The grave of Chief Red Cloud | Sun-Times files
Updated: August 8, 2013 7:08AM
PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Oliver Red Cloud, who died Thursday, was a champion of Lakota culture, a defender of American Indian treaty rights and a descendant of one of the most important leaders in Native American history, friends and family members said.
Oliver Red Cloud died in a Denver hospital after a long-running illness, the Oglala Sioux Tribe announced. He was 93.
A former foreman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he had served as chief of the Sioux Nation since 1979, the Rapid City Journal reported. He was a fourth-generation descendent of Chief Red Cloud, who led several battles against the U.S. Army and also signed the 1868 Fort Laramie peace agreement with the United States.
Vanessa Red Cloud, one of Oliver Red Cloud’s 36 grandchildren, said her grandfather was an important part of his family, community and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
“Words cannot describe how this man has become a part of everyone’s life as a whole,” she said.
Steve Emery, Oliver Red Cloud’s nephew and a lawyer in Rapid City, said his uncle was a lifelong advocate for the Lakota culture.
“He was passionate about making sure the kids knew the Lakota ways and that they knew about the treaty — the 1868 treaty, the 1851 treaty — and the special relationship that exists between the United States and the Great Sioux Nation,” Emery said.
Oliver Red Cloud was chairman of the Black Hills Treaty Council, where he urged that the U.S. government adhere to those treaties, which guaranteed ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota. The U.S. Supreme Court awarded a monetary settlement to the Sioux tribes in 1980 to compensate for loss of land, but the tribes have refused to take the money because they argue the land must be returned.
Emery said Oliver Red Cloud took the fight for land to the world stage, serving as a delegate to the United Nations and traveling as a figurehead for the Lakota.
“He traveled to Japan and Europe, all to gather support so our treaty rights wouldn’t be forgotten,” Emery said.
Even though Oliver Red Cloud traveled around the world, he lived modestly on a family ranch a few miles west of Pine Ridge Village, his family said.
“My grandpa did not live a wealthy life,” said Amy Wilson, another of Red Cloud’s granddaughters. “He didn’t live above his people.”