My brother, Vine Deloria Jr., of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, passed away
on Nov. 13, joining the likes of Joe DeLaCruz of the Quinault and Dutch
Kinley of the Lummi, as well as Joseph of the Nez Perce and Crazy Horse of
the Lakota Sioux at the Great Council Fire. I will miss him deeply, and
always be grateful for the brightness he contributed to the world.
Deloria was a rock, a steady hand in the struggle for justice. He was a man
of great vision and spirit who understood the ongoing need to value Indian
legacies in both tribal and non-tribal societies. He knew the wisdom of
learning from our predecessors and comprehending ageless tribal traditions.
I will miss Deloria's intellect and his abiding determination to secure
justice for the tribes. I will also miss his humor. He used it well, even
in the face of seemingly hopeless adversity. He often called me "Billy
Jack" as he teased me about being thrown into jail so often during the
protest days of the 1960s. We fought many battles together, from the grassy
banks of the Nisqually River to the marbled halls of Washington, D.C. We
shared hundreds of podiums and thousands of thoughts and dreams. I credit
him for instilling focus, leadership and direction to the ongoing struggles
of the tribes.
Deloria's ability to inspire unity, at all levels, was historic. In 1964,
he was called on to rebuild the National Congress of American Indians. As
NCAI's executive director he restored financial and managerial stability
and rescued the organization from insolvency and internal differences.
Through his writing and speeches he became a leading voice against tribal
termination and for the reform of federal Indian policy. He laid the
groundwork for the federal policy of tribal self-determination that emerged
in the late 1960s and in the 1970 Nixon Statement on Indian
Self-Determination. This marked a major turning point in federal Indian
policy that continues to benefit both tribal and non-tribal communities
In the tumultuous year of 1969, as we fought so hard to assert our
generally neglected rights, Deloria published "Custer Died for Your Sins."
It was possibly the most influential book ever written on federal Indian
policy and, in my book, it and other Deloria writings, words and actions
distinguished him as the tribal version of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.
He reminded us that "ideological leverage is always superior to violence
... it is vitally important that the Indian people pick the intellectual
arena as the one in which to wage war." A few years after he wrote this,
Judge George Boldt reaffirmed the validity of the treaties in the U.S. v.
Washington decision. Deloria should be remembered for his giant
contribution to paving the way for that far-reaching decision.
Earlier this year, I had the honor of seeing Deloria receive the American
Indian Visionary Award at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Never
has such an honor been so richly deserved. More recently, we have been
working together on a treaty exhibit for the National Museum of the
American Indian. His hope was that this exhibit will make further inroads
toward a dream he always supported and worked toward -- education of the
American public about the true history of the tribes.
Through this and other ongoing efforts, and for the rest of my days, I will
do all I can to help keep the fire of Deloria's vision burning bright and
look forward to the day when we will again sit together at our ancestral
Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries
Commission, was the recipient of Indian Country Today's 2004 American
Indian Visionary Award.