Birgil Kills Straight: life as a Lakota patriot

Birgil Kills Straight passed away on Sunday, February 10, 2019 leaving a full and rich narrative of work, honor, and dignity

Birgil passed away on Sunday, February 10, 2019. He leaves a full and rich narrative of work to bring honor and dignity for Lakota presence in the 20th & 21st centuries.

His influence and wisdom was sought from the Pope and Vatican to tribal leaders nationwide, the halls of Congress, Governors, heads of foreign states, and most important, to grass roots Indian Country.

He once said he was not a USA citizen, was not a South Dakota citizen, not an Oglala Tribal citizen–he said he was a Lakota Patriot.

See Related: Respected Lakota elder, Birgil Louie Kills Straight, dies at 78

Today, we have the annual “Ride to Wounded Knee”; today we have the South Dakota Reconciliation Act; today we have the Race around the Black Hills; today we have the American Indian Law Institute; today we have the Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) basketball tournament–the narrative goes on and on.

Birgil was born in 1940 on the Pine Ridge reservation and was a life-long resident of the Medicine Root District in Kyle, South Dakota. He graduated from Holy Rosary Mission, now known as Red Cloud Indian School, in 1959. His wife of 53 years was Ethel Little White Man Kills Straight. They had no children of their own. However, their love embraced and took on numerous new relatives through adoptions or hunka’d children and family members.

Reviewing Birgil’s early work, we see the significant impact on institutions we take for granted today. Early on Birgil led the New Careers counseling and employment efforts on the reservation, which proceeded to work on the beginnings of the satellite college programs from University of Colorado and Black Hills State. This path went on to and greatly assisted with actually getting the Tribal residents their own college, Oglala Lakota College.

Birgil was one of the first strong voices in the need for local control. In the mid-70s, he was instrumental in the formation of The Coalition of Indian School Control and as a direct consequence of his drive to assume control as Board chairman, Little Wound School was taken away from the BIA via 93-638 contracting. Today most federal Indian schools have been assumed by local Indian communities and are called “Indian Grant Schools”. Early on he steered this initial charge and because of his convictions, Little Wound School was to become the second Indian school in the United States to be taken away from BIA control in 1977.

The Europeans called Birgil the “Indian Eienstein”. He was requested regularly to Russia, Germany, Italy, the Vatican, and other places and countries that sought the wisdom of the Lakota. 

Being a first language speaker of Lakota, he evolved in a time when active teachers and connectors of the past were still around and sharing, such as Louie Bad Wound, Frank Fools Crow, Royal Bull Bear, Pete Catches, and Mathew King. Learning from these local traditional scholars and from his father White Lance, he was able to convey the meaning and essence of traditional tribal government and especially the Sundance and the other rituals that were orally handed down to him. He held his own annual Sundance, where he held Hunka, GiveAways, Marriage, Wiping of Tears, and all the important societal ceremonies of the Lakota people.

Of recent endeavors, when the NODAPL protest began Birgil initially came to the aide of his adopted son, Dave Archambault, II, who was the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman. He spoke to the Tribal Council about the Doctrine of Discovery and Treaty Rights to encourage them in their fight against the Black Snake.

Birgil adopted Dave II in 1985 and gave him the name “Tokala Ohitika” (Warrior for the Kit Fox Society). Birgil would journey to the Mni Wiconi Camp again and through his great friend Rebecca Adamson, an expert on stock market investments, they were able to work with the Dave and the Tribe in educating stock market supporters. Their “divestment” energy was successful in turning many investors away from DAPL’s dangerous environmental threat.

Birgil Kills Straight leaves a legacy of fingerprints all over past and recent Indian empowerment activities. Without a doubt Indian Country has lost a role model for love and Lakota determination. Birgil’s family had wake arrangements Saturday, February 16 and Sunday, February 17 with funeral services, all at the Little Wound Gym, on Monday, February 18, 2019. 

Dave Archambault, Sr. met Birgil Kills Straight in 1975 and remained a close adopted relative until his passing. Birgil called Dave his little brother. Dave worked with Birgil to create the 500 Mile Run Around the Black Hills, establish the Lakota Nation Invitational Basketball Tournament, join Birgil’s Big Foot Ride from Sitting Bull’s cabin to Wounded Knee in 1990, and traveled with Birgil to Europe.

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