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Salute to Vine Deloria Jr.; American Indian Visionary

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Many writers and intellectuals have contributed to the understanding and
the defense of Native peoples; Vine Deloria Jr. captured the mind of a

Over the course of four decades, Vine Deloria Jr. provided enormous
perception, guidance, strategy and sheer analytical heft to the struggle
for respect and justice for American Indians. Thus Deloria's unique
creative genius stands out above the best of the best. This is not stated
lightly; many individuals have made wonderful contributions in the same
direction over the same period, some even sacrificing their lives -
valiantly and selflessly in defense of their peoples. But in every
generation, too, to paraphrase the late Muskogee medicine man, Phillip
Deere, there is one that hits the click-stone just right, and sparks the

For that reason, primarily - but leading many other reasons - for sparking
the intellectual fire of political, legal, historical and spiritual
illumination, for lighting the path to the mountain-head of knowledge and
pointing out the way ahead, Indian Country Today's editorial committee is
proud to bestow the 2005 American Indian Visionary Award upon Dr. Vine
Deloria Jr.

There is no one in Indian country quite like Vine Deloria Jr. Already a
mature political mind at the genesis of the tumultuous American Indian
activism that erupts in the late 1960s, the young
lawyer-historian-theologian penned the early books that galvanized
political thinking and discussion among the new wave of activism in Indian
country. Deloria served as executive director of the National Congress of
American Indians from 1964 to 1967. He was a young contemporary of the
generation that confronted termination, active and brilliant. So that when
the rallying cry of sovereignty and self-determination sounded loud and
clear in Indian country, Deloria was readiest of all to make sense of it,
to fortify it, to lead the discourse.

Deloria's early work of deciphering the Indian history within North America
from a Native perspective proved invaluable in tying together and
coalescing many disparate but kindred Native groups engaged in tribal and
other contentions. It was the work that placed everyone in the feeling of
belonging within a shared intellectual tradition. Deloria's work, initially
in the vein of an Indian manifesto, would continue to deepen over the
decades, to become canon for the next two generations of Native scholars.
Consistently and bravely going ahead of other scholarship to identify
crucial issues in Native history, religion, culture and science, Deloria's
oeuvre will engage the hearts and minds of Native and non-Native scholars
for generations to come.

Those among our staff and columnists who were at the Indian movement
newspaper, Akwesasne Notes, during the early 1970s, heyday of the Indian
activist movement, remember that, "Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian
Manifesto", was always the hottest selling book of the month at The Notes
Bookstore. From the Northeast to Minneapolis to Denver and Albuquerque to
Los Angeles and San Francisco, from the hardscrabble safe-houses of the
American Indian Movement to the polished floors of new academic programs,
more likely than not, you would run into a dog-eared copy of "Custer Died
for Your Sins" (1969), often in the company of its sequel, "We talk, You
Listen" (1970), another early classic in which Deloria managed to capture
the mood and personalities of the time far better than any other
contemporary writer - Indian or not. Many an Indian activist's education
began with either or both of those books and as Wilma Mankiller has written
of Vine Deloria Jr., "No writer has more clearly articulated the unspoken
emotions, dreams and lifeways of contemporary Native people."

In those two early books, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal member hit a nerve
that has continued to pulse and mature with each successive wave of his
writings. Over the years the enthusiastic response has grown into an
intense following that appreciates and respects and enjoys the work. The
enjoyment part is central. Deloria is not only readable and informative. He
can be very funny in framing the various phenomena coming at the Indian
communities though the jaded eye of the millennial observer. Perhaps the
most incisive piece of Deloria is his ironic humor - caustic, not quite
brutal - with which he peppers his subjects as he prepares to cook them
crisply. Framing the issue of anthropology from a Native grassroots
perspective, he gave us the memorable phrases: "Into each life, it is said,
some rain must fall ... But Indians have been cursed above all other people
in history. Indians have anthropologists."

Deloria similarly framed the issue of missionaries; he challenged
anti-Indian educators and policies; he diligently surveyed the treaty
history, the history of loss of Indian lands and assets, consistently
finding and upholding bases of Indian jurisdictional rights and the illogic
of the rationale for dispossessing the American Indian peoples of North

Joining the fray over the Bering Strait theory, in characteristic fashion
he debunks the frail trail of evidence still cited as irrefutable by most
of science that America was uniformly peopled by migrations crossing over
from Eurasia over the frozen Bering Sea. Right or wrong in these cases,
ultimately, Deloria rightfully questions the canon principles of the
Western thinking on Indians; the easy assertions about culture; the "time
when conferences on Indians had no Indians, when buffs and hobbyists made
major policy decisions regarding the fate and future of Indians, and when a
handful of church representatives conferred quietly with the Secretary of
the Interior about federal programs."

Professor of History of Law at the University of Arizona, he directed the
graduate program in American Indian Policy Studies. Now retired from the
University of Colorado, he has served on various boards including the
National Museum of the American Indian and the Intertribal Bison Council
and continues to write and to lecture.

Among Deloria's principal books:

"Custer Died for Your Sins" (1969)

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"We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf" (1970)

"God Is Red: A Native View of Religion" (1973)

"Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of
Independence" (1974)

"Indians of the Pacific Northwest: From the Coming of the White Man to the
Present Day" (1977)

"American Indians, American Justice" (1983), co-written by Clifford Lytle

"The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty"
(1984), co-written by Clifford Lytle

"Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact"

"Evolution, Creationism and Other Modern Myths" (2002).

Google Vine Deloria Jr. and you have some 22,400 citations to choose from.
Look him up among the authors and you can peruse 831 listings by
this highly-productive author. Serious new anthologies on Indian topics
nearly always have a selection of Deloria's work and in many cases, are
likely to carry his introduction, or a preface or some other tone-setting
contribution to the volume. Over the course of four decades Deloria has
received many awards and honors. To mention just some recent ones: The 1996
Wordcraft Circle, which is an award from Native writers; the 2002 National
Book Festival Honors; the 2002 Wallace Stegner Award from the Center of the
American West (Boulder), the 2003 American Indian Festival of Words Author
Award; among others. Deloria permeates Indian country social science
research and well he should. The scope of his contribution is indeed unique
- trend setting, broad ranging and prolific.

In a recent book, "Singing for a Spirit", Deloria traces his own commitment
and predilections within the trajectory of his own family through the
generations, since the open Plains days of his Sioux ancestors through to
his own generation. This fascinating and very personal tale connects the
dots in his own family's history of "religious leadership" ... "so it could
be predicted that I would tend to see the underlying religious dimension of
political action."

The noted author fields another needed challenge for today's major
political discussion in his preface to the relatively recent, "Spirit and
Reason", (Fulcrum, 1999): "Religion," he writes, "... must, I think, have
an intimate connection with the world in which we live, and any religion
that promotes other places - heaven and so on - in favor of what we have in
the physical world is a delusion, a mere control device to allow us to be

There is vision, mission and deliverance in Deloria's work, and high talent
coupled to a vigorous work ethic - the kind of directed effort over a
lifetime that is fueled only by a true love of the people. For 40 years,
always where he was needed, Deloria has been a stalwart of the four
directions, one whose dedication and commitment has been as solid as a
standing stone and we hope as long lasting. May he last and may his
contribution continue to grow and may his legacy continue to braid itself
into the trunk of Native philosophy, spiritual and political life.
Deloria's is a most useful gift - well received and appreciated. For his
wonderful gift, so generously given, we honor the life and work of Vine
Deloria Jr.