By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation is in mourning for a leader and tribal elder who died Wednesday.
John "Roddy" Eagle Sunchild, 74, chief executive officer of the National Tribal Development Association and former member and chair of the Rocky Boy tribal council, had traveled to Washington, D.C., to lead a prayer for the Sept. 21 opening of the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of the American Indian. He was hospitalized in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 24 after becoming ill, said his daughter Laurie Sunchild.
In his time in tribal government and with NTDA, he had traveled a lot, she said, including to China, Paris, Sweden and Nicaragua. "He traveled everywhere."
But returning to spend time with his family was one of the most important things for him, she said.
"His major drive in life was his kids, his grandkids. Isn't it ironic? He left us when he was on a trip," she said. "When I was in D.C., I told him, 'Dad, you're wings are clipped. You can't travel anymore.'"
She said that as she was driving back to Rocky Boy Thursday from North Dakota, where she attends the University of Mary in Bismarck, it struck her that he now has wings forever.
Neal Rosette Sr., chief operating officer at NTDA, said John Sunchild will be missed.
"But I know what he's thinking: 'Don't be sad, guys, don't be sad,'" Rosette said. "'Don't make a big deal out of it. You've got to move on.'"
He said Sunchild carefully prepared his staff for when he would be gone, but he can't be replaced.
"I will always be the number two guy with Roddy above me," he said.
Sunchild's cousin, tribal council member and state Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, said he will miss his mentor.
"He's definitely going to be leaving a big void in my life and my family's life," Windy Boy said.
Despite Sunchild's death, Windy Boy, who faces Republican Jeff Pattison in the November election, decided to attend a candidate forum in Havre on Thursday night.
"It would be something he would expect," Windy Boy said. "Go as high as you can - that was the kind of inspiration and the kind of attitude he instilled."
Sunchild was born on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation on June 10, 1930. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Airborne Paratroopers, serving with distinction in Korea, earning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Double Valor, and the Purple Heart.
Laurie Sunchild said a Native American honor guard with representatives from all Montana reservations will be at his funeral Monday.
John Sunchild married Florence Oats in 1957, while still in the service. He worked for a Great Falls construction company when he first got out of the service, and the family returned to Rocky Boy in the early 1970s, his daughter said.
Sunchild served on the tribal council from 1984 to 1992, at which time he was elected council chair. During his tenure as chair, the tribe signed a self-governance pact with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That compact allows the tribe to deal directly with the federal government, rather than dealing with agencies through the BIA and Indian Health Service. It also gives the tribe direct control over its own agencies, like the police and road departments.
Sunchild had many sides in addition to his work for the tribe, Rosette said. Sunchild loved to tell stories.
"His stories always had a purpose. They would make you think about what you did," Rosette said.
Sunchild founded NTDA and became its chief executive officer in 1995. The association is a national nonprofit organization that provides credit outreach services. Rosette said NTDA had one or two employees when Sunchild started as CEO. It now has more than 30 employees, 38 member tribes and provides services to more than 250 tribes in 28 states, he said.
"This was his vision, this organization was his vision," Rosette said. "Never once did he back down. He stuck to his vision that this organization had a purpose, to help American Indians reach their dreams."
John Sunchild also had another dream, said Glenn Eagleman, who works for the tribal courts. That dream was to make certain the traditions and culture of the tribe continue.
"He was one of our spiritual leaders in traditional ceremonies," Eagleman said. "He always used to talk to the people about trying to hold on to our culture, our traditions, especially the younger people."
Laurie Sunchild said her father was a "modern warrior." "He promoted all these ways people could compete in today's world and yet hold on to traditional ways," she said.