Curtis St. Cyr leaves legacy of sovereignty: Food, music and a tribal flag

Winnebago leader who always ‘served his people’

Curtis St. Cyr recently bought a tractor and planted corn. He was making a statement, encouraging his community to eat natural foods and therefore contribute to Winnebago Food Sovereignty. His seeds will harvest in late July, and his ideas will live on.

St. Cyr, 60, died June 16, 2019. It was Father’s Day. He died suddenly at the Twelve Clans Unity Hospital in Winnebago, Nebraska, according to his family.

He was the Vice Chair of the Winnebago Tribal Council. St. Cyr served on the Winnebago Fish and Wildlife Commission, as well as the tribe’s tax commission. Before his passing, he was serving his second term on his tribal council, having received the highest amount of votes in the last election.

“My dad died serving his people. He died on his shield and he will always be remembered for that,” his son, Garan Coons, said in an interview.

Coons recollects that his dad was involved in many aspects of their community.

In 2015, when the Winnebago High School boys basketball team played in the state tournament, St. Cyr was vocal advocate in making sure their council supplied their team with the best warm-up gear.

On Memorial Day, St. Cyr wanted to honor those who had passed on. So he took it upon himself to create a program to help care for the tribe’s four cemeteries.

He recently returned the Winnebago powwow, one of the nation’s oldest powwows, to the community’s veterans. After attending a powwow run by veterans, he noted that it was one of the best ones he had ever been to, “because the veterans took care of it.” He wanted the same for his community.

When St. Cyr noticed the Winnebago didn’t have a flag to include in their Parade of Flags athletic event, he called on the council to create one. So they did.

"Every time I see that flag, I always think of my dad because he did that for the tribe,” Coons said. “He will probably be forever known for that.”

Before St. Cyr’s time as a Winnebago leader, he was also a skilled harmonica player and soulful vocalist.

“Although Curtis was a tribal leader, he may be best known as a musician.” said Winnebago Chairman, Frank White in a statement. St. Cyr started a blues band known as Curtis St. Cyr and the Kalico Kats.

Before that, he performed at music festivals and venues around the country including the Saturday in the Park Festival and Riverfest.

Throughout his time as a musician, he performed on the same stages as Smokey Robinson, Santana, the Allman Brothers, Buddy Guy, Indigenous, Chuck Barry and the Black Crowes.

Coons notes that his dad gave up his music career to be a hands-on father.

“He was so close to making it big. He was right there,” Coons said. “But he put his passion for music away to help his family and his people.”

His funeral services, held on June 19, 2019, were standing room only.

St. Cyr passed on the same day as another distinguished Winnebago leader, Frank LaMere. The St. Cyr family believes the Winnebago men traveled on their spiritual journey together.

“We believe it takes four days to complete a journey after a person dies,” Coons said. “I think Frank wanted some help and so did my dad on that journey.”

St. Cyr was an avid hunter, antique collector, singer in Winnebago drum groups. He loved to go to community bingo events and shared food with tribal elders.

He is survived by his wife, Theresa, his daughter, Patricia and three sons, Garan, Lewis and Gentry.

Chairman White said: “The impact Frank LaMere and Curtis St. Cyr had on the Winnebago community and Indian Country, as a whole, will be felt for years to come.”

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is the Rowland and Pat Journalism Fellow at Indian Country Today and a reporter-producer. Her email is: achavez@indiancountrytoday.com On Twitter: @aliyahjchavez

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