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Meet Native America: Thurman Cournoyer, Yankton Sioux chair

Filed Under: National
More on: nmai, south dakota, thurman cournoyer, yankton sioux

The National Museum of the American Indian continues its "Meet Native America" series with Thurman Cournoyer Sr., the chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota:
What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

As chairman of our tribe, I am the executive of the tribe and preside over the Business and Claims Committee and the General Council. I am also the main signatory on behalf of the tribe. I travel to a lot of places to do business for the tribe. I try my best to be a role model for the younger generation.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

I grew up on the reservation and went to school at a Catholic boarding school, very strict. My father moved to Detroit in 1953. I spent my summer in Detroit and the school year on the reservation till 1959. I joined the Navy at 17 years old in 1961—did 3 years, 11 months, and got out one day before my 21st birthday, honorable discharge. I am not a career politician but got involved with tribal politics in my later years after I retired as a journeyman electrician. In the meantime I raised eight kids and seven grandchildren.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

I would have to say my father, Harold Cournoyer, was my mentor. He had his faults, but he was hardworking and honest. He raised eleven kids, and we all turned out OK. He passed on to me his work ethic.

Get the Story:
Thurman Cournoyer Sr., Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman (NMAI Blog 7/11)

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