Indian Country Today
Even in his final moments, Myron Dewey, the award-winning filmmaker, was doing what he enjoyed most: Helping others.
The founder of Digital Smoke Signals, known for his visual work on the No Dakota Access Pipeline movement in Standing Rock, was tragically killed in a car crash on Sunday in Yomba, Nevada. He was 49.
Dewey’s lifelong partner Deborah Parker said Dewey died in a head-on collision. As first responders were using the Jaws of Life to extract Dewey from a vehicle, Parker says she was able to share the last loving thoughts with him before he died during a call on her cell phone.
“He tried to fight, he tried to breathe, but he didn’t make it,” shared Parker.
Parker shared other deep and heartfelt thoughts about her life partner, a man she said was a warrior that continued to fight for his people. “His every breath was a fight for his people,” she said.
“I’m feeling extreme grief,” said Parker. “He has three children, Joey, Taylor and Wetuah. Wetuah is like his mini him, and he is 11 years old. He doesn’t quite get it right now. We were together for many years, we were life partners. We were together, we were two warriors that met, fell in love, and created a life.”
Parker said some of their times apart were because of an unselfish life’s path. A path to fight for the rights of Native people.
“We knew that life would be a difficult one because we chose to fight on behalf of our people. We both knew that. We understood that as difficult and as hard as it is, I know he wanted to be here to fight for his Paiute and Shoshone people. I am Tulalip and our fight was for our people.
We both knew that being in one place was too hard, we did go back and forth and just knew that our love for our people would carry us through. It did, and it will always carry us through.”
Dewey, the founder of the online news publication Digital Smoke Signals, was an internationally-known contributing force for information, news, and issues affecting Indian Country.
Dewey was Newe-Numah/ Paiute-Shoshone from the Walker River Paiute Tribe, Agui Diccutta Band (Trout Eaters) and Temoke Shoshone. He was also a 2019 Lehman Brady professor at Duke University. He also served as a wildland firefighter and firefighting trainer at Haskell Indian Nations University.
Dewey was perhaps most notably known for his drone footage of the interactions between the #NoDAPL water protectors and officials at Standing Rock. Dewey’s drone footage made him one of the most important journalistic voices to come out of the Standing Rock movement.
“His every breath was a fight for his people,” said Parker. “He didn't stop. People knew Myron would not stop. He would not stop to take a break. In his heart, he wanted to save Mother Earth to preserve his Paiute language and to talk about the atrocities of boarding schools. He was a boarding school survivor. They cut his hair, they put him down, so he lived with a lot of pain and sorrow. He wanted to make sure that no one else had to live like that. He didn't want to be silent when others wanted him to be. He didn’t want the atrocities to go unnoticed or unrecognized.”
Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock
Dewey was the co-director and co-contributor to “Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock” alongside the Academy Award-nominated and Emmy award-winning filmmaker Josh Fox, Academy Award nominee James Spione, Floris White Bull and Doug Good Feather.
During Dewey’s coverage of the Standing Rock struggles, Dewey was arrested for using the drone, faced up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. The charges were later dropped.
Awards and accolades
Over the course of his career, Dewey received a number of awards and accolades for his work to include the Michelle Moor Award for Community Journalism, the “Man of the Year Award” from Medicine Winds News and the “Award of Merit” by the University of Kansas Department of Film & Media Studies in 2018. Dewey received the award for the “News/Documentary for a short film” category at the New York City Drone Film Festival for his drone coverage of Standing Rock.
In 2010, Dewey received the “Teacher of the Year” award for his work at Northwest Indian College in Tulalip, Washington.
“He wanted us to heal”
On Sunday, Parker said Dewey was bringing food and sharing words of comfort to families in need. “He was traveling from one of the places in Yomba to his mother’s reservation. He was helping families that were grieving, he was going to the next place to help another family.”
She says that Dewey always worked to help and heal people in Indian Country.
“He wanted us to heal. Every waking morning, he prayed for us when he woke up and watched the sunrise. He prayed for us as he watched the sunset. He was one of the greatest warriors I know. As hard as it was sometimes, I knew he was doing the Creator’s work. On the other side, we will meet again. He lived in the way I know his ancestors would have wanted him to live. He lived and he died for us. His fierce dedication will never ever go unnoticed.”
Indian Country and allies have been grieving over the weekend with the news of Dewey’s passing. People began sharing their words of support and grief on social media.
Dakota/Lakota Sioux writer Ruth Hopkins wrote, “Rest in Power @MyronDewey. He changed history with drone footage showing unarmed Lakota & our allies being brutalized & sprayed with freezing water the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2016 on Backwater Bridge, while we said no to the Dakota Access Pipeline. The world saw. Wopila.”
Josh Fox, who Dewey had worked quite closely with on the film “Awake,” called Dewey a “friend, mentor and brother,” in an Instagram post.
“My friend, mentor, brother and partner in activism and film Myron Dewey @digitalsmokesignals has passed on. He was in the prime of his life, he was doing amazing incredibly hard vital work. He was a leader and light to all of us. He taught me so much.”
Lumbee and Tuscarora Duke student Darien Alexis wrote that she was “absolutely heartbroken” on Twitter.
Others on social media sharing their words of hope and encouragement included Crystal EchoHawk, Dallas Goldtooth, writer Johnnie Jae and actor Frances Fisher.
In a Facebook post, Parker wrote that her lifelong love Dewey was “One of the strongest men I’ve ever known.”
Words Myron would want Indian Country to hear, “Remember who we are”
Parker said that if he could leave thoughts on his legacy, Dewey would want Indian Country to remember several important messages.
“With Digital Smoke Signals, he left us messages. If you listen and pay attention, he wants us to live through Indigenous eyes, the love of the land, the love of our people. He would want us to remember who we are and where we come from. He wants us to tell the truth. Colonization has really hurt people,” said Parker.
“He would want us to remember who we are when we were born and remember that spiritual, emotional, to love one another and be strong for each other, put down hard words and any anger we may have and learn forgiveness,” she said.
Dewey is survived by his three children Joey, Taylor and Wetuah and Parker as well as other extended family members.
Funeral arrangements will be posted as they become available.