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Northern Cheyenne Chief Anthony Prairiebear

September 28, 2020

Anthony Prairiebear, (photograph with his obituary).

September 22, 2020

Weeks ago, 62-year-old Anthony “Tony” Prairiebear died of natural causes.  I remember him well and I grieve.   Since then I learned that several others, Isadore Whitewolf and Jay Old Mouse, have also passed.  Although none of these three were close friends of mine, their absence hurts me deeply.  These three were clear thinking, traditional Cheyenne leaders.  None was easy to get to know.  Possibly Isadore would have been if I’d seen him more often.

Where to begin?  The first time I met Tony Prairiebear was on his porch in Billings.  I was delivering his prescription I had filled in Lame Deer to him at his house on Grand Avenue, across from Senior High.  I don’t remember the last time I saw Tony, but I always thought he was a powerful, sincere person.  I think he was attending college when I first met him.  Tony took the prescription, thanked me, and shut the door.

This was probably 1989, or so.  Maybe 1990.  I had never delivered a prescription to anyone before, that I can remember.  At that time I was only about seven years out of school myself. 

I couldn’t take the 200-mile a day commute to Lame Deer so I quit in 1990.

After a five-year hiatus at Crow Agency, I applied to return to Lame Deer.  Highway 212 to Lame Deer had been rebuilt straight and wide.  

My new boss was a Veteran’s Affairs pharmacist, Tim Dodson.  Tim said I had to be acceptable to the tribal Board of Health or he wouldn’t hire me back.

Tim invited me to the Dull Knife Cafeteria to be interviewed by Tom Mexican Cheyenne, Verna Old Mouse, and Tony Prairiebear, among others.  (Glad, I thought, I had once delivered a prescription to Tony and I had earned a reputation at Crow as being kind to people.)  They were mostly interested in whether I would commit to working for years there.

They said I’d be okay.  I stayed 12 years and, thanks to Tony, I learned how to listen to people.  I learned how to say no and take responsibility for saying no.  I learned to dress, behave, and speak decently. I can hear Tony saying, “no more, no less,” for emphasis.

I also learned how to say yes.  I learned to frequently wash my hands, how to apologize, how to look up the answers to questions, how to greet people by name.  I learned how to recruit grade school children to help me properly fold the flag at the end of the day.  

I have to give Tony Prairiebear credit for teaching me these things.  And much, much more.

Here’s Tony’s obituary that I found online:

Maa’heonee’veke’ese HolyBird, Anthony “Tony” Prairiebear began his journey back home on September 16th, 2020 at 10:00 pm. HolyBird was born on January 13, 1957 to Aloysius Prairiebear and Cora Spotted Elk. He was a descendant of Chiefs and also held a position on the Council of the 44 Chiefs.

It is our belief that we are only here for a short time, that our true eternal home is where our ancestors await us. It is with deep sadness that we allow Ma’heo’o to do his work, we understand that his plan is what is best in each of our lives. Tony will be remembered for his kindness, his prayerfulness, his commitment to our youth and his love for his family. Tony was somewhat of a private person always in deep thought and observing situations around him. People respected his opinion and advice. To be in his presence was powerful even if you didn’t know him, you knew he was a man of high respect and honor.

He lived a full life that was full of adventure and accomplishments. He completed his High School career at Busby High School and participated in sports with his favorite being cross country. In his senior year the Busby High School took state championship. He sat on the Tribal Council, worked for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in many capacities such as the Board Of Health Director, NC Tribal Forestry MIIF when they were highly requested all over the US. His most recent job was a Culture Specialist for Rocky Mountain Tribal Indian Leader.

He was a true Cheyenne man, a sun dancer, hunter, provider, always working on himself, and loved his family unconditionally. His first love and mother of his daughters was Anne Numkena.

He loved sweating and praying for everyone as often as he could no matter what the weather was like. He had tremendous respect for our traditional ways and participated in the Sundance. His first painter was Gilbert Littlewolf and his last painter was Ernest Littlemouth Sr also a good friend.

He was instrumental in starting the celebration of the “battle of where the girl saved her brother” and white river days, march against meth, prayer marches through Lame Deer, youth run to Ft. Laramie, has participated in the Ft. Robinson and so many other youth events.

Looking back on his early days at boarding school, he identified how the traditional Cheyenne familial system was damaged through this forced assimilation, largely removing our ability for healthy love and affection. So by his own example and leadership his legacy we hope has made an imprint on all he met.

Tony is preceded by his father Aloysius Prairiebear, his mother Cora Spotted Elk, grandson, Teton Peone, His aunts, Inez (Spotted Elk) Wilson, Alice Yellowplume, Irene (Spotted Elk) Wilson, uncles Abraham Spotted Elk, Kenneth Spotted Elk, Cedric Spotted Elk, Vernon Bullcoming, nephews Alex LittleCoyote, Wamblee Spotted Elk, brothers Clovis Wilson, Clement Wilson, Dino (Spotted Elk) Wilson and Isadore Whitewolf.

He is survived by his daughters Trina Marie Prairiebear & Antonia Lynn (Rudy) Peone, grandsons Jeremiah Prairiebear-Bement & Tyree Prairiebear-Flett, granddaughters Antonetta Prairiebear-Flett, Chenoa Prairiebear-Flett, Giuliana Prairiebear-Bement, LaPetite Aramisa Peone, Trionni Armani Andrew, sisters Renee Prairiebear, Barbara (Ryne) Harris, Diane (Neil) Beartusk, Lisa (John) Just, Kathy (Clinton) Harris, Clementine (Ambrose) Seminole, Cheryl (Merlin) Limpy, Irene Bullcoming, Ida (Robby) Onebear, Mona Bullcoming, Lattona Bullcoming, Carol (Randy) Gordon, Gwen Spotted Elk, brothers Johnny Wilson, Kipp Wilson, William Wilson Jr, Spencer (Michelle) Spotted Elk, Jared Spotted Elk, Sheldon Spotted Elk, Eric Spotted Elk, Lamar Spotted Elk, Lance Spotted Elk, Lane Spotted Elk, Kyle Burns, Truman Spotted Elk, Hadley Shoulderblade, Clint Shoulderblade, Uncles Wesley (Bonnie) Spotted Elk, Navitt Spotted Elk, Aunts Rhoda Bullcoming, Adeline Spotted Elk, Lydia (Frances) Hamilton, Linda Morrison, Earlene Clown, Clyde (Paula) Wolfblack and numerous nieces and nephews.

Tony was a Cultural Specialist for Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders. We would like to mention that he thought highly of his co-workers and the opportunity to work with each of them. He loved his job and did it well and to the best of his ability.

Tony’s family is large and includes the Teeths, Wolfblacks, Blackwolfs, Beaverhearts, Clowns, Roundstones, Bearquivers, Seminoles, HIwalkers, Whitedirts,

We would like to thank the ICU Team, Dr. Bigback and the COVID Team at the St. Vincents Hospital and the many people that offered prayers for our brother and family.

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