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Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person dies at 92
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Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person dies at 92

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University of Montana graduation 12.JPG

Chief Earl Old Person of the Blackfeet Nation speaks during the University of Montana spring commencement at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, Saturday, May 1, 2021.

Earl Old Person, the longest-serving elected tribal official in the United States, died Wednesday at Blackfeet Community Hospital after a long battle with cancer, tribal officials said. He was 92.

The announcement was posted Wednesday night on the Blackfeet Nation/Blackfeet Tribal Business Council’s Facebook page.

Old Person was elected to the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council in 1954 and served for over 60 years while serving as chair for more than 50 years.

He met many dignitaries, including every U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower, the British royal family, the Shah of Iran, and other world leaders.

In 1978, the family of the late Jim White Calf bestowed the hereditary chieftainship to Old Person, the news release stated.

Old Person was known for being an orator and leader for the Blackfeet people, the Blackfoot Confederacy and Native Americans across the United States and Canada.

“The Blackfeet People have suffered a huge loss today with the passing of Chief Old Person,” the news release stated. “A chapter in our history has come to a close. The Blackfeet Tribe offers prayers and support to the family of Earl at this time.”

Gov. Greg Gianforte said Thursday in an email it was with "heavy hearts we mourn the passing of Chief Earl Old Person."

"With the confidence of his people, Chief Old Person put others before himself to serve a greater good," he said. "Chief Old Person leaves a lasting legacy with his love for people, unparalleled strength of character, dedication to service, and commitment to preserving cultural heritage."

 Gianforte said Old Person "dedicated his life as a tireless advocate, educator, storyteller, and song singer, not only for the Blackfeet people, but also for our state and nation. His legacy will live on for many generations."

Services are pending.

Montana's two U.S. senators shared their thoughts about Old Person.

 “I was saddened to hear the news of Chief Earl Old Person passing away,” Republican Sen. Steve Daines said on Twitter. “He was a great Montanan and a great American. My prayers are with his family, friends and the entire Blackfeet Nation. It was an honor to know him.”

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said he and wife Sharla were mourning the loss of "a great man and dear friend."

"Chief Old Person was a fierce advocate for the Blackfeet Nation and all of Indian Country for his entire life, and the world is a better place because he was in it," Tester said on Twitter. "He will never be replaced, and we are holding his loved ones and the Blackfeet people in our hearts." 

In 2020, the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls bestowed Old Person with its Western Heritage Award.

“He has remained a tireless advocate for the advancement of the Blackfeet people,” museum officials noted. “The University of Montana has awarded him an honorary doctorate of human letters and endowed a $5,000 scholarship in his name for Blackfeet students attending the university. In 1998, he received the Jeannette Rankin Civil Liberties Award and a year later, the University of Lethbridge awarded him the first Christine Miller Memorial Award for Excellence in Native American Studies.”

Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.

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