Thursday, July 23, 2009


Curly Bear Wagner and Vicky Santana could not have seemed more different: Curly Bear like his nickname and Vicky a slender friendly woman. The two died within days of each other and Vicky’s funeral mass was the day after Curly Bear’s. Curly Bear’s foundation board had flown in to try to understand what to do without their guru and there were other bigshots in attendance. Things went differently at Vicky’s mass, though the ceremony was the same. Most people were local, though some of her friends flew in from Oklahoma where she had worked in a major Indian Law library for many years. There were more women and old people.

These two were part of a remarkable cohort of “boomers” who stuck together all through their years. Even when some of them were gone from the rez for decades, they never forgot their roots and came back again and again. Eloise Cobell is part of this group. Darrell Kipp is another one. Dorothy Still Smoking, Woody Kipp, Mary Margaret McKay, Mary Lynn Luken, Jackie Parsons -- there are quite a few, more than these, and they were mostly present in the last two days. They were able to interface with the larger world in quiet ways that local people, even Blackfeet, were simply not aware of -- except maybe when the newspaper reported on whether the US Government was going to cough up the trust fund millions they squandered instead of protecting. Each of these strong people chose a different field and became effective in it. Many of them are totally unknown to county, state or even federal officials. They work quietly. Except maybe Curly Bear, who was always being interviewed by the media, which was his job. They didn’t do a lot of shaking -- but they did a lot of moving. Outsiders rarely know more than the one person they happen to have encountered.

Vicky Santana’s parents met and married at the University of Chicago and she was born there. I hadn’t known that, but it gives me a special little link with her mother because of my sojourn there. People in Browning were sometimes puzzled by the way she thought, but there is a special approach to issues there, as President Obama knows, based on analysis and community consensus. Rita must have conveyed it to her daughter, though Vicky was educated by Catholics in Spokane and by law school in Oklahoma. Exasperatingly, she was probably seen by some as a nice little lady librarian, instead of the brainiac she really was, and by others as a solitary eccentric because they didn’t know she’d been married to an Edmo and was a pleased stepmother to his children.

In recent years she lived alone in a manufactured house on the main street of Browning and let pickups park in her yard. Next door were two tiny cabins and sometimes she went back to the one she grew up in because it was warm and familiar. Forget the white middle-class suburban markers of success and safety. Quietly, alongside her deep thinking about knotty international indigenous law, she helped with the small practical but life-shaking issues of adoption, divorce, and inheritance -- sometimes for free.


From the Great Falls Tribune obit (There’s a photo and you can post thoughts online:

BROWNING - Victoria Adele "Vicky" Santana, 64, of Browning, whose Indian name was Sak Oon Is Taah Saa Kii, meaning "Last Calf Woman," and who served the Blackfeet Indian Tribe as a tribal attorney, judge and tribal government advisor, died of natural causes Friday at her home in Browning.

Survivors include cousins Carmelita Brown Hoyt, Marie Croff, Billy Brown, Patty Treadwell, Mary Jo Walters, Delores Hagerty, Don Brown, Keith Brown, Chico Brown and many more.

Victoria A. Santana was the daughter of Rita Brown Santana of Browning and Arthur Santana of Puerto; she was born Aug. 31, 1944, in Chicago. She grew up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and always introduced herself as Vicky Santana from Browning, Montana. Like her parents, she became a scholar, earning a sociology degree, Juris Doctor and Master of Library Science law degrees.

Vicky served the Blackfeet Indian Tribe as a tribal attorney, judge and tribal government advisor, and was engaged in community legal work on the reservation at the end of her life. She was both an attorney and a policy analyst for the American Indian Law Center at the University of New Mexico, where she earned her law degree, and she was part of a US-Canada Native policy exchange between the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Brotherhood of Canada, advising First Nations on international policy and on the founding meeting and establishment of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.

Vicky directed the American Indian Law Center's review of federal policies under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and was a contributing author of the President's Report to Congress on American Indian Religious Freedom (1979). She served as Reference Librarian/Native American Resources for the Oklahoma City University Law Library and taught Native legal research and other subjects at the OCU School of Law. She was a longtime member of the Board of Directors for Americans for Indian Opportunity.

Vicky provided legal services to Native peoples and organizations in matters including constitution revisions, legal codes, tribal court development, cultural property, domestic violence and child welfare.

She was policy advisor to the Morning Star Institute's 2004-2005 Native Languages Archives Repository Project of the National Museum of the American Indian and the administration for Native Americans, whose report, "Native Language Preservation," was distributed to tribal leaders on CD in 2007.

Before returning to the Blackfeet Reservation, she lived in Washington, D.C., and worked at the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall as the community services manager. She also was an active volunteer in the Obama for President Campaign. One of Vicky's greatest accomplishments that she was most proud of and humbled by her involvement with the repatriation work of Blackfeet Elder Buster Yellow Kidney.

Vicky is remembered by her myriad friends nationwide as a kind, generous, brilliant professional and community woman who was devoted to her extended family, her tribe and all the Native people throughout the hemisphere.

She was preceded in death by her parents, grandparents, and several aunts and uncles.

A memorial fund will be set up at the Blackfeet Community College, Education Department, Dee Hall, chairperson.

Vicky’s priest noted that, like Curly Bear and Darrell Kipp and others, she was a faithful Catholic and attended vespers at the end of the week. Darrell said that the 6:30 PM meditative mass (which this priest makes it a point to reconcile with Blackfeet spiritual views) was particularly moving over the year because of the light changing. In deep winter at that hour it is solidly dark, people huddling their coats around them. In summer it is still broad sunlight. The Blackfeet know how to live through both and these two losses do not mean sundown, partly because their work has always been focused on the future. The children might not remember them, but they will live in the light of their work.


Vagabonde said...

Well Prairie Marie this is just to tell you that I do read your blog. I don’t post comments anymore but I still read it. To tell you the truth when I left my native Paris, France, I came to Montana first, and to further tell you the truth, my first husband was from Great Falls (you may have known him since he would be your age) and he took me to the Black Feet Reservation. I went to Montana again a couple of years ago when my daughter spent the summer in Helena for her master’s degree in Public Health specializing in Native American women pregnancy problems. Last week-end I thought of you as we went to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. Anyway, I still read your blog.

Lance Michael Foster said...

This post was beautiful, Mary. The last paragraph moved me in its image of darkness and light.

It's good to know Dorothy is still around. She was my advisor when she was at Carroll College back in 1979-80. If you see her, tell her "hi."

(This last bit for you, Mary, as I don't want to spam or blow my own horn on your email is having hiccups this morning and I wanted you to see the article about me and my can remove it when you approve my above comments to your post:

This is the link to the article in today's Helena Independent Record (be sure and see the other two photos to the right, me painting and my t-shirt)

I also pasted it on my art blog:

prairie mary said...

Too bad, Lance! I couldn't figure out how to delete just part of your comment and I wanted to include the comment, so the whole thing will just have to be there. Since you didn't do it, you can't be accused of ego and advertising.

It's interesting that some people think of a blog as an ego trip, but my experience is increasingly that it creates community and relationship. I think Vagabonde would agree!

Prairie Mary

Spikstaki said...

Dear Mary, first let me thank you so much for your blog and the history and information you impart. But, there are some errors in your blog about Victoria Adele Santana (July 23, 2009). She obtained her law degree from the University of Phoenix School of Law (Not Oklahoma). In the years before her death, she did work for the Oklahoma City School of Law as an employee Law Librarian. Also, I know that your blog always carries a down-home flavor, and your intentions were so in describing Vicky's mother's home; however, Vicky did not "park pickups in her yard." The yard was fenced off, and a gravel parking space for vehicles (Vicky owned a pickup truck--her license plate read HUNYA). Vicky never officially married Jack Edmo--they were common law. The two small houses (not cabins) next door were owned by her mother. Her grandfather Judge Bill Brown built the houses in the 1940's. His son (and Vicky's uncle James Woodrow Brown lived in the middle house and Judge Brown lived on the end house until his death in 1968.
Thanks again for the great Blog. Charles Pete Berger, Vicky's mother's great-nephew.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Thanks so much for the corrections, Charles. Part of the reason for posting anything is to get it out there where information can be brought into line with facts. Vicky was an impressive woman with a remarkable life.

I loved those little houses -- would have been pleased to live in one like them.

Prairie Mary