother Rhino" and recalled his firm yet gentle ways of
training. "With his humor and his love, he was the perfect connector,
always relating people to one another."

Rhino was a big-hearted visionary whose deeds will be retold. But as
Botsford and others pointed out, it was Rhino's humor that most
characterized his relations with all people. His wife, Irene Romero-Rhine,
a pillar of poise, comforted the congregated: "Gary always walked his talk.
And he told a mean joke."

Most recently, his dedication to blogging gave Rhino ample opportunity to
share his humor. Here is a vintage Rhino "insight" (from his last formal
blog, late December 2005):

"According to the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, while both male and female
reindeer grow antlers in summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers
at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-december. Female
reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring.
Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa's
reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen, had to be a

"We should have known. Only women, while pregnant, would be able to drag a
fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night, not get
lost, meet an impossible deadline, and do it all out of good will."

In the best expression of his family: "Although Mother Earth claimed him
before we were ready to let go, we had him in our midst if only for a
while; for those of us who knew and loved him, we are truly grateful."