Steve Emery and Bill Clinton: ‘It’s a great honor, Mr. President (Video courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library)
Steven C. Emery
Mato Tanka
November 14, 1958 – December 31, 2020
Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Steven C. Emery, Esq., Lakota from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, passed on to the Spirit World on December 31, 2021 in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Steve Emery was married to Belva Hollow Horn Emery of Wounded Knee, South Dakota for over 26 years and together they have five children—Rachel and Carol Emery, Sean, Meaghan, and Mackenzie Casey and hunka daughter Demaris Mexican.

From his early years, Steve has four children: James; Bambi (Hopa); Steve Emery, Jr. of Mankato, Minnesota; and Lupe Oyenque of Ohkay Owingeh in New Mexico. Altogether, Steve is survived by 20 grandchildren.

Steve Emery’s wake will be held on Thursday January 7, 2021, from 5 to 10 p.m. at the Woyatan Lutheran Church on 55 Anamosa St., Rapid City, South Dakota. Chief Leonard Crow Dog and Reverend John Old Horse will officiate. Ivan Looking Horse will sing and Steve’s Dakota hymns will be played.

Steve Emery will be buried at Wounded Knee, South Dakota with a graveside service at 1:00 p.m. on Friday January 8, 2021. A virtual link to the service will be available via Facebook, and if you come in person, please wear a mask, practice public health safety and social distancing.

Pallbearers and Honorary Pallbearers:
Tom Van Norman
Mark Van Norman II
Rick Emery
Quentin Emery
Todd Emery
DJ Picotte
Sean Casey
Michael Bush
Randy Emery
Robert Pille
Ryan Emery
David Emery

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Steven C. Emery, 1958-2020. Courtesy photo

Steve was born on November 14, 1958 to Carol Leone Emery and Clarendon Van Norman in Buffalo, New York, and has two brothers, Mark and Thomas, and two sisters Diane (died 1987) and May (mother Linda Van Norman). Steve honored all of his aunts and uncles, cousins, many nephews and nieces, including Michael Bush (Diane), Kira Van Norman (Tom), and Mark Van Norman II, and always honored his many hunka relatives.

In 2007, Chief Leonard Crow Dog made Steve Emery Chief Wamni Omni Naca (Chief Whirlwind) with the support of Charlie Colombe and Sam Moves Camp. Steve wore his headdress at traditional ceremonies and cultural events, with Chief Oliver Red Cloud, Chief Crow Dog and other Lakota elders. JoAnne Crow Dog said, “Steve was a good man. He lived his Lakota beliefs.”

Oliver Red Cloud recognized Steve as his nephew, and at the time of Chief Red Cloud’s passing, Steve spoke for the Red Cloud family when he said, “He was passionate about making sure that the kids knew the Lakota ways and that they knew about the treaty – the 1868 treaty, the 1851 treaty – and the special relationship that exists between the United States and the great Sioux Nation.”

Steve Emery earned his GED at the Yankton Sioux Tribe, youth program, his Bachelor of Arts degree from University of South Dakota, Vermillion in 1986, and earned his Juris Doctor Degree from Harvard Law School in 1989. Sonny Brave Eagle (died 2004) was Steve’s Step-Dad. Steve sang with Sonny and little bro Sonny, Jr., Michael Bush, his nephew, and his boys James and Junior in Wanbli Ohitika, the Brave Eagle family drum.

Steve served as an attorney for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe for many years, and served the Rosebud, Oglala, Standing Rock, and Yankton Sioux Tribes as well. Emery was known for his advocacy for Indian sovereignty and Oceti Sakowin treaty rights, including:

Defending Indian Hunting & Fishing Rights in South Dakota v. Bourland and vindicating those rights through Federal legislation;

Stopping State Taxation of Indian Motor Vehicles and Recovering $25 Million for Tribal Members;

Protecting Tribal Water Quality in the Cheyenne River, Securing Clean-Up Funds and 400 Acres in the Black Hills;

Vindicating Indian Voting Rights in Legislative District 28A;

Protecting Tribal Government Authority to Regulate Liquor;

Upholding Tribal Court Decisions;

Cheyenne River Sioux v. Salazar trust fund litigation; and

Devil’s Tower (Mato Tipila) sacred site litigation.

He also worked to promote the Lakota Language, and to preserve cultural sites and sacred sites.  

Steve Emery graduated as a Law Enforcement Officer from the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center at Grand Island, Nebraska, and served as Chief of Police of the Santee Sioux Tribe and as a Police Officer at the Yankton Sioux Tribe and the City of Wagner, South Dakota.

Steve Emery was mentored by his Grandpa Jim Emery (Rosebud) in Lakota language, singing and culture. Jim Emery was raised by his grandmother Walks Alone from Sitting Bull’s band (who nursed her 3 brothers when they were wounded at the Little Big Horn). Grandpa Jim served as Eyapaha for several of the Lakota tribes, had early Lakota radio shows in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, and taught Lakota Language at Sinte Gleska University and USD Vermillion. Steve learned his love of Lakota ways and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe from his grandmother, Edith Veronica Claymore Emery. Steve’s son James Arthur Emery was named for his Great Grandpa Jim Eugene Emery.

Steve Emery sang Dakota and Lakota hymns at the Episcopal Church in Eagle Butte, South Dakota with Joe Blue Coat and his family, and he accompanied the Blue Coat family to Washington, DC to sing at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, where they recorded a hymn on the Smithsonian Native American Folklife record. Emery recorded an album of Dakota hymns with his older children while a student at USD Vermillion. He performed his music at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.

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Steven C. Emery, 1958-2020, is pictured on the far right next to then-President Bill Clinton during a tribal leader event hosted by the White House in Washington, D.C., on August 6, 1998. Courtesy photo

Emery sang a Lakota honoring song for President Bill Clinton in 1998 at a major White House Tribal Leader Event. During the song, President Bill Clinton bowed and to the drum, and said thank you.  On behalf of the drum, Steve called out “It’s a great honor Mr. President.”  The President acknowledged Steve and the drum crew, Berdell Blue Arm, Aaron Widow, and Ronnie Emery.

President Clinton continued his speech to the White House Tribal Leaders Assembly. The President told the meaning of the song in his speech: “I leave you with the words of the Lakota song we heard a few moments ago: ‘beneath the President’s Flag the people stand that they may grow for generations to come.’  Let us stand together under America’s flag to build that kind of future for generations to come.”

Ten years later, Steve Emery sang an honoring song for Barack Obama in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when he was running for President. Steve told Obama, “I, too, started off as a community organizer—the only difference is I’m still a community organizer.” Obama laughed and warmly greeted Steve as a fellow Harvard Law School alum.

Steve Emery sang Lakota songs for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe with his adopted brothers Jim and Bill Picotte, and Ira Blue Coat, and many other noted singers; and worked with and honored many traditional leaders and medicine men, including Oliver Red Cloud, Roy Circle Bear, Pete and Romanus Bear Stops, Johnson Holy Rock and Leonard Crow Dog; Steve Emery honored many U.S. leaders with Lakota songs, including Senators Tom Daschle, Tim Johnson, Daniel Akaka, and Danny Inouye; and worked with AIM Leaders including Russell Means and Dennis Banks.

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Steven C. Emery, 1958-2020, is pictured on the far right during a meeting with then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) in 2008. Obama would go on to win the presidency later that year. Courtesy photo

Steve freely passed along his knowledge, and he taught his children and youngest brother to sing Lakota songs and to dance. Steve’s youngest children learned Lakota language and music through Lakota nursery songs.  He really enjoyed sharing his strong singing voice and musical talents, and made several recordings, including his own original music in his “Tunes from the Rez” CD, and in the 1980’s he recorded Dakota Church Hymns for the Episcopal Church.  His Uncle Fred Gabourie, Sr., and his Aunt Marge Edward loved to see him, praised him up in public for his talents, and were always proud of him.

Steve loved to sing at Pow Wows.  In the late 1980’s into the 1990’s he could be found singing with the Red Elk Drum and his kolas Dane LeBeau, Raymond Roach, Deon Red Dog, Ira Blue Coat, and many others, or with his family drum group Wambli Ohitika, whether at small pow wows in Denver, Boulder, Yankton, or on any reservation, or at the Denver March PowWow.  At the Cheyenne River Labor Day Pow Wows in 1996 and 1997 and late 90’s he had great times singing with our adopted brother Alfred Greaves’ and the Ta Tanka Topa Drum, and would drop in to sing with the Red Scaffold Drum.  

After that, he sang with his family drum, Wakpa Waste’, whether at Cheyenne River, White River, and wherever the drum travelled his spirit was there.  Steve loved to join in and sing with the Porcupine Singers. He was friends of Terry Spoonhunter and sang with the Crazy Horse Singers.  He also sat in with the Northern Cheyenne Singers on occasion.  Steve was well respected and a great presence around the drum.  He knew the great Lakota singers of the old days, and learned from them, including Bill Horn Cloud and Berdell Blue Arm. He was well respected in the Native American Church.

In January 2001, Steve sang an Honor Song inside the South Dakota State Capitol Building at the Legislature’s Inauguration with the Wakpa Waste’ Drum Group led by Berdell Blue Arm, Michael Bush, Emanuel Red Bear, Jimmy Picotte,  Sonny Brave Eagle, Sr., Sonny Brave Eagle, Jr., Lance White and Tom Van Norman.

Steve took special pride in singing the Honor song when his brother was elected to the Legislature from Cheyenne River because Steve and Jimmy sued the State to win that seat back in State and Federal Court, and won both cases.  It was the first time we knew of a live drum being allowed inside the State Capitol Building.  

Steve also sang with Wakpa Waste’ at annual Native American Days at the South Dakota Legislature.  It was Steve’s idea to repeal the South Dakota “dangling object” law that was used as a pretext to pull over Lakotas, and he gave that to his younger brother Tom in the legislature, and won!  

With the team at Cheyenne River, Steve challenged the Homestake Mining Company in Federal Court, which led to an interesting meeting at a small camp just before Cherry Creek community along the Wakpa Waste’ (Good River in Lakota, known popularly as the Cheyenne River). The outsiders were telling the Tribe that there was nothing wrong with our water, but they all came with their own plastic bottles of drinking water.  Uncle Berdell led a ceremony, and the outsiders drank some of the water. Afterward Steve told them that they just drank river water.  They had a true look of surprise on their faces!  Steve enjoyed a good joke.

Steve loved and honored his Mother Carol Emery, and his youngest daughter is named for her. Steve loved and missed his sister Diane. He also loved his Mother-in-Law Rachel Hollow Horn, and his daughter Rachel Diane is named for them. His wish was to be buried at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Steve’s family, friends and relatives are offering prayers and good wishes for his Journey to the Spirit World. As we honor and celebrate Steve’s life, please stay safe, where a mask and practice social distancing to protect yourselves, your family, friends and neighbors.

Steve’s family plans to host a livestream of the burial on Friday. Details forthcoming.