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Red Lake spiritual leader Thomas Stillday dies

Red Lake spiritual leader Thomas Stillday dies

 

By Molly Miron

The Bemidji Pioneer

 

Article Last Updated: 10/15/2008 12:18:20 PM CDT

 

Red Lake spiritual leader Thomas Stillday Jr. died Tuesday at Indian Health Service Hospital in Red Lake.

 

“We lost Tommy J. this morning,” said Red Lake Chairman Floyd “Buck” Jourdain Jr. Tuesday. “I just can’t say what a loss he is to our community.”

 

Stillday, 74, of Ponemah, was a prominent member of the Red Lake Nation as Tribal Council member, Ponemah representative, School Board member, powwow dancer and singer, adviser to the Tribal Council and spiritual leader.

 

He was also a 12-year Army veteran and combat engineer in the Korean War, where he and other Anishinaabeg used Ojibwe like the famous Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. His Ojibwe name is Ozaawabiitang, which means Yellow Water.

 

Stillday was also the first American Indian chaplain, and the first non-Judeo/Christian spiritual leader, to serve as Minnesota State Senate Chaplain. He was elected unanimously by the Senate 67-0 on the first day it convened Jan. 7, 1997 for a two-year term.

 

“He was basically a Native American clergyman, and he was our chief spiritual adviser,” Jourdain said. “There are people who come from all over the world to seek advice from Thomas Stillday.”

 

“We lost one of our lead spiritual people here from Red Lake,” said tribal member Bill May. “It’s a sad day here in Red Lake. It just seems sad in the air. It’s a devastating loss to the whole community. Broader than the community, he was known to a great many people across Indian Country.”

 

Stillday was a mentor to many, especially the rising generation, Jourdain said. “He got them started and pointed in the right direction.”

 

Stillday taught respect, caring for one another and the power of prayer, Jourdain said. He said Stillday taught that every gathering should begin with acknowledgement of the Creator.

 

“On the very day he was to offer a prayer for our nation, he walked on,” said Red Lake Secretary Kathryn “Jody” Beaulieu.

 

“To Tommy J., all prayer was good,” Jourdain said.

 

“Thanks to the family for sharing him with so many people for all these years,” said Beaulieu. “He’s such a pillar of the community. Our hearts are heavy.”

 

As is customary on the second Tuesday of each month, the Tribal Council was called to order for a general meeting. Council members acknowledged the Red Lake Nation’s loss of Stillday and closed the meeting, Jourdain said.

 

“There will be no business today until we lay our elder and brother to rest,” Jourdain said.

 

Stillday’s traditional Indian service will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday at Ponemah Elementary School. A wake will begin at 7 pm. Thursday at the school and continue until the time of the service. Burial will be in the Family Burial Grounds in Ponemah with the assistance of Cease Family Funeral Home of Blackduck.

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