Vine Deloria, Jr.

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Vine Deloria, Jr.
File:Vine Deloria.jpg
Born Vine Victor Deloria, Jr.
(1933-03-26)March 26, 1933
Martin, South Dakota
Died November 13, 2005(2005-11-13) (aged 72)
Golden, Colorado
Nationality Standing Rock Sioux, American
Theological work

Vine Victor Deloria, Jr. (March 26, 1933 – November 13, 2005) was a Native American author, theologian, historian, and activist. He was widely known for his book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969), which helped generate national attention to Native American issues in the same year as the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement. From 1964–1967, he had served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, increasing tribal membership from 19 to 156. Beginning in 1977, he was a board member of the National Museum of the American Indian, which now has buildings in both New York City and Washington, DC. He was influential in the development of what scientific critics called American Indian creationism, but which American Indians referred to as defenses against scientific racism.

Deloria began his academic career in 1970 at Western Washington State College at Bellingham, Washington. He became Professor of Political Science at the University of Arizona (1978–1990), where he established the first master's degree program in American Indian Studies in the United States. In 1990, Deloria taught at the University of Colorado Boulder until 2000, when he returned to Arizona and taught at the College of Law.

Background and education

Vine Deloria, Jr. was born in 1933, in Martin, South Dakota, near the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was the son of Barbara Sloat (née Eastburn) and Vine Victor Deloria, Sr. (1901–1990). His father studied English and Christian theology and became an Episcopal archdeacon and missionary on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.[1] His father transferred his and his children's tribal membership from the Yankton Sioux to Standing Rock. Vine Sr.'s sister Ella Deloria (1881–1971) was an anthropologist.[2] Vine Jr.'s paternal grandfather was Tipi Sapa (Black Lodge), also known as Rev. Philip Joseph Deloria, an Episcopal priest and a leader of the Yankton band of the Dakota Nation. His paternal grandmother was Mary Sully, daughter of Alfred Sully, a general in the American Civil War and Indian Wars and his French-Yankton wife; and granddaughter of painter Thomas Sully.

Vine, Jr. was first educated at reservation schools. Deloria graduated from Kent School in 1951. He graduated from Iowa State University in 1958 with a degree in general science.[3] Deloria served in the Marines from 1954 through 1956.[4]

Originally planning to be a minister like his father, Deloria Jr. in 1963 earned a theology degree from the Lutheran School of Theology, then located in Rock Island, Illinois.[3] In the late 1960s, he returned to graduate study and earned a law degree from Colorado Law, University of Colorado Boulder in 1970.


"Mr. Deloria ... steadfastly worked to demythologize how white Americans thought of American Indians," wrote Kirk Johnson.[3]

In 1964, Deloria was elected executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. During his three-year term, the organization went from bankruptcy to solvency, and membership went from 19 to 156 tribes.[5] Through the years, he was involved with many Native American organizations. Beginning in 1977, he was a board member of the National Museum of the American Indian, which established its first center at the former United States Custom House in New York City.

While teaching at Western Washington State College at Bellingham, Washington, Deloria advocated for the treaty fishing rights of local Native American tribes. He worked on the legal case that led to the historic Boldt Decision of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Judge Boldt's ruling in United States v. Washington (1974) validated Indian fishing rights in the state as continuing past the tribes' cession of millions of acres of land to the United States in the 1850s. Thereafter Native Americans had the right to half the catch in fishing in the state.[4]


In 1969, Deloria published his first of more than twenty books, entitled Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. This book became one of Deloria's most famous works. In it, he addressed stereotypes of Indians and challenged white audiences to take a new look at the history of United States western expansion, noting its abuses of Native Americans.[6] The book was released the year that students of the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement occupied Alcatraz Island to seek construction of an Indian cultural center, as well as attention in gaining justice on Indian issues, including recognition of tribal sovereignty. Other groups also gained momentum, with organizations such as the American Indian Movement staging events to attract media and public attention for education.

The book helped draw attention to the Native American struggle. Focused on the Native American goal of sovereignty without political and social assimilation, the book stood as a hallmark of Native American Self-Determination at the time. The American Anthropological Association sponsored a panel in response to Custer Died for Your Sins. The book was reissued in 2004 with a new preface by the author, noting, "The Indian world has changed so substantially since the first publication of this book that some things contained in it seem new again."

Deloria wrote and edited many subsequent books and 200 articles, focusing on issues as they related to Native Americans, such as education and religion.[4] In 1995, Deloria argued in his book Red Earth, White Lies that the Bering Strait Land Bridge never existed, and that the ancestors of the Native Americans had not migrated to the Americas over such a land bridge, as has been claimed by most archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists and other scholars. Rather, he asserted that the Native Americans may have originated in the Americas, or reached them through transoceanic travel, as some of their creation stories suggested.[7]

Deloria's position on the age of certain geological formations, the length of time Native Americans have been in the Americas, their possible coexistence with dinosaurs, etc. were influential in the development of American Indian defenses against scientific racism. This generally rejects scientific explanations of origins of indigenous peoples in the Americas that contradict American Indian accounts.[7][8] Deloria argued that scientists are virtually incapable of independent thinking and are hobbled by their reverence for orthodoxy. He noted that scientists characteristically persecute those who dare to advance unorthodox views, and that science is thus, essentially a religion.[9] Deloria has been criticized for his embrace of American Indian traditional histories by such scholars as Bernard Ortiz de Montellano and H. David Brumble, who say such views are not supported by the scientific and physical evidence, and contribute to problems of pseudoscience.[10]

Deloria often cited American Indian creation accounts and oral traditions in support of his views relating to science. He also relied on Hindu creationists, such as Michael Cremo.[11]

Nicholas Peroff wrote that "Throughout the years, most notably perhaps in The Metaphysics of Modern Existence (1979) and Red Earth, White Lies (1995), Deloria has rarely missed a chance to argue that the realities of precontact American Indian experience and tradition cannot be recognized or understood within any conceptual framework built on the theories of modern science. And in fact, it is certainly true that no one, with or without the aid of scientific theories and concepts, can, in any absolute meaning of the word, know what life was like as a member of the Menominee Tribe six hundred years ago. But we can imagine what it was like."[12]

Academic career

In 1970, Deloria took his first faculty position, teaching at the Western Washington University College of Ethnic Studies in Bellingham, Washington.[4] As a visiting scholar, he taught at the Pacific School of Religion, the New School of Religion, and Colorado College.

His first tenured position was as Professor of Political Science at the University of Arizona, which he held from 1978 to 1990. While at UA, Deloria established the first Master's degree program in American Indian Studies in the United States. Such recognition of American Indian culture in existing institutions was one of the goals of the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement.[4] Numerous American Indian studies programs, museums and collections, and other institutions have been established since Deloria's first book was published.

Deloria next taught at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1990 to 2000.[13] After he retired from CU Boulder, he taught at the University of Arizona's College of Law.[4]

Honors and legacy

  • In 1974, after the publication of God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, Time Magazine named him as one of the primary "shapers and movers" of Christian faith and theology.[4]
  • In 1996, Deloria received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas.[14]
  • In 1999, he received the Wordcraft Circle Writer of the Year Award in the category of prose and personal/critical essays for his work Spirit and Reason.
  • 2002, he received the Wallace Stegner award from the Center of the American West and was honorably mentioned at the 2002 National Book Festival.[13]
  • 2003, won the 2003 American Indian Festival of Words Author Award.

Marriage and family

At his death, Deloria was survived by his wife, Barbara, their children, Philip, Daniel, and Jeanne, and seven grandchildren.[15]

His son, Philip J. Deloria, is also a respected historian and author.[16]


After Deloria retired in May 2000, he continued to write and lecture until he died on November 13, 2005, in Golden, Colorado from an aortic aneurysm.[3]


"When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply, 'Ours.'"' –Vine Deloria, Jr.[4]

“Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors. That is when the invaders of the North American continent will finally discover that for this land, God is red.”[17]

“Before any final solution to American history can occur, a reconciliation must be effected between the spiritual owner of the land – American Indians – and the political owner of the land – American Whites. Guilt and accusations cannot continue to revolve in a vacuum without some effort at reaching a solution.”[18]

"Western civilization, unfortunately, does not link knowledge and morality but rather, it connects knowledge and power and makes them equivalent. Today with an information `superhighway' now looming on the horizon, we are told that a lack of access to information will doom people to a life of meaninglessness -- and poverty. As we look around and observe modern industrial society, however, there is no question that information, in and of itself, is useless and that as more data is generated, ethical and moral decisions are taking on a fantasy dimension in which a `lack of evidence to indict' is the moral equivalent of the good deed."[19]

"Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there." -Vine Deloria, Jr.

"...[T]he idea that religion was conceived as originally designed for a particular) people relating to a specific god falls well within the experiences of the rest of humankind and may conceivably be considered a basic factor in the existence of religion."[20]

"...[Perhaps] a religious universality cannot be successfully maintained across racial and ethnic lines...ethnicity will almost always triumph."[21]

"Most tribal religions make no pretense as to their universality..."[22]

"The very conception of a Chosen People implies a lost religious ethnicity. Most likely religions do not in fact cross national and ethnic lines without losing their power and identity. It is probably more in the nature of things to have different groups with different religions."[23]

"Besides the importance of land and religion, the existence of a specific religion among a distinct group of people is probably a fundamental element of human experience."[24]


Secondary Literature

  • DeMallie, Raymond J. (December 2006). "Vine Deloria Jr. (1933–2005)". American Anthropologist, New Series. 108 (4): 932–35. doi:10.1525/aa.2006.108.4.932.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Indians and Anthropologists: Vine Deloria, Jr., and the Critique of Anthropology, ed. by Thomas Biolsi, Larry J. Zimmerman, University of Arizona Press 1997, ISBN 0-8165-1607-3
  • Destroying Dogma: Vine Deloria, Jr. and His Influence on American Society, ed. by Steve Pavlik, Daniel R. Wildcat, Fulcrum Publishing 2006, ISBN 1-55591-519-1

See also


  1. Wishart, 60
  2. Wishart, 59
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Johnson, Kirk. "Vine Deloria Jr., Champion of Indian Rights, Dies at 72." New York Times. November 15, 2005 (retrieved Aug 26, 2009)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Lorenz, Melissa. Vine Deloria, Jr., EMuseum @ Minnesota State University, Mankato. 2008 (Archived copy retrieved April 19, 2015)
  5. Wilkinson, 107
  6. Wilkinson, 108.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Jenkins, Philip Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality, OUP USA (November 24, 2005) ISBN 978-0-19-518910-0. p. 233.
  8. O'Leary, Denyse. By Design or by Chance in the Universe: The Growing Controversy on the Origins of Life, Augsburg Fortress (August 3, 2004) ISBN 978-0-8066-5177-4 p. 155 [1]
  9. Brumble, H David (1998). "Vine Deloria Jr, Creationism, and Ethnic Pseudoscience". RNCSE. 18 (6). Retrieved July 15, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Bernard Ortiz de Montellano. "Post-Modern Multiculturalism and Scientific Illiteracy", APS (American Physical Society) News, January 1998, Vol 7, No. 1
  11. Deloria's critics on this issue include: Bruce Thornton, Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge, ISI Books, 1999.; H. David Brumble, "Vine Deloria, Jr., Creationism, and Ethnic Pseudoscience", American Literary History 1998 10(2):335–346; George Johnson, "Indian Tribes' Creationists Thwart Archeologists", New York Times, October 22, 1996; John C. Whittaker. "Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americas and the Myth of Scientific Fact", book review in The Skeptical Inquirer, Jan–Feb 1997
  12. Pavlik, Steve; Wildcat, Daniel R. (2006). Destroying dogma : Vine Deloria, Jr. and his influence on American society. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Pub. p. 96. ISBN 1555915191.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Vine Deloria Jr., Renowned Author And American Indian Leader, Dies At 72." University of Colorado at Boulder News Center. November 14, 2005 (retrieved Aug 26, 2009).
  14. List of NWCA Lifetime Achievement Awards, accessed August 6, 2010.
  15. Kirk Johnson, "Vine Deloria Jr., Champion of Indian Rights, Dies at 72," The NY Times, November 15, 2005. Accessed Nov 29, 2012.
  16. "Indians in Unexpected Places: Philip J. Deloria" University Press of Kansas. (retrieved August 26, 2009)
  17. Deloria (1973). God Is Red. pg. ix
  18. Deloria (1973). God Is Red. pg. 75
  19. Welker, Glenn. "Vine Deloria, Jr". Indigenous Peoples Literature. Retrieved July 14, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Deloria (1973). God is Red. p. 204.
  21. Deloria (1973). God is Red. p. 209-210.
  22. Deloria (1973). God is Red. p. 210.
  23. Deloria (1973). God is Red. p. 293.
  24. Deloria (1973). God is Red. p. 293.


External links