The Vision of Vine Deloria, Jr.

OLYMPIA (November 22, 2005) — My brother, Vine Deloria, Jr., of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, passed away on November 13, joining the likes of Joe DeLaCruz of the Quinault and Dutch Kinley of the Lummi as well as Joseph of the Nez Perce and Crazy Horse of the Lakota Sioux at the Great Council Fire. I will miss him deeply, and always be grateful for the brightness he contributed to the world.

Vine was a rock, a steady hand in the struggle for justice. He was a man of great vision and spirit who understood the ongoing need to value Indian legacies in both tribal and non-tribal societies. He knew the wisdom of learning from our predecessors and comprehending ageless tribal traditions.

I will miss Vine’s intellect and his abiding determination to secure justice for the tribes. I will also miss his humor. He used it well, even in the face of seemingly hopeless adversity. He often called me Billy Jack as he teased me about being thrown into jail so often during the protest days of the 1960’s. We fought many battles together, from the grassy banks of the Nisqually River to the marbled halls of Washington D.C. We shared hundreds of podiums and thousands of thoughts and dreams. I credit him for instilling focus, leadership and direction to the ongoing struggles of the tribes.

Vine’s ability to inspire unity, at all levels, was historic. In 1964, he was called on to rebuild the National Congress of American Indians. As NCAI Executive Director he restored financial and managerial stability and rescued the organization from insolvency and internal differences. Through his writing and speeches he became a leading voice against tribal termination and for reform of federal Indian policy. He laid the groundwork for the federal policy of tribal self-determination that emerged in the late 1960’s and the 1970 Nixon Statement on Indian Self-Determination. This marked a major turning point in federal Indian policy that continues to benefit both tribal and non-tribal communities today.

In the tumultuous year of 1969, as we fought so hard to assert our generally neglected rights, Vine published “Custer Died for Your Sins.” It was possibly the most influential book ever written on federal Indian policy and, in my book, it and other Vine writings, words and actions, distinguished him as the tribal version of Ghandi or Martin Luther King. He reminded us that “ideological leverage is always superior to violence…it is vitally important that the Indian people pick the intellectual arena as the one in which to wage war.” A few years after he wrote this, Judge George Boldt reaffirmed the validity of the treaties in the U.S. v. Washington decision. Vine should be remembered for his giant contribution to paving the way for that far-reaching decision.

Earlier this year, I had the honor of seeing Vine receive the American Indian Visionary Award at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Never has such an honor been so richly deserved. More recently, we have been working together on a treaty exhibit for the National Museum of the American Indian. His hope was that this exhibit will make further inroads toward a dream he always supported and worked toward—education of the American public about the true history of the tribes.

Through this and other ongoing efforts, and for the rest of my days, I will do all I can to help keep the fire of Vine Deloria Jr.’s vision burning bright, and look forward to the day when we will again sit together at our ancestral council fire.

Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.