Leonard Little Finger
The late Leonard Little Finger (1939-2017) with one of his takojas (grandchildren). Courtesy photo
Notes from Indian Country
Leonard and Enos; my mentors and friends
Friday, December 17, 2021

There are two Lakota elders who are no longer with us that were my mentors in the early days when I first returned to the Pine Ridge Reservation and started a newspaper. As we enter the month of December and ease our way to Christmas Day, their memories become foremost in my mind.

They were not only my teachers, they were my friends.

On those cold winter mornings when I was living in Martin, South Dakota, I used to stop in at Vesta’s café in order to have coffee with my friend Enos Poor Bear. It was usually still dark outside as we drank our coffee, talked and waited for the morning sun. My newspaper was right next door to the café and Enos had a room a few doors over and we were both early risers.

Enos was the former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He passed away on Jan. 25, 1992. He was instrumental in causing the government to change the name of the Custer Battlefield to The Little Bighorn National Monument.

He was also the tribal leader who helped design and fashion the flag of the Oglala Sioux Tribe that now flies proudly over offices all over the reservation.

Enos was a veteran of World War II and always showed great pride in his days as a “grunt” in the United States Army. He said it was the army that taught him so many of the things he would bring back to the Pine Ridge Reservation in order to help improve the lives of its citizens.

Enos was one of those great Lakota story tellers. He could keep you spellbound for hours while he weaved the stories of Indian Country before, during and after the invasion of the new settlers.

Leonard Little Finger was much like Enos. He knew the history of the Tribe as well or better than anyone. He was also a great story teller and his stories always held a lesson. Leonard was one of the first of his generation to leave the reservation in search of a higher education. He earned a B.S. at Utah State University and then he returned to Pine Ridge to work for the Indian Health Service Hospital where he eventually became the CEO.

After Leonard retired he went to Oglala Lakota College and earned a degree in Lakota Studies. He started the Lakota Language Consortium in 2005.

Leonard, “Wakiyan Zinkala” passed away on April 8, 2017, at the age of 77.

From both of these Lakota elders and historians I learned much about the Lakota people and their long history of survival.

Tim Giago
Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

But more than that they held a great pride in who they were. They exuded this pride and like rays of sunshine, it washed over those who cared to listen and learn. I am proud to have known these two Lakota gentlemen and I want to preserve their memories for all time.

I vividly remember the last time I had coffee with Enos and lunch with Leonard. They drank their coffee like the Lakota elders of old with not a sign of embarrassment as they slurped.

Just watching them was a joy and listening to their historical stories was a pleasure. And so I raise my coffee cup to these Lakota elders who taught me so much.


Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com

Note: Content © Tim Giago