The loss of any of our elders is tough, but this one is especially heartbreaking. As many news outlets across Indian Country have reported, the last surviving Crow war chief, Joseph Medicine Crow, has passed away. He was 102.
In this post from Matthew Brown with the Associated Press, he details Medicine Crow's early life.
“A member of the Crow Tribe's Whistling Water clan, Medicine Crow was raised by his grandparents in a log house in a rural area of the Crow Reservation near Lodge Grass, Montana.
His Crow name was “High Bird,” and he recalled listening as a child to stories about the Battle of Little Bighorn from those who were there, including his grandmother's brother, White Man Runs Him, a scout for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.
His grandfather, Yellowtail, raised Medicine Crow to be a warrior. The training began when Medicine Crow was just 6 or 7, with a punishing physical regimen that included running barefoot in the snow to toughen the boy's feet and spirit.
Medicine Crow in 1939 became the first of his tribe to receive a master's degree, in anthropology. He served for decades as a Crow historian, cataloging his people's nomadic history by collecting firsthand accounts of pre-reservation life from fellow tribal members.
“I always told people, when you meet Joe Medicine Crow, you're shaking hands with the 19th century,” said Herman Viola, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Indians.
In 2009, Medicine Crow was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
“Dr. Medicine Crow's life reflects not only the warrior spirit of the Crow people, but America's highest ideals.”
In a documentary from filmmaker Ken Burns, he recounts a story from World War II in which he encountered a German soldier.
Earlier today the White House released an official statement from the President on the passing of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow:
In Crow, you'd say Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow was a bacheitche – a good man. The first of his people to go to college and earn a Master's, he wore war paint beneath his uniform and an eagle feather beneath his helmet during World War II. His bravery in battle earned him the Bronze Star from America, the Legion d'honneur from France, and in 2009, I was proud to honor him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Yet I suspect his greatest honor was one he earned from his people: the title of war chief – the last Crow to hold that distinction.
Dr. Medicine Crow dedicated much of his life to sharing the stories of his culture and his people. And in doing so, he helped shape a fuller history of America for us all. Michelle and I honor 102 years of a life well lived, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the entire Crow Nation.