Rosemary Richmond passed on to the spirit world on October 29, 2015, after a brief hospitalization in Norwalk, Connecticut. An Akwesasne Mohawk of the Bear Clan, Richmond was the former executive director of the American Indian Community House (AICH) in New York City from 1987 until 2010, and was among the most influential urban Indian leaders in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
During her tenure AICH became one of the largest and most active urban Indian centers in the country, and she oversaw a large professional Native staff that managed job placement and training programs, health care, alcohol and substance abuse programs, food, housing, legal and other services for the populous New York City Indian community. A champion of Indian artists, AICH also housed a theater and hosted numerous indigenous theater groups, as well as an internationally renowned art gallery. Richmond was also active in promoting urban Indian communities and lobbying for their needs before the city, state, and federal governments.
Rosemary Richmond was born Rosemary Martin in White Plains, New York, on December 19, 1937, to David K. Martin, an ironworker, and Mary Elizabeth (Cook) Martin, both Mohawks from the Akwesasne (St. Regis) Reservation in upstate New York. Rosemary Martin was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, and attended Greenwich public schools. After graduation she worked on an assembly line. In 1957 she joined Fawcett Publications, a national book and magazine publisher headquartered in New York City. Beginning as a clerk in the subscriptions department, by 1973 she headed the department.
She married David Richmond (Mohawk) on February 1, 1969. That same year, with other New York City Indians, she co-founded AICH, and her husband David was one of the original board members. She began working at AICH as executive secretary to director Mike Bush in 1975 and together they transformed the organization from an all-volunteer group into a professional organization with more than 40 paid staff. The organization would expand to lease an entire floor of a large commercial building in the East Village of New York City. In addition to providing much needed services to the New York Indians, AICH was also active in furthering the rights of Indigenous Peoples worldwide, providing funding and support for the International Indian Treaty Council, the American Indian Law Alliance, The Flying Eagle Woman Fund and other organizations based in New York, as well as providing important logistical support for the Longest Walk in 1978, countless conferences and meetings at the United Nations, and Indian struggles such as the repatriation of sacred Indian artifacts from museums, the Big Mountain dispute in Arizona and New Mexico, and the cases of Leonard Peltier and David Sohappy.
AICH became one of the leading publicists for Indian issues and Indian events; their newsletter had a circulation of more than 15,000. Under Richmond, the organization became one of the most important artistic centers in the U.S., hosting virtually every major Indian artist, poet, author, musician, or actor in its theater or gallery.
In 1991, after the Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, Richmond worked with New York City Mayor David Dinkins to host a Thanksgiving dinner at City Hall featuring Native American foods, where the leaders of New York’s varied religious and ethnic communities sat and ate together in an effort to ease racial tensions. That same year she founded the Native American Council of New York City in order to coordinate policy among the many Indian organizations in the city. Richmond led a coalition of New York groups that forced New York State to drop its support of the James Bay II hydroelectric mega-project slated to flood Cree and Inuit lands in northern Quebec, Canada, ending with the project’s suspension in 1992. Also in 1992, the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus’s first voyage, Richmond secured an apology from King Juan Carlos of Spain for the misdeeds of the Spanish conquistadors.
AICH became known for its acceptance of and aid to Indigenous Peoples from anywhere in the world, and for not discriminating against Indians regardless of background, gender, or sexual preference. A modest woman who shunned the limelight, Richmond was a staunch defender of traditional Indian governments and cultures and fostered numerous programs to preserve Indian traditions. Completely dedicated to her people and community, and fiercely protective of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and their lands throughout the world, Rosemary Richmond is survived by her son, Lance Richmond.