Key fighter in Whiteclay victory: Frank LaMere has died at age 69

Former President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Bryan Brewer, left, listens to Frank LaMere, center, of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska speak about the long journey of closing liquor stores in Whiteclay on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, at the Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. The Nebraska Supreme Court heard oral arguments relating to the closing of liquor stores in Whiteclay, that sold millions of cans of beer to residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is banned. (Kayla Wolf/The Journal-Star via AP)

Frank LaMere, Winnebago, was a remarkable leader largely responsible for halting sales of alcohol in Whiteclay, Nebraska

Frank LaMere, Winnebago, a Native American leader, chairman of the Native American Caucus of the Democratic Party, and a member of the American Indian Movement died Sunday. He was 69-years-old. LaMere was well-known for his role in stopping the sale of alcohol in the border town of Whiteclay, Nebraska.

In a Facebook post on Sunday night, LaMere’s family noted that he had passed at 7:31 pm on June 16.

The post read:

Our father Frank LaMere crossed over to the other side of this river of Life. We'll make preparations for his journey in the coming days.

I also want to express our humblest condolences to my uncle Curt St. Cyr's family.

My uncle Curt and my father will travel together on the other side.

My humblest condolences to the Hocakra Winnebago Nation for these transitions to spirit by these Bear Clan men.

We'll celebrate their lives as bear clan does.

Pinagigi to everyone that's supported my father's battle. We'll initiate protocol and be in touch as to when and where we will celebrate his life's journey.

LaMere was from South Sioux City, Nebraska, and was a member of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s. In that capacity, LaMere pressed for reform of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In November of 1972, he was part of an organized group of AIM members presenting a list of demands to the BIA at the federal building in Billings, Montana.

LaMere in Billings

LaMere was also active in national Democratic Party politics. He was the chairman for the National Native American Caucus and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention seven times from the years of 1988-2012.

Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Fleming Kleeb awards LaMere the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Award "For creating a positive image of candidates and the Nebraska Democratic Party"
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Fleming Kleeb awards LaMere the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Award "For creating a positive image of candidates and the Nebraska Democratic Party" Facebook

Though his life met with tragedy several times — his brother was killed in Vietnam, his sister was killed by a hit-and-run driver and his daughter died from Leukemia — LaMere still worked to fight stereotypes as a public speaker and political activist.

LaMere delved into many aspects of improving Native lives. In 1989, he helped to create the all-Native “North American fastpitch softball team” while also helping to organize the gathering of over 10,000 Native people from the Sioux City, Iowa area to march against the minor league baseball team the Sioux City Soos. The team eventually changed its name to the Explorers.

In September of 2017, LaMere celebrated a 20-year-long victory regarding the fight against four liquor stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska — which sold an estimated 4 million cans of beer a year to residents just outside of the town — when the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected the owner’s bids to reopen.

On the day of the victory, LaMere told reporters, "Today will be a red-letter day in Oglala Lakota history."

LaMere continued to fight for justice throughout his life. He was an outspoken public voice in response to the police killing of Zachary Bear Heels — a young Native man from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe — who was tazed twelve times and died.

LaMere was also an advocate for bringing awareness to climate change and fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In 2017, LaMere was one of several advocates issuing statements to Warren Buffet regarding the importance of divesting from fossil fuels.

In a statement from the Nebraska Peace Foundation, LaMere wrote the following:

It was the indigenous people of this continent who first consecrated the ground on which we live and grow—who offered up prayers and petitions asking that we are allowed to live and to provide a way for the generations to come! In exchange for the blessings given by the Creator, our forebears agreed to be good stewards of the land. We knew that it was a sacred trust...

On Christmas eve my son came from Standing Rock to visit us for one hour. His mother and I worried about him! How is it there? Why did you go? I asked. He said, “It is dangerous, Dad, but someone has to protect our water.”

Frank LaMere - Statement on Fossil Fuels from the 'Briefing Warren Buffet" statement by the Nebraskans for Peace state board.
Pdf screen capture, Nebraskans for Peace

I nodded and said Ah-Ho! That is good! He is a water protector. I stand on his shoulders! “Mni Wiconi” the protectors proclaim. Water is life!

Bearing that in mind, I am told this waterway flowing south from Standing Rock and passing just a short walk from here would be fouled by any kind of breach in the Dakota Access Pipeline. My sense and my years tells me that this will happen! Millions would be poisoned!

I am further told that this collective body holds a 15 percent interest in an oil company that is a 25 percent shareholder in the Dakota Access Pipeline. I would ask that you walk away from that investment! Stand today with Mother Earth!

Frank LaMere died at 69 years of age from complications related to liver cancer.

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Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling and Instagram - @VinceSchilling

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

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