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The last Plains Indian war chief still fights for his home, his people and their way of life

By Steven Law

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Dec. 6 2012 1:12 p.m. MST

Many of the Crow tribe saw the preservation of their way of life as a battle and they were honored to have a legitimate war chief, a man proven on the battlefield, as the leader of this fight.

Medicine Crow, having grown up with one foot on the reservation and one foot in the white man’s world, and having succeeded there, was uniquely positioned to help his people move forward, says Herman Viola, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian, who has worked closely with Medicine Crow preserving Crow history. “Many Crow Indians didn’t want their children to be educated because they were afraid they would lose their traditional Crow values. Much of what Medicine Crow did for his people was just being a good role model.”

As tribal spokesman he gave hundreds of speeches and lectures — some of them to U.S. government officials championing the needs of his people. Other speeches were to his own people describing to them their glorious past as something to be proud of.

Medicine Crow was the Crow tribal historian for more than 50 years, writing what Viola calls “some of the most influential works about Indian history and culture. He realized early on he needed to preserve and pass on this information.” He has written six books documenting, and preserving, a large section of Crow history.

He has also gathered numerous oral histories from older generations, single handedly preserving a large section of Crow history and stories that otherwise would have been lost forever.

Later in his life, Medicine Crow began being officially recognized for his many life contributions. President Barack Obama awarded Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom — America’s highest civilian award — for his contributions as historian, author, anthropologist, veteran and the last living Plains Indian war chief. He also was awarded the Bronze Star for his acts of heroism on the battlefield during World War II. In 2008, France awarded him the Legion d’honneur, in recognition of the time he traversed the mine field while under enemy fire to retrieve the explosives needed to blow up the German bunkers on the Siegfried Line.

Throughout his long, illustrious life, Medicine Crow has taken many forays into the white man’s world, but he has always returned to his home at the heart of the Crow Reservation in Lodge Grass, where, like the soldier and war chief that he is, he continues his fight to protect his home, his people and their way of life.

Steven Law most often writes science stories for KSL.com. If you'd like to see some of them go to www.curiosity101.com.

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