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Vine Deloria, Jr.



Standing Rock Lakota Sioux


March 26, 1933—November 13, 2005

Known For:

Most mportant Native American intellectual, “father” of Native American studies, prolific writer, Native American activist.


Iowa State University, B.A.; Augustana Lutheran School of Theology, M.A.; University of Colorado School of Law, J.D.


Professor of Political Science, University of Colorado Boulder; Professor, University of Arizona School of Law.


Few American Indian leaders have had the impact on Indian country as Vine Deloria, Jr. He authored more than 20 books and received numerous accolades and awards including the Wallace Stegner Award from the Center of the American West, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of America, and the Wordcraft Circle Writer of the Year Award. Time magazine once called him one of the 10 most influential intellectuals of the 20th century.

Books (Partial List):

"Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto," 1969
"We Talk You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf,"1970
"God Is Red: A Native View of Religion," 1973
"Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: an Indian Declaration of Independence," 1974
"The Metaphysics of Modern Existence," 1979
"American Indians, American Justice," 1983, with Clifford Lytle.
"The Nations Within: the Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty," 1984, with Clifford Lytle.
"Power and Place: Indian Education in America," 2001
"The World We Used to Live in: Remembering the Powers of the Medicine Men," 2006


Vine Deloria was born to a family with a long history of spiritual and religious leaders going back to at least the early 1800's. His great-grandfather, a Yanktonai medicine man named Saswe born in 1816, was known for a vision that foretold the future of his family and was also a signer of the Yankton Treaty of 1858. Saswe and his descendents would later adopt Christianity as Episcopalians. Vine Deloria's father, Vine Deloria, Sr., was a graduate of the Episcopal General Theological Seminary. Although born in Martin, South Dakota near the Pine Ridge Reservation, Vine, Jr. would enroll his family at Standing Rock.

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1950's Vine Deloria, Jr. went back to school and earned his degrees, never finishing seminary. By the time the 1960's Indian cultural renaissance came into full swing (influenced in large part by Vine himself) he had served a four-year term as president of the National Congress of American Indians. He finished his law degree in 1970 after writing his first book, the landmark "Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto." He took his first teaching job at Western Washington University in the College of Ethnic Studies.

It was the era of Indian Termination and as president of NCAI Vine had led the charge to repudiate the policy which was having devastating consequences throughout Indian country. 152 tribes would eventually be terminated and would lose their rights to healthcare, education, timber and other resources, and their lands. He would be instrumental in blocking the termination of more tribes (most notably the Colville reservation in Washington State) and fought for the protection of Indian hunting and fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest.

Deloria was an outspoken critic when it came to the non-native appropriation of Native American culture and anti-Indian stereotypes. He publicly debunked the myth of Frank Hopkins when the Disney movie "Hidalgo" was released, and exposed the ethnic fraud of writer Jamake Highwater. In 2000 he also denounced Shepherd Kretsch's book "The Ecological Indian" as racist and anti-Indian claiming that it was poorly researched.

Vine Deloria passed away in 2005 after an aortal aneurysm at the age of 72, survived by his wife of 47 years, Barbara, and three children.

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