In Honor of Vine Deloria, Jr. (1933-2005)
The great indigenous visionary, philosopher, author and activist Vine Deloria, Jr. passed over to join his ancestors on November 13, 2005.
Vine Victor Deloria Jr. was born in 1933 in Martin, South Dakota. He obtained a Master of Theology degree from the Lutheran School of Theology in Rock Island, Illinois in 1963 and a J.D. from the University of Colorado in 1970.
He was one of the most outspoken figures in Native American Affairs. His works promote Native American cultural nationalism and a greater understanding of Native American history and philosophy.
Our thoughts and prayers go to his wife, Barbara, to his children and his other relatives. The passing of Vine creates a huge intellectual and analytical void in the native and non-native worlds. He will be greatly missed.
It is appropriate to reflect on the meaning of Vine’s contibutions to indigenous peoples’ resistance, and to reflect on our responsibilities to maintain and to advance the lessons that Vine gave to us.
It is safe to say that without the example provided by the writing and the thinking of Vine Deloria, Jr., there likely would have been no American Indian Movement, there would be no international indigenous peoples’ movement as it exists today, and there would be little hope for the future of indigenous peoples in the Americas.
Vine Deloria, Jr. was a true revolutionary when he wrote “Custer Died for Your Sins” in 1969, the first of his scores of books and scholarly articles.
Just a partial list of Vine Deloria Jr.’s important books includes:
Aggressions of civilization : federal Indian policy since the 1880s
He also recorded the Reminiscences of Vine V. Deloria, Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, an Oral History given to the New York Times oral history program,
American Indian oral history research project. Part II ; no. 82.
Vine Deloria, Jr won the Wordcraft Circle Writer of the Year (Prose – Personal and Critical Essays) award in 1999 for Spirit and Reason.
He had the courage and the vision to challenge the dominating society at its core. He
was unapologetic in confronting the racism of U.S.law and policy,
and he was prophetic in challenging young indigenous activists to
hone their strategies.
We will write much more about Vine in the upcoming days. He was our
elder statesman and mentor. For now, we will share this passage
from “Custer Died For Your Sins,” as a reminder of our
responsibilities, and to ensure that we are more deliberate and
strategic in our resistance.
“Ideological leverage is always superior to violence….The problems
of Indians have always been ideological rather than social,
political or economic….It is vitally important that the Indian
people pick the intellectual arena as the one in which to wage war.
Past events have shown that the Indian people have always been
fooled by the intentions of the white man. Always we have discussed
irrelevant issues while he has taken our land. Never have we taken
the time to examine the premises upon which he operates so that we
could manipulate him as he has us.”
— “Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto,” (1969) pp.251-
and this relevent passage regarding the example of the great Oglala
Lakota leader Tashunka Witko (Crazy Horse):
“Crazy Horse never drafted anyone to follow him. People recognized
that what Crazy Horse did was for the best and was for the people.
Crazy Horse never had his name on the stationery. He never had
business cards. He never received a per diem. *** Until we can once
again produce people like Crazy Horse all the money and help in the
world will not save us. It is up to us to write the [next] chapter
of the American Indian upon this continent.”
For many of us, Vine was a contemporary Crazy Horse. Perhaps we
squandered his time with us. We took him for granted, and assumed
that he would always be with us. Now, the question is, not only will
we produce more Crazy Horses, but will we produce more Vine Deloria,
Vine, we will miss you, but we will continue your work toward freedom for native peoples everywhere.