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Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Maxine Racehorse Edmo “was the strongest woman you could ever ask to be the matriarch of your family,” said her grandson, Gaylen Edmo.

Maxine's grandfather was Chief Racehorse, who fought in the war of 1878, and is known for being the defendant in a case on hunting rights that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, Gaylen said at her services on Saturday. He said some of the chief’s spirit lived on in Maxine.

Maxine's daughter, Lorraine Edmo, described her mother as a "real kind and gentle person who wasn't afraid to also speak up and advocate for Indian people.”

“She would go in as a team sometimes with other Indian educators and, and go to the Hill and testify and advocate for Indian people nationwide,” Lorraine said. The team included Rick St. Germaine, Lac Courte Oreilles; Patricia Locke, Standing Rock Sioux; Lorena Cook, Red Lake Band of Chippewa; Lorraine Misiaszek, Colville. All of them took turns advocating for educational needs for Native people, she said.

Maxine Racehorse Edmo of Fort Hall, Idaho, was born May 4, 1929. She died Sept. 17 from multiple organ failure at the age of 91 surrounded by her family. She was a Shoshone-Bannock citizen.

She led the fight in education and became known for it in leadership roles in local, state, regional and national committees.

She testified before congressional committees, and before the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs. President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education in 1976.

In 1985, she testified before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee for Interior and Related Agencies urging Congress to increase funding.

“These agreements and treaties were made before states became states,” she said. “Federal involvement evolved historically from the unique legal and moral duty which the United States owes Indian tribes. This responsibility exists and must continue.”

Shoshone-Bannock elder Maxine Edmo passed away Sept. 17, 2020 at the age of 91 (Photo by Lori Ann Edmo)

Maxine spoke up for the Bannocks in any forum, said her granddaughter LeeAnn Dixey at the services.

“She really loved it when I took her to Yellowstone last year. And she was so upset with the guy at West Yellowstone. And she told him, ‘Where's the books about Bannocks? This is our homeland. Why isn't there books about Bannocks?’”

He apologized and said, “I don’t know.”

“She goes, ‘You have nothing about the Bannocks in here ... Did you know that Bannocks lived here? Our people are still here … ’ She really barked at him,” Dixey said. “The guy didn't even know what she was talking about. He had no clue. So she gave him a history lesson right then and there.”

Maxine also educated others on the ways the past still negatively affects Native people.

She cited the taking of lands and setting of reservation boundaries, and the drawing of legislative district boundaries to keep Native people as a “minority” (a term she said should be replaced with “original inhabitants of the state”).

Prejudice existed in the public schools that Native students attended, her family stated in her obituary. As chairperson of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Education Committee from 1969 to 1974, Maxine dealt with school administrators on how Native students were treated. She once said, “School district lines are drawn for all the schools in such a manner that the control of the school board is non-Indian.”

She also believed census counts were low and didn’t reflect the tribe’s true numbers, which reduced funding for the reservation. The decennial census also affects how school district boundaries are drawn.

Lorraine said her mother advocated for the tribal school on the Fort Hall Reservation for 20 years and secured funding for it. This led to the Shoshone Bannock Jr./Sr. High School opening in 1996.

Pictured: Shoshone-Bannock Junior/Senior High School in Fort Hall.

She had no problem in holding Idaho accountable.

Maxine called on the state to step up and fill gaps, to create curriculum relevant to Indian students, and to increase funding for scholarships and teacher training. She said schools need to teach the history of Native Americans, and public schools should give students credits for knowing their Native language.

She held several positions at the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, including posts in the language and cultural preservation department, on the land use policy commission and tribal tax commission. She was also chairperson of the tribal health, education, and welfare committee for years.

She was on the board of directors for the Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy, which opened in August 2013 to the Pocatello and Blackfoot school districts and the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Academy officials say Shoshone-Bannock values and culture are the “very heart and soul of the school,” where children are immersed in their Native language.

Maxine was a translator and taught the Bannock language. She illustrated children’s books of Bannock stories. She served on the federal Library Board, and on the Advisory Council for Indian Health Services, which awards approximately 400 scholarships to American Indian students annually.

She served on Idaho area school boards and committees. She served on a Bureau of Indian Affairs Task Force on rules and regulations for BIA schools and school boards. She worked for or promoted the Johnson-O’Malley Program, Indian School Equalization Program, and Indian colleges. 

The community recognized her efforts over the years.

In 2011, the Shoshone Bannock School District named the Maxine Racehorse Edmo Athletic Field in her honor as an individual who made great contributions to her community.

The Idaho State Historical Society presented Edmo with its Esto Perpetua award in 2016. Maxine will be featured in a “Trailblazing Women of Idaho” exhibit for the historical society that will soon be opening, her family stated.

On August 6, 2020 the tribe honored her and a handful of other Bannock language teachers in a ceremony at the tribe’s annual Bannock Gathering held at the Sho-Ban High School on the Fort Hall Reservation in Pocatello, Idaho.

Her family said Maxine takes her memories, the ties to the land, to the buffalo, and to the ancestors with her. “But they live on in us,” said her grandson Gaylen Edmo.

“All that stays here with us. All of the values that she taught us: family, strength, understanding, forgiveness, undying support,” Gaylen said. “Her challenge to us is to continue to live by those, to have the integrity to not just speak of it, but to live with it because that was really her message.”

He said she told him the Bannock were warriors and hunters. Warriors fight because they love their people. And hunters are in touch with the land and “our brothers the animals.”

“Next time you go to the South Fork, or next time you go to Yosemite ... everywhere our ancestors walked and where she walked her path, sit next to the water and enjoy it. Listen to it, listen to the water run,” Gaylen said. “And you know what? You're going to hear Grandma.”

Maxine was preceded in death by her husband Kesley Edmo, a former Shoshone-Bannock tribal chairman who worked to protect treaty and water rights. They were married for more than 50 years and raised 11 children and three grandchildren.

Survivors include Leo Edmo, Kesley (Lynda Lee) Edmo Jr., Blaine J. Edmo, Wesley (Nancy Grant) Edmo and Gary (Stub) Edmo; her daughters: Lorraine (Jerry Cordova) Edmo, Louise (Clyde Sr.) Dixey and Lori Edmo; a sister Velda (Fred Auck) Racehorse and a brother Everett Satellite Weiser. She raised three grandchildren: Eugene Edmo, Rebecca Ellsworth and Casey Ellsworth. She has 23 grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren and 10 great, great grandchildren.

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Joaqlin Estus is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today. Based in Anchorage, she’s a longtime Alaska journalist.