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Upper Sioux Tribal Elder, Educator and Historian Tom Ross Walks On

Upper Sioux tribal elder, educator and historian Tom Ross walked on May 10 at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was 64.
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Upper Sioux tribal elder, educator and historian Tom Ross walked on May 10 at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was 64.

He was born November 25, 1948 in Granite Falls, the first son of Rufus Vanderbilt and Verna (Cavender) Ross. He joined the United States Marine Corps in 1968 as a field radio operator and served in Vietnam. He was honorably discharged in 1970.

Following his military service, Ross attended the University of Minnesota and became a poet. He served on the Upper Sioux board for 14 years and was a lifetime fire keeper for Ikce Wicas'a ta Omniceye of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota peoples.

Ross also served as a delegate to the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous People’s Rights. He served as a representative in Geneva, India, Greenland, Peru, Mexico, and Panama.

“His advice was sought from legislators, healers, boat captains, and the guy next door,” says his obituary.

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According to the Minnesota Humanities Center, Ross was a principal advisor and content specialist for Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations, a traveling exhibition that explores Native nations in Minnesota and their history of treaties with the United States.

Casey DeMarais/Minnesota Humanities Center

Tom Ross, Dakota, speaks to future exhibitors of Why Treaties Matter at a Minnesota Humanities Center’s workshop in August 2011. Pictured, from left, are Lori Mickelson, of the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota; Tom Ross; Gretl Kruse, Mayo Clinic; Tom Pfannenstiel, of Historic Fort Snelling, in St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mollie Spillman, of Ramsey County Historical Society, in St. Paul.

“In many respects, Tom Ross is the Why Treaties Matter exhibit; he was there from the beginning as a member of the original content team that conceptualized and shaped it and we could not have realized this project without his input and ongoing counsel,” David O’Fallon, president and CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center, said in a release. “Over the past several years, Tom greatly and positively influenced how this organization works with indigenous communities. Everything that he shared with us and taught us over the years has been incorporated into our programmatic approach and way of thinking with regard to the American Indian people and nations in this place we call Minnesota.”

Ross’s help in creating the exhibit can be seen in a 14-minute video that accompanies it. The video was produced by the National Museum of the American Indian and features tribal leaders from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Upper Sioux Indian Community. Ross can also be seen in the video, which can be viewed here.