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2018-02-08 / Voices

Remembering Larry Red Shirt


Today is my older brother Larry Red Shirt’s birthday. He attended Red Cloud Indian School when it was called Holy Rosary Mission and was boarding school at the high school level. Larry attended the government boarding school in Pine Ridge in the 1970’s but he had trouble with bullying. He even tried being a day student there but finally giving up and going to Holy Rosary.

He graduated with honors, being the salutatorian in his graduating year at Holy Rosary. He played football and was the captain of the team the year he finished and married a classmate who graduated with him. He then attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Larry was one of first in our family to attend college.

This was a time, a decade earlier, when our oldest siblings were thought, by the federal government, to be capable of attending vocational schools only. Many of them were sent to Chicago, Oakland, and other urban areas for vocational training. They were not encouraged to reach for anything higher than to be a welder or a secretary even though they were just as capable of attending a university. Our oldest siblings did attend those places: one trained as a welder and the other with secretarial skills.

What most people see when they look at Pine Ridge today is poverty. We grew up not knowing we were poor. Larry proved that.

What he knew was that any opportunity that came along had to be taken. Our single mother taught us that, so we all learned to work as field hands, at meat packing plants, as construction workers, motel maid, anything that came along. That was when Lakota people were hired without a second thought.

He grew up in a time when he had friends on both sides of the Wounded Knee occupation. Although he felt he never fit into the world where Lakota was not spoken.

In his last years, people that supported his work at the United Nations (UN) for Lakota Treaty Rights included the Quakers and their work at the UN; Four Directions Council based in Canada. People who knew the importance of American Indian or Native American treaty rights at the international level. Larry was one of the first Lakota leaders to encourage awareness of our rights at the UN.

Like many Lakota, he died young, in his travels he became sick that may have affected his immune system along with the hard alcohol he learned to drink. I remember him today: wiksuye. Something we all need to do more often. To remember our relatives who have passed on.

He influenced me deeply: I served as the Chairperson for the decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples through Four Directions Council at the UN. I have never forgotten that vote of confidence in me and the Lakota people. We need this year and every year to remind the world that we are still here. Many of us grew up looking out our sacred homelands, the he sapa, that we cannot have access to, still in 2018. In remembering his work, I am reminded to continue it.

Delphine Red Shirt:

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