Sharing for Steve’s Memorial at NWIC November 12 2014
Most of this was written for Steve’s memorial but I have added more as we have been thinking of him over the days since his departure from his earthly into his journey to the Milky Way.
We first met Steve when Northwest Indian College was invited to host the Robert K. Thomas Symposium on behalf of the late Vine Deloria Jr. The Robert K. Thomas Symposium was a gathering of Native and non-Native Scholars and it was there that we learned about Steve’s crazy sense of humor, his earnestness, his scholarly skills and his vast network. Vine had a circle of his friends who shared his passion for life and Steve was among them. We all learned that Steve held Vine in very high regard, admiring his intellect and his passion but also enjoying the camaraderie that being in Vine’s circle brought. When Vine was at Lummi that year, he spoke of the importance of the work we were doing at the College and of the grassroots scholarship that happens at tribal college. With his blessing, we decided he deserved his own symposium with Steve as the coordinator. We know Steve appreciated all the help from NWIC staff and students especially Angel Jefferson and Rita Asgierrson.
At the time, Steve was working in the Southwest doing his teaching and research among the Southwest tribes especially with young people. Steve was a long-time activist with UNITY, the national organization that works with Native leadership. That is where he first made his strongest connections with Indian Country. His passion for teaching was great. Steve enjoyed being able to open the minds of others and to have them develop their own intellects. He held his students to high standards and had a big heart for giving them support. Steve loved his students and that is a wonderful gift for a teacher to share.
At the same time as the Vine Deloria Jr. Symposium was unfolding, the College was evolving its first bachelor’s degree, in Native Environmental Science. Steve was a natural fit for that and it was a good day when he approached us about wanting to come to the College to teach and to lead the Symposium. Steve’s network and the reputation of the Deloria Symposium drew scholars from all over Indian Country. Icons of the Native Environmental movement and Indian Rights, David Wilkins, Daniel Wildcat, Billy Frank, Jr, Hank Adams, Suzan Shown Harjo, Elizabeth Cook Lynn, Oren Lyons, and many, many others, came to symposium to share themselves with students, elders, scholars of Native life, and with each other. The symposium became a place where great teaching and learning happened. It is a place of encouragement and support for scholars and students and, of greatest value, it is a place where we as Native people celebrate our rights and the knowledge that strengthens those rights.
Steve was a man of real humor, intellectual complexity and well thought out political opinions. For many days after Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention, Steve gleefully posted pictures on Facebook of one of his empty chairs at various locations around his home along with snide remarks about Eastwood’s politics. He liked the outdoors, good food, and his companion dogs, research and writing, and he enjoyed Longmire and sports especially the Steelers from his childhood in Pennsylvania. Although the Southwest, Huachuca Mountains became the place of his rebirth and the place where his ashes were scattered among his friends, the animals and trees, he remembered his childhood exploration of the wilds near his home as the place where his love of the natural world began. He became enamored of the Northwest, in all its lush and colorful glory. The birds and animals found a place in his backyard. That is the place of his environmentalism.
Alex and I wanted to share a couple of our memories that tell the story of Steve’s friendship and humor. When Alex was teaching at NWIC, he could go to Steve’s office and Steve would say, “Oh wise Indian what do you have to say today? Alex would say back “it is a good thing I like you because those are fighting words.” And Steve would say yes, they are” and he would offer Alex red licorice and they would philosophize about teaching, the College and Native Studies.
For many years, Steve joined our family for Thanksgiving dinner. We would say that we needed a representative of the descendents of the Mayflower to join us or it just didn’t seem right. One year when Tess and her kids were living with us, we made little Pilgrim table decorations with our faces on them including one for Steve. We said we were Indians in disguise trying to get our land back, but Steve, alas, was a real Pilgrim.
The best gift we can give is to remember Steve’s passion for his work, his honesty and his thoughtfulness. He came to teach in the Native Environmental Science program because he believed in the original intention of the NES degree at NWIC – teaching in a Native context, with Native content, with Native scholars sharing their knowledge with Native students.
We talked to Steve several times in the days before his spirit left on its journey to more beautiful place. He shared that so many were giving him the gift of love and support. We shared that he was giving us another gift by allowing us to be with him as the end of his physical time on earth came. He was a teacher to the end.
Steve’s poem, last will and testament in his book of reflections, is his honoring of his call to love wild places, the places where his spirit will forever be free. But his spirit lives on in the wild places of each of us. We hope that his students, colleagues and friends will find strength and joy in that freedom of spirit in your wild places.
Our prayers and thoughts are with you, with our love for each of you, and with Steve whose journey on earth is complete and whose journey in the world of spirits has only just begun.
Cheryl Crazy Bull