| Editors Note: The following autobiography
is a result of a conversation between Gerald One Feather and Tom Katus.
The concepts expressed are One Feathers. Katus assisted in arranging
and editing the stories, with One Feathers input and final approval.
I was born July 10, 1938, in the Pine Ridge Hospital, the oldest
child of Jackson Joe One Feather and Elva (Stinking
Bear) One Feather. There were four brothers in the family: Morris,
who was born in 1941, the twins Kelmar and Delmar who were born
in 1952, and myself. My father was born and raised in Kyle on the
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. After he married my mother, they
settled in Oglala in the Stinking Bear Tiospaye compound. I resided
there throughout my youth and later established my own home where
I married and had my children. I lived in a log home on the compound.
My mother lived in a small house in the compound and lived to be
88 years old when she died in 2002.
There have been three intertwining themes in my life: the spiritual,
the political and the academic. I have been fortunate to be selected
and elected as a leader in each of these fields.
My Fathers Generation
My father, Jackson One Feather, better known as Joe,
was born in 1915 and died in 1971. He attended the Bureau of Indian
Affairs boarding school in Genoa, Nebraska, and graduated from the
eighth grade. When the first tribal government council was established
in 1934 as mandated by the Indian Reorganization Act, my father
was elected a district representative from the Oglala Junior Sub-district.
He subsequently served for 23 years on the Oglala Sioux Tribe council
and also served as a tribal judge. He owned some cattle, but was
best known for his ability as an eyapahaya (announcer). He announced
at both traditional powwows and contemporary tribal events.
When Bobby Kennedy was campaigning for president in 1968, he
visited Calico Village near Oglala and met my father. In 1995, I
took a photo to U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy of our fathers when
they met in 1968, as I wanted to reestablish that cycle of friendship
that began in 1968. At that time, the national press was following
Bobby Kennedys campaign. He visited a very poor family in
a log cabin. When he came out of the cabin, he was crying about
the desperate conditions in which he saw the family. News of this
compassionate demonstration of emotion spread like wildfire throughout
the reservation. Kennedy won an overwhelming vote on Pine Ridge,
which helped him win the South Dakota primary, even though Hubert
Humphreywho was born in the statewas his major competitor.
South Dakota and California were the final presidential primaries
in June 1968. A Kennedy aide named Jeff Smith was coordinating get-out-the-vote
efforts on Pine Ridge. At about 9:00 PM., he received a telephone
call from the senator. Kennedy had just found out that hed
won the state and asked Jeff how he had done on Pine Ridge. Smith
replied, Well, Senator, the reservation is very rural so the
results are just starting to come in. However, Pine Ridge Village
voted 672-2 for you. There was a pause on the other end of
the line, and then in a deadpan tone Kennedy said, How in
the world did we lose two votes, Jeff? Two hours later, following
his victory speech in California, Kennedy was assassinated.
My Grandfather and Other Ancestors
My grandfather was Moses One Feather, also from Kyle. Like his
son, Moses was a famed eyapahaya. He died after a Fourth of July
celebration in Kyle. My father told me that after my grandfather
finished his announcing activities at the celebration, he got off
his horse and dropped dead.
My ancestors on my mothers side were medicine men. Charlie
Stinking Bear was my mothers father. His father, also named
Stinking Bear, married two sisters of Chief Standing Elk. The sisters
were Northern Cheyenne and also had some Yanktonai heritage. Stinking
Bear was a noted bear medicine man and used a bear paw in his healing
In the fall of 1956, a boyhood friend and neighbor, Calvin Jumping
Bull, came to my house and asked, Do you want to go to college?
Im driving to Dakota Wesleyan University to enroll.
I said, I dont have any money. Calvin responded,
Neither do I. Jump in. I had $20 on me, and we stopped
at Wanblee and picked up our friend Fred Mesteth who also protested
that he didnt have any money. Calvin also assured him, Dont
worry about it. Come along. By 9:00 PM that evening, we arrived
at the Dakota Wesleyan University dormitory. The counselor, Fred
Lopez, who was also the football coach, said we could stay overnight
in the dormitory and sort things out in the morning. When we got
up, he asked us, Do you guys play football? If you do, you
get free room and board. I had played football in high school
at Pine Ridge. I took him up on his offer and became a linebacker
on the universitys team.
That fall, George McGovern, formerly a professor at Dakota Wesleyan,
ran for the US Congress. Together, with another student named Sam
Dicks, we alternately drove McGovern all over the state. On election
eve, I drove him to a television station in Sioux Falls where he
made a final appeal. He had started campaigning with support from
only a third of potential voters, trailing incumbent Harold Louvre
in the polls. McGoverns door-to-door campaigning in virtually
every town in South Dakota gave him a squeaker win.
The next year, I transferred to the University of South Dakota
because I was given a research scholarship; the universitys
Government Research Bureau paid me $1 an hour. I was a political
Science major, and my adviser was Professor William O. Doc
used to tease Tom Brokaw that I met his wife Meredith before he
even knew her. She was in one of my classes. I subsequently met
Brokaw on campus. We went out for coffee a few times and became
friends. Throughout the years, we stayed in touch. He visited me
in South Dakota a few times when he was an NBC newsman, and
I visited him in Washington, DC when he was the Washington bureau
correspondent for NBC.
On June 24, 2001, I was honored when my friend Tom Brokaw returned
to South Dakota as a guest speaker at Oglala Lakota Colleges
commencement. Brokaw helped OLC launch the Gerald One Feather Faculty
Endowment Fund. He personally gave $25,000 to the Fund and encouraged
others to contribute. Today, that Fund is endowed at $1 million.
Encouraging others to contribute, Brokaw stated:
Although I have been gone from South Dakota for many years,
I remain spiritually and intellectually connected to my home state,
especially the many friends who elected to stay and make it a better
place. One of them, Gerald One Feather of the Pine Ridge reservation,
is a special hero of mine. We met as undergraduates at the University
of South Dakota, and weve stayed in touch through the years.
He has never given up on his mission of providing first-rate education
for the Oglala people. Meredith and I intend to support this worthy
effort, and I hope you will as well. I can assure you your efforts
will be well rewarded (Brokaw, 2001).
The first Gerald One Feather Faculty Chair is now occupied by
retired tribal judge Patrick Lee.
I was raised by spiritual parents, and both my grandfather and
father on my mothers side were medicine men. There was great
turmoil on the Pine Ridge reservation in the 1970s. One day, my
friend Amos Badheart Bull came by and picked me up. We drove to
a hill where we had previously prayed. We both saw a spirit on the
top of the hill. Amos said, You are supposed to go to him.
Ill stay in the car. I went to the hill and prayed to
the spirits to give me guidance on what could be done to help the
people. On the way down the hill, I kicked a bottle that was partially
buried in the soil. I picked it up and found it to be a sealed wine
bottle. Despite the fact that the seal was not broken, the bottle
was empty. I took this as a sign that I should convince the tribal
council to ban alcohol on the reservation. I brought this proposal
to the council. It was very controversial and by a one-vote margin,
the tribal council banned alcohol on the reservation, which has
stood for the past 30 years.
Later on that same year at a hill near Calico, I fasted and
prayed for four days. On the last day just before daybreak, four
figures appeared to me. One had a feather hanging from his arm.
He said he was Crazy Horse and that I should work to support the
return of the Black Hills to the people. The next figure had one
feather sticking straight up at the back of his head. He said, I
am Sitting Bull. You are here to help revive the rights of the Lakota
Nation. The third figure wore a headdress. This was Red War
Bonnet, who had the power to organize the tiospayes in the 1870s.
The fourth figure had a blanket around him. He said, I am
Matosnimna. I am the medicine man who was with Crazy Horse and Sitting
Bull and served as their surgeon general at the Battle of Greasy
Grass. I want you to help the traditional tiospaye communities to
Since that vision, I have attempted to carry out the wishes
of the spiritual leaders. I continue to support the return of the
Black Hills to the Lakota and believe that this will indeed occur.
I have fought for these rights, including representing our people
at the United Nations in Geneva.
I have tried to carry out Sitting Bulls directions by
reviving the traditional young womens ceremony and teenage
boys vision quest. Traditionally, these ceremonies were practiced
but were nearly lost. My wife Ingrid and I have been involved in
reestablishing these ceremonies for young people who, in puberty,
are transitioning from girls and boys to young women and men. We
have carried out these ceremonies for the past 13 years, and more
than 60 young women and 50 young men have participated in them.
We are hopeful these ceremonies will continue to be revived to help
bring back the Lakota Nation. If we lose these ceremonies, coupled
with the loss of our language, we will lose our culture. It is up
to the next generation to save us from this loss of culture.
I have also tried to carry out Matosninnas vision by attempting
to reestablish the Lakota elders traditional form of government
known as omniciye (forum). Together with Dr. Elgin Bad Wound, then
president of Oglala Lakota College, I coordinated a year-long forum
on the Lakota elders omniciye. Forty-two Lakota elders participated
in the forums over the course of a year. We had 531 participants
in the seven forums, and we also broadcast them over KILI Radio
to an estimated 184,891 listeners (One Feather and Bad Wound, 1992).
The report on this forum, which had been funded by the Northwest
Area Foundation, had sufficient impact to prompt the foundation
to award another $300,000 over five years in an attempt to implement
traditional government. As a result, there are now numerous Oglala
extended families practicing traditional tiospaye government on
1995, a group of elders came to me and told me that I had been selected
to be the staff keeper for 33 Lakota/Dakota/Nakota nations in Canada
and the U.S.A lifetime appointment, the staff keeper organizes a
meeting of traditional leaders every year, as well as a traditional
Sun Dance. Since my selection, these meetings have occurred annually,
alternately in Canada and the US When I asked the elders how I had
been selected, they responded, We had a sweat, and we asked
the spirits for guidance. They selected you.
We have just completed a four-year cycle of Sun Dances and will
start another cycle this next summer. In the past, any individual
who wanted to dance was welcome to participate in the ceremonies.
However, beginning this summer, we are reverting to the old custom
where each tiospaye elects dancers to represent the entire tiospaye.
Like my father before me, I ran for the Oglala Sioux Tribal
Council and won as a district representative from the Oglala Junior
District. That was in 1960. Subsequently, I spent 14 years in tribal
government as a councilman, a member of the executive committee,
as secretary, treasurer, and as the Fifth Member. In 1970, I was
elected tribal chairman at the age of 32. I was the youngest chairman
to ever be elected to the Oglala tribal government as established
under the Indian Reorganization Act.
I encouraged the tribe to take over its own police force from the
BIA. I helped establish the Oglala Sioux Tribal Public Safety Commission
and served as executive director for eight years. I helped found
the National Tribal Chairmans Association, served as a vice
president of the National Congress of American Indians, served on
the Board of the American Friends Service Committee, and served
on the South Dakota Indian Affairs Committee during the George S.
Mickelson and Walter Dale Miller administrations. In 1995, I was
honored to be selected as a Petra Foundation Fellow. Each year the
fellowship honors four individuals who are committed to resisting
intolerance, removing barriers to achievement, freeing the human
spirit and contributing significantly to the autonomy of individuals,
groups and communities (Hamilton, 1995).
Perhaps because of my early involvement in George McGoverns
campaign as one of his student drivers, and due to my election to
the chairmanship of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in 1970, I was elected
to the South Dakota Democratic Party to serve on the Democratic
National Committee. During meetings at the DNC, I met Terry Stanford,
who was then governorand later a US senatorof North
Carolina. He invited me to Duke University where I spent a week
interacting with both students and faculty, as well as the governor.
in the Tribal College Movement
Oglala Lakota College (OLC) was one of the first tribal colleges
in the United States. It was founded in March of 1971 while I was
still tribal chairman. Thomas Shortbull, current president of OLC,
recently reflected on my role in starting the college:
Mr. One Feather is one of the founding fathers of the college.
A true visionary who back in the early 1970s foresaw that for the
college to be successful, we would need to create a decentralized
approach to higher education. And that is why today we have college
centers in every district of this 5,000 square mile reservation.
Before the innovation of computerized communication, Gerald knew
that distance learning was a need. He understood this long before
the creation of the current distance learning technology that connects
our ten college centers with each other and with the world.
Mr. One Feather has been a lifetime advocate of higher education
for the Lakota people. Gerald and others felt that, for the reservation
to truly make progress, the tribe had to take control of its affairs
in all areas. Due to his vision, the college was created
and is thriving today
[He] currently serves as a member of
the elder advisory committee for Oglala Lakota College (Shortbull).
have continued to be active as an elder adviser to President Shortbull.
I am strongly encouraging him to establish a Lakota language institute
to be certain we retain and expand the Lakota language. From the
beginning, OLC has had a Lakota studies department. However, this
language institute would be more comprehensive and would build on
the Lakota Studies Departments work of Lakota word and curriculum
development. I feel it is imperative that we develop a Lakota K-12
curriculum and insist that it be taught in all our schools on the
reservations, and be available in urban settings as well.
Together with other tribal leaders, we started the college with
volunteer professors. Even though I was extremely busy as tribal
chairman, I believed so deeply in the college that I taught two
courses, American government and world history, the first year it
began. I served as chairman of the board at OLC for 10 years.
In the spring of 1972, I was defeated as tribal chairman in
my reelection attempt by Dick Wilson. The day after I left the tribal
chairmanship, I was offered a position at Black Hills State University.
Along with Professor Keith Jewett, I helped found the universitys
Indian Studies Department. We were able to secure a $100,000 allocation
from the South Dakota state legislature to start the Indian studies
program. I commuted from Oglala to the Spearfish campus (300 miles
round trip) three days a week and assisted in the development of
the department, including doing research, teaching, and recruiting
students. Prior to receiving accreditation from the Higher Learning
Commission, OLC college courses were accredited through Black Hills
State University. Today, there are approximately 200 Native students
at the university.
In 1973, I helped start the American Indian Higher Education
Consortium (AIHEC). At the time AIHEC was comprised of the first
six tribal colleges: Navajo Community College (later Diné
College) in Tsaile, Arizona; Lakota Higher Education Center (now
OLC) in Kyle, South Dakota; Sinte Gleska College (later Sinte Gleska
University) in Rosebud, South Dakota; Turtle Mountain Community
College in Belcourt, North Dakota; Standing Rock Community College
(now Sitting Bull College) in Fort Yates, North Dakota; and DQ University
in Davis, California.
the spring of 1973, I visited my friend Tom Katus who had taken
a position as a program officer with the Phelps Stokes Fund in New
York City. Together we visited the Ford Foundation and within 10
days secured a grant for $25,000 to launch AIHEC, even before it
was officially organized as a 501(c) 3. The Phelps Stokes Fund served
as fiscal agent for this grant, but it was totally administered
by the six colleges. We used the grant for a series of organizing
meetings. I served as the first chairman of AIHEC throughout its
first decade. Today, AIHEC has 37 tribal colleges and universities
throughout the United States, and one in Canada.
||(2001, June 21)
||Speech at Oglala Lakota College.
||One Feather, G., & Bad Wound, E.
||Lakota Elders Traditional Government Omniciye.
Oglala Lakota College, Kyle, SD.
||(1995, June 23)
|| Petra Fellow Says Hes Just Doing His Part,
Rapid City Journal, p. A8.
||Letter Reflecting on Tom Brokaws June 24,
2001 Oglala Lakota College Commencement Speech.