NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- An intellectual giant and a leading Indian legal and
human rights advocate was honored recently at an event celebrating the
first American Indian to graduate from Yale University.
Philip "Sam" Deloria, Standing Rock Sioux, was awarded the first-ever Henry
Roe Cloud Medal at a gala dinner at the Ivy League university on Nov. 6.
The dinner and award ceremony were the high points of a weekend of events
commemorating Roe Cloud, who enrolled at Yale in 1906, and recognizing 100
years of Americans Indians' contributions to the community, state and
Deloria, who comes from a stellar family of religious leaders, scholars and
writers, has made outstanding contributions in forwarding human rights for
Indians, advancing and preserving tribal sovereignty, in developing tribal
self-government, and defining the relationship between sovereign tribal
governments and states.
Although Deloria is famously anti-award, he accepted the Roe Cloud award
with his equally famous sense of humor and an endearing grace that belies
his facade of grumbling scholarly curmudgeon.
"You can, if you wish, put in the anti-award stuff, if you can make it
clear that I am most honored by and grateful for the Yale award because of
the nature of it; it is kind of within the Yale family, and it was
important to the students," Deloria said in an interview with Indian
Deloria, who graduated from Yale in 1964, has been the director the
American Indian Law Center since 1982. The center is the oldest
Indian-controlled and -operated legal public policy organization in the
country. The center provides tribal governments and Indian organizations
with legal research, policy analysis and technical assistance, and prepares
students for law school.
Deloria has worked diligently to make sure that tribal governments get
their share of federal grants available to other government entities, such
as states and municipalities. He was a founder of the Commission on
State-Tribal Relations, and is the first secretary-general of the World
Council of Indigenous People at the United Nations.
Despite all of his distinctions, Deloria downplayed his achievements.
"I've never really accomplished one-thousandth as much as I should have and
could have. I've never done anything particularly heroic. I've done things
that took a little bit of political courage, but people in my lifetime have
their families killed and houses burned down for political courage. There
are still poor people on Indian reservations. I don't think people should
get awards for doing what they are paid to do, so while I'm happy to get
the award, I'm extremely aware that I probably haven't done anything to
deserve it," Deloria said.
Although Deloria perceives himself to be "almost completely opposite" Henry
Roe Cloud, the two men share the same activist concern for promoting human
and civil rights and providing equal opportunities for American Indians.
Cloud, whose name was Wa-Na-Xi-Lay Hunkah, was a Winnebago from Minnesota
who graduated from Yale in 1910. He also championed Indian rights and did
so at a time when the federal government was pushing Native people to
abandon their heritage and assimilate into the dominant culture.
In 1915 Cloud founded the Roe Indian Institute and became an effective
spokesman in Washington on American Indian policy issues. In 1928, he wrote
a report calling for a complete overhaul of Indian federal policy.
More than 100 guests attended the awards dinner, which began with a
blessing and a speech by Eastern Pequot Chairman Marcia Flowers.
In addition to the awards dinner, the weekend included a behind-the scenes
tour of the Native American Collection at Yale's Peabody Museum, a
presentation on the Henry Roe Cloud Papers in the Sterling Memorial Library
and a special drumming performance by the Mystic River Singers.
Currently, there are 75 undergraduates at Yale who identify themselves as
American Indian. While Yale does not have a Department of American Indian
Studies, "there is a large student interest in having such a department,"
said Rosalinda Garcia, assistant dean of Yale College and director of the
Native American and Latino cultural centers.
A group is currently studying the issue, Garcia said.
While this month's event was the first Henry Roe Cloud celebration, it
likely will not be the last.
"We're still discussing how often the event will be held. We are all
committed, however, to regularly celebrating Henry Roe Cloud and the
presence of Native Americans at Yale in a similar fashion. The only thing
that remains to be determined is at what intervals," Garcia said.