Deloria’s Vision Lives, Can Still Ignite Fires

Feb 15th, 2006 | By | Category: 17-3: Heroes of Today
By Gerald E. Gipp, Ph.D.

GERALD E. GIPPAs this issue of Tribal College Journal was being prepared, the topic of contemporary American Indian heroes was on many people’s minds. Vine Deloria, Jr., the hero icon for the 20th century, passed on Nov. 13, 2005. Vine Deloria was a member of my tribe, the Hunkpapa Lakota of Standing Rock Reservation, and descended from a long line of Deloria leaders. He was 73.

Deloria first captured the attention of the nation in 1969 when he wrote his book, Custer Died for Your Sins: an Indian Manifesto. In Indian Country, however, he was known before that time for his work as director of the National Congress of American Indians defending tribes from the termination assaults of the federal government.

On the day of his funeral, Vincent Carroll, a columnist for the Rocky Mountain News, questioned the adulation Deloria was receiving, saying in effect that he was a crackpot with crazy theories. We would remind the writer that science has never advanced without the work of people willing to challenge the dogma of the time — crackpots like Galileo and Copernicus.

Deloria’s books will contribute to political, legal, scientific, and other religious thought for generations to come. He also personally touched thousands of people as a public speaker and teacher. He taught at UCLA, the University of Arizona, and at the University of Colorado.

He believed strongly in the potential of the tribal college movement. (See TCJ, Vol. 5, N.2, and Vol. 11, N.2.) He helped design a series of traditional wisdom conferences with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society in the 1990s. The tribal elders carried centuries of knowledge of astronomy, geology, medicine, and oral literature. When they met with young scholars, fireworks ignited.

We will miss the gentle man and his sense of humor, but his vision lives.  Thanks, Vine, pilama yelo! (Contributions in his memory can be made to the American Indian College Fund, P.O. Box 172449, Denver, CO 80217-9797 or call 1-800 776-3863.)

I would like to draw readers’ attention to recent changes on our websites. At the AIHEC website, www.aihec.org, you can find an index of all the past articles in the 17-year history of the journal listed by subject, author, college, and subject. Access it through that site or through the journal website, www.tribalcollegejournal.org. The journal has listed job openings for several years. Now the journal also lists scholarships, internships, and fellowships. You also can make a donation on the TCJ website now.

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