BIOGRAPHY of DUANE T. BIRD BEAR
Knife Clan, Mandan-Hidatsa
Duane was born in Dickinson, North Dakota. All of the fertile, sheltered bottomlands, where the Hidatsa Tribe had their homes, farms and woodlands, their burial grounds, and their sacred places, were flooded by the Garrison Dam in 1954, including Duane’s home in Independence. See Exhibits:
for information on the Garrison Dam and the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara). As Duane would write in 1969 about the Crow Creek Reservation, which was similarly flooded: “Surveyors surveyed, decision makers decided, the builders built, and waters rose…”
At the time, the Hidatsa Tribe tried to resist. Chairman George Gillette was forced to accede: "Our treaty of Fort Laramie and our constitution are being torn to shreds by this [forced] contract." There is a photo of Chairman Gillette, entirely surrounded by stone-faced white bureaucrats, in which he is holding his glasses, weeping and wiping his eyes, his face wrenched in pain, at the signing of the document which would flood 156,000 acres of the Hidatsa homeland. (Exhibit A-1, p.7.) In belated hearings held in 1986, thirty years after the area was flooded by the Garrison Dam, a Hidatsa Tribal member, Cora Baker testified: "We had no choice, just like a gopher, you know. When they pour water in your house, you better get out or drown. It was very hard, leaving the place." Another Tribal member, Myra Snow testified "Some of the old Indians didn't want to move. They just wanted to go with the water and get drowned."
Thereafter, Duane’s family moved to their allotment in Mandaree, North Dakota on Fort Berthold Reservation. Though severely injured in a car accident as a child in which he lost the vision in his left eye and suffered a fractured skull requiring numerous surgeries to repair, Duane endured. In playing basketball, he often fouled players who became very angry. His fouls weren’t deliberate, but due to his lack of vision. Yet he never gave an inch by telling anyone of his impairment. He just played on.
Duane attended the Mandaree School (Exhibit C) before transferring to Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire (Class of 1967) (Exhibit D). He excelled in academics and cross-country. He was a founding member in 1968 of the Organization of Native American Students (“ONAS”), sponsored by United Scholarship Service (“USS”). Tillie Walker, also a fellow Tribal member, was USS’ Executive Director.
Duane served as a tutor for American Indian high school students in the Upward Bound Summer Program (Exhibit E-1) before entering Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire where he received his bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. His art was modern and contemporary – colorful, shaped, geometrical canvasses. He loved to draw objects requiring precision and depth, such as commercial plumbing pipes.
He was the leader in (1) convincing Dartmouth College to end the use of the team name, The Indians, and their team mascot, a non-Indian dressed as an Indian on horseback; (2) starting the student group, Native Americans at Dartmouth (“NAD”); and (3) lobbying for a Native American Program at Dartmouth. He was wholly undeterred by the criticism of those who demanded the name and mascot remain. See Exhibit F. This criticism still continues today as does the fervent effort to return to the Indians team name and use of the mascot. The Dartmouth Review Store sells ‘Indian ties and Indian canes’ that are carried by students at graduation. The Indian student population went from three when Duane started as a freshman to over 700 (from 1970 to today), representing over 200 Tribes.
He served as a mentor and tutor to American Indian high school students in the A Better Chance (“ABC”) Program in White River Junction, New Hampshire; Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire; and the Dartmouth College Summer Program (Exhibit G). He convinced Dartmouth to include Indian students in their ABC program.
Duane enjoyed chess, skiing, contact Frisbee, bowling and golf. He was in ROTC his freshman year. He attended Outward Bound in Maine where he learned to sail. Again, in a serious car accident while at Dartmouth, he suffered a fractured arm and neck.
Continuing on, under the leadership of Tillie Walker, he participated in the Poor People’s Campaign, Washington, DC, May 1968, meeting with Congressman Carl Albert (D-OK) and Senator Udall to present American Indian concerns regarding poverty. (Exhibit H)
His determination served him well in the take-over of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) office in Littleton, Colorado, challenging employment discrimination against Indians by the BIA, which resulted in the successful case of Freeman v. Morton. (Exhibits I-1 and I-2.) He was arrested and acquitted in the take-over. Tillie Walker was again a leader in this effort. The media quoted Duane in March 1970: “What is at stake everywhere is local control of the community. This means schools, economic development, youth programs, adult vocational programs and special services. These should all be reviewed by the various Indian organizations, instead of just by BIA administrators. Do you realize that, in the top 35 administrative positions for BIA in Washington, all but a few are Anglos? These are people pulling down $18,000 to $24,000 a year to tell Indians how they should live their lives. These people have got to be from Indian communities – and we aren’t going to stand for it being otherwise, anymore.”
After graduating from Dartmouth, he worked briefly for the Office of Economic Opportunity in New Town, North Dakota (Exhibit J) and as a college American Indian student adviser at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota (Exhibit K). He then worked for USS in Denver meeting with college groups and providing support for student – initiated programs, including Indian Studies and serving as a Robert F. Kennedy Fellow (Exhibits L-1 and L-2). He advocated for tribal control of Indian education: “I think that at this time there is a great social pressure to allow ethnic minority groups whose customs, values, and traditions are yet visible to develop autonomously… A good case can be made, I am sure, for an ethnic minority which at times has faced death solely because of its traditions, religion and way of life: the American Indian… [T]he Crow Creek Sioux should be dealt with as a tribe. They must be treated as one people, united in their belief that their traditional way of life is, ultimately, what they choose to continue. To this end, they need their own school which primarily serves the people of the Crow Creek Reservation.”
He entered the American Indian Law Center Pre-Law Summer Institute, University of New Mexico Law School, Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he won the Moot Court competition (Exhibit M). He attended the University of Denver (Juris Doctorate, 1978) (Exhibit N) and the University of New Mexico Law Schools (Exhibit O).
Duane’s concern for tribal autonomy and sovereignty encompassed many areas and his ideas were advanced for the time. In 1978 while at UNM Law School, he co-wrote a law review article with Jeff Taylor - State Jurisdiction to Adjudicate Indian Reserved Water Rights. They favored federal jurisdiction. He argued that Indian rights are qualitatively different from other reserved rights in that they protect a people and that they are private, instead of public, rights. Further, these rights are impliedly held in trust for the Indians by the federal government. The longstanding policy that Indians should be free of state jurisdiction except in limited circumstances, existed precisely because of the historic power struggle between tribes and states. In such a context, state court neutrality is reasonably questioned. “This policy … stems from the long standing power struggle between tribes and states – the states jealousy of Indian tribal sovereignty and the often vehement opposition of tribes to state jurisdiction over their persons and property.”
His advocacy for Indian self-determination was reflected in his various articles on (1) Mineral Resource Development on Tribal Land; and (2) Tribal Jurisdiction Over Non-Indians.
In Tribal Jurisdiction Over Non-Indians, written while at DU Law School, cited by the National American Indian Court Judges Association Long Range Planning Study in Indian Courts and the Future in 1978, Duane stated the following: “Without fear of much contradiction, it can be argued that the Federal policy toward tribes remains about the same today as it did one hundred years ago, i.e., the willingness and vigor on the part of the federal government to the protection of tribal property interests continues to be conditioned by other pressures so familiar to students of the processes attendant to westward expansion.
The formal reaffirmation of tribal inherent sovereignty requires tribes – to avoid political extinction – to exercise to the fullest measure possible a degree of interest in self-government in order not only to assure economic survival, but ultimately, the maintenance of an identifiable tribal universe… Federal policy toward Indian tribes is designed to encourage the strengthening of tribal institutions. [This can occur] only by the expanded exercise of tribal regulatory powers accompanied by an expanded jurisdictional base for the tribal judiciary…”
Duane was the major contributor in formulating a Model Tribal Environmental Code with John Echo Hawk in 1980 (Exhibit P), funded by the Administration for Native Americans, which covered air and water pollution, waste management, underground solid waste, radiation and noise control. Duane’s introduction states as follows: “The decade of the 1980s may well be a period of extensive development of natural resources on many Indian reservations. Economic benefits for Indian tribes, employment opportunities for individual tribal members, and other incentives must be weighed against the attendant costs of the disruption of often-fragile eco- systems within reservation areas. Without proper management, dramatic increases in the number of pollution sources within reservations both in terms of the direct impact from mining, drilling and electrical generation as well as from the secondary impacts associated with sudden population growth and shifts, will outstrip the capacity of the earth, the air, and the water to mitigate the effects of artificially induced pollution. Decisions whether to develop reservation resources of coal, oil and gas, uranium, etc. and at what pace are rightfully, we believe, decisions for the tribes, and the people comprising the tribes, to make. Written history of the western tradition of using technologically-advanced processes to maximize energy development is replete with instances of large- scale devastation of natural resources. Only in recent times has attention focused on building in safeguards into the development process designed primarily to protect human health.”
Duane’s oratory skills were relied on many times – before Congress and the media. He testified on Indian education, natural resource development and labor policy. He is quoted in various literary material. (Exhibit Q).
When his son, Aaron, was in first grade, Aaron’s teacher was physically abusive to children in her class. Knowing Aaron had to be transferred out, his wife turned to Duane for his diplomacy. They met with the Principal. Duane explained that while there were children that needed this form of discipline, Aaron didn’t. Duane and his wife were very committed to their children’s education. Duane was at DU Law School after graduating from Dartmouth. His wife had attended Sarah Lawrence College. While transfers were frowned upon, the next day Aaron had a new teacher.
He spent 26 years working for the federal government which included Agency Superintendent for five BIA agencies: Eastern Navajo, Crown Point, NM; Northern Cheyenne, Rocky Boy and Crow Agency, Montana; and the Spokane Agency in Washington (Exhibit R). He was the Division Chief for Tribal Services at the BIA headquarters in Washington, DC for five years. He also worked for the Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8, Denver, Colorado. He chose a career in the BIA, the very organization which he publicly had protested against and denounced as “racist.”
While in Crownpoint, he let the Navajo community know that “if they knew of any BIA employee that was not doing their job or working with them, they needed to let him know. He wanted to make everything work for the Navajo people.”
For the Navajos, “in what was described as a historic occasion, a proclamation issued by the BIA Eastern Navajo Agency Supervisor Duane Bird Bear to the Mariano Lake Community reaffirming the importance of the Treaty of 1868 was delivered via ‘Pony Express” from Crownpoint, New Mexico.”
He taught several college classes in art and tribal issues (Exhibit S). His love of Indian art was visible in his large collection of katsinas, jewelry and textiles. His favorite birthday food was beef tongue.
Duane died at the age of fifty-nine (Exhibit T). Following his death, the community of Crownpoint expressed their sorrow at his passing. He was transported home to Mandaree, where his clan relatives undertook the responsibility of seeing him on his way. Amidst an array of star quilts and Pendleton blankets, he was sent on his continuing journey in a traditional Mandan-Hidatsa burial ceremony on the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation, Fort Berthold Reservation, Mandaree, North Dakota, by his family, clan relatives and community members. His granddaughter, Callan, was worried about him being cold. She was assured though that he was being taken well care of and the brilliant red Pendleton blanket he was wrapped in would keep him warm.
Copyright 2009 Aaron Bird Bear and Carol Harvey