Vine Deloria Jr.
Vine Victor Deloria Jr.
March 26, 1933
|Died||November 13, 2005 (aged 72)|
|Nationality||Standing Rock Sioux, American|
Vine Victor Deloria Jr. (March 26, 1933 - November 13, 2005, Standing Rock Sioux) was an author, theologian, historian, and activist. He was widely known for his book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969), which helped attract national attention to Native American issues in the same year as the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement. From 1964 to 1967, he served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, increasing tribal membership from 19 to 156. Beginning in 1977, he was a board member of the National Museum of the American Indian, which now has buildings in both New York City and in Washington, DC, on the Mall.
Deloria began his academic career in 1970 at Western Washington State College at Bellingham, Washington. He became Professor of Political Science at the University of Arizona (1978-1990), where he established the first master's degree program in American Indian Studies in the United States. In 1990, Deloria began teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder. In 2000, he returned to Arizona and taught at the College of Law.
Vine Deloria Jr. was born in 1933, in Martin, South Dakota, near the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was the son of Barbara Sloat (née Eastburn) and Vine Victor Deloria Sr. (1901-1990). His father studied English and Christian theology and became an Episcopal archdeacon and missionary on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. His father transferred his and his children's tribal membership from the Yankton Sioux to Standing Rock. Vine Sr.'s sister Ella Deloria (1881-1971) was an anthropologist. Vine Jr.'s paternal grandfather was Tipi Sapa (Black Lodge), also known as the Rev. Philip Joseph Deloria, an Episcopal priest and a leader of the Yankton band of the Dakota Nation. His paternal grandmother was Mary Sully, daughter of Alfred Sully, a general in the American Civil War and Indian Wars, and his French-Yankton wife; and granddaughter of painter Thomas Sully.
Deloria was first educated at reservation schools, then graduated from Kent School in 1951. He graduated from Iowa State University in 1958 with a degree in general science. Deloria served in the United States Marines from 1954 through 1956.
Originally planning to be a minister like his father, Deloria in 1963 earned a theology degree from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, then located in Rock Island, Illinois. In the late 1960s, he returned to graduate study and earned a J.D. degree from University of Colorado Law School in 1970.
In 1964, Deloria was elected executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. During his three-year term, the organization went from bankruptcy to solvency, and membership increased from 19 to 156 tribes. Through the years, he was involved with many Native American organizations.
Beginning in 1977, he was selected as a board member of the National Museum of the American Indian, which established its first center at the former United States Custom House in New York City in lower Manhattan.
While teaching at Western Washington State College at Bellingham, Washington, Deloria advocated for the treaty fishing rights of local Native American tribes. He worked on the legal case that led to the historic Boldt Decision of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Judge Boldt's ruling in United States v. Washington (1974) validated Indian fishing rights in the state as continuing past the tribes' cession of millions of acres of land to the United States in the 1850s. Thereafter Native Americans had the right to half the catch in fishing in the state, to take the fish from territory away from their reservations, and to manage the fisheries together with the state.
In 1969, Deloria published his first of more than twenty books, entitled Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. This book became one of Deloria's most famous works. In it, he addressed stereotypes of Indians and challenged white audiences to take a new look at the history of United States western expansion, noting its abuses of Native Americans. The book was released the year that students of the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement occupied Alcatraz Island to seek construction of an Indian cultural center, as well as attention in gaining justice on Indian issues, including recognition of tribal sovereignty. Other groups also gained momentum: the American Indian Movement was founded in 1968 among urban Indians in Minneapolis, and staged events to attract media and public attention for education about Indian issues.
Deloria's book helped draw attention to the Native American struggle. Focused on the Native American goal of sovereignty without political and social assimilation, the book stood as a hallmark of Native American Self-Determination at the time. The American Anthropological Association sponsored a panel in response to Custer Died for Your Sins. The book was reissued in 1988 with a new preface by the author, noting, "The Indian world has changed so substantially since the first publication of this book that some things contained in it seem new again."
Deloria wrote and edited many subsequent books and 200 articles, focusing on issues as they related to Native Americans, such as education and religion. In 1995, Deloria argued in his book Red Earth, White Lies that the Bering Strait Land Bridge never existed, and that, contrary to archaeological and anthropological evidence, the ancestors of the Native Americans had not migrated to the Americas over such a land bridge. Rather, he asserted that the Native Americans either originated in the Americas or reached them through transoceanic travel, as some of their creation stories suggested. Nicholas Peroff wrote that "Deloria has rarely missed a chance to argue that the realities of precontact American Indian experience and tradition cannot be recognized or understood within any conceptual framework built on the theories of modern science."
Deloria controversially rejected not only scientific understanding regarding the origins of indigenous peoples in the Americas, but also other aspects of the (pre)history of the Western Hemisphere that he thought contradicted Native American accounts. For example, Deloria's position on the age of certain geological formations, the length of time Native Americans have been in the Americas, and his belief that people coexisted with dinosaurs were strictly at odds with the empirical facts from a variety of academic disciplines.
Defending himself from the inevitable critiques, Deloria accused mainstream scientists of being incapable of independent thinking and hobbled by their reverence for orthodoxy. He wrote that scientists characteristically persecuted those like him who dared to advance unorthodox views. He argued that science was essentially a religion, with its own orthodoxy. Deloria was criticized for his embrace of literalist interpretations of American Indian traditional histories by anthropologist Bernard Ortiz de Montellano and English professor H. David Brumble. They argued that promoting views that were unsupported by scientific and physical evidence directly contributed to the proliferation of pseudoscience.
In 1970, Deloria took his first faculty position, teaching at the Western Washington University College of Ethnic Studies in Bellingham, Washington. As a visiting scholar, he taught at the Pacific School of Religion, the New School of Religion, and Colorado College. From 1972 to 1974 he also taught at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Deloria's first tenured position was as Professor of Political Science at the University of Arizona, which he held from 1978 to 1990. While at UA, Deloria established the first master's degree program in American Indian Studies in the United States. Such recognition of American Indian culture in existing institutions was one of the goals of the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement. Reflecting widespread change in academia and the larger culture, numerous American Indian studies programs, museums, and collections, and other institutions have been established since Deloria's first book was published.
At his death, Deloria was survived by his wife, Barbara, their children, Philip, Daniel, and Jeanne, and seven grandchildren.