Get up. Jump up. Try hard and don’t give up. – Chief Earl Old Person
Chief Earl Old Person died of cancer at the age of 92 on October 13th. Old Person was a national treasure who served as the chief of the Blackfeet Nation for more than 60 years. He was an expert of Blackfeet language and culture, an advocate for tribal land and water rights, an inspired political leader, and an international ambassador. In his lifetime he met every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He also met Queen Elizabeth, the prime minister of Canada-Pierre Trudeau, and the shaw of Iran. In his later years, he created home recordings of traditional stories and songs for the benefit of future generations.
I grew up in Choteau, Montana, on the Eastern Rocky Mountain front, about 70 miles south of Browning, Montana-the headquarters of the Blackfeet Reservation-the last stop before Glacier Park. The Choteau Bulldogs and Browning Indians were in the same athletic conference. Throughout my elementary to high school years, I regularly traveled to Browning for swim meets and to watch basketball and football games.
Earl Old Person rarely missed a high school basketball game-Browning is legendary for champion basketball teams and enduring fans. For his last visit to the Browning high school gymnasium, his casket was placed in the middle of the basketball court where thousands of mourners came to honor his memory and to say their final goodbyes. The mourning period lasted for four days and included processions, dancing, songs, and stories celebrating the life of the beloved chief.
For an unforgettable story of high school basketball on Montana’s southeastern reservations, read: Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn by Larry Colton