Winfield Russell, left, is seen in 2019. Photo: National Cemetery Administration (NCA) U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Northern Cheyenne Vice-President passes on
Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Late last month, the Cheyenne Nation and many other people across the country were greatly saddened to learn of the passing of Northern Cheyenne Tribal Vice-President, Winfield Russell, One Bird, age 71 of Busby, Montana.

He had been under medical care for some time, the victim of a mysterious malady that the Indian Health Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Billings Clinic doctors could not diagnose or cure. He did not have COVID.

While this could be a short news story, I opted for a column in order to share some personal observations about this remarkable man who served the Northern Cheyenne in many different capacities throughout his life. This is not to be confused with an obituary which the family will compose.

Winfield graduated from St. Labre, where he was an outstanding athlete, one of many Cheyenne basketball greats of the late 60’s. At the height of the Vietnam conflict, he enlisted as a Marine and that service, love of country and regard for his fellow veterans became a life-long passion.

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Upon honorable discharge, Winfield experienced some of chaos affecting many Veterans of that time and even today. Indeed, it seems to me that many Cheyenne young men go through a period of wild oat sowing. Winfield turned from that path at a very young age, never looking back, becoming a good counselor and supporter to those trying to do the same, especially his fellow veterans, never harsh or judgmental.

He entered law enforcement, spending a long career as both a tribal and BIA officer, climbing through the ranks to become a Criminal Investigator. Throughout his political career, he was ever supportive of law enforcement, while urging them to maintain high standards and exercise more compassion for the Cheyenne people.

As a younger man, he was key to the formation of the Northern Cheyenne Color Guard, a group that still answers the call to duty for certain events, funerals, pow wows, Veterans celebrations etc. This colorful, professional and very precise Color Guard performed often at home, on many other reservations and were even invited to the State and National Capitals to present the colors. Later he was proud that Micah Hiwalking, his niece and the first female Cheyenne to graduate from West Point, followed with the Color Guard and military tradition.

After retirement, he became politically active, cutting his teeth with service by being elected to the Chief Dull Knife College Board of Directors, serving several terms. As a result, he became an extraordinarily strong voice for higher education. A fluent Cheyenne speaker, he had a particular interest in the Cheyenne language retention activities, ever urging the Council to support this critical effort. As Board Chairman, he could often be found visiting the college, having lunch with students and staff, attending meetings, especially those associated with cultural and language matters. His favorite hangout was the college cultural center, often just visiting and joking with staff, students and guests.

As former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell remarked, “The Cheyenne Tribe is poorer with his loss.”

In the meantime, my old friend, travel safe. You will be missed.


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