Vine Deloria Jr.

Vine Victor Deloria Jr. (March 26, 1933 – November 13, 2005) was a Native American author, theologian, historian, and activist. He was widely known for his book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969), which helped attract national attention to Native American issues in the same year as the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement. From 1964 to 1967, he had served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians,[1] increasing tribal membership from 19 to 156. Beginning in 1977, he was a board member of the National Museum of the American Indian, which now has buildings in both New York City and Washington, DC.

Vine Deloria Jr.
Vine Victor Deloria Jr.

(1933-03-26)March 26, 1933
DiedNovember 13, 2005(2005-11-13) (aged 72)
NationalityStanding Rock Sioux, American
Theological work

Deloria began his academic career in 1970 at Western Washington State College at Bellingham, Washington. He became Professor of Political Science at the University of Arizona (1978–1990), where he established the first master's degree program in American Indian Studies in the United States. In 1990, Deloria taught at the University of Colorado Boulder until 2000[2], when he returned to Arizona and taught at the College of Law.

Background and education

Vine Deloria Jr. was born in 1933, in Martin, South Dakota, near the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.[3] He was the son of Barbara Sloat (née Eastburn) and Vine Victor Deloria Sr. (1901–1990). His father studied English and Christian theology and became an Episcopal archdeacon and missionary on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.[4] His father transferred his and his children's tribal membership from the Yankton Sioux to Standing Rock. Vine Sr.'s sister Ella Deloria (1881–1971) was an anthropologist.[5] Vine Jr.'s paternal grandfather was Tipi Sapa (Black Lodge), also known as the Rev. Philip Joseph Deloria, an Episcopal priest and a leader of the Yankton band of the Dakota Nation. His paternal grandmother was Mary Sully, daughter of Alfred Sully, a general in the American Civil War and Indian Wars and his French-Yankton wife; and granddaughter of painter Thomas Sully.

Deloria was first educated at reservation schools, then graduated from Kent School in 1951. He graduated from Iowa State University in 1958 with a degree in general science.[6] Deloria served in the Marines from 1954 through 1956.[7]

Originally planning to be a minister like his father, Deloria in 1963 earned a theology degree from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, then located in Rock Island, Illinois.[6] In the late 1960s, he returned to graduate study and earned a J.D. degree from University of Colorado Law School in 1970.[8]


In 1964, Deloria was elected executive director of the National Congress of American Indians.[9] During his three-year term, the organization went from bankruptcy to solvency, and membership went from 19 to 156 tribes.[10] Through the years, he was involved with many Native American organizations. Beginning in 1977, he was a board member of the National Museum of the American Indian, which established its first center at the former United States Custom House in New York City.

While teaching at Western Washington State College at Bellingham, Washington, Deloria advocated for the treaty fishing rights of local Native American tribes. He worked on the legal case that led to the historic Boldt Decision of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Judge Boldt's ruling in United States v. Washington (1974) validated Indian fishing rights in the state as continuing past the tribes' cession of millions of acres of land to the United States in the 1850s. Thereafter Native Americans had the right to half the catch in fishing in the state.[7]


In 1969, Deloria published his first of more than twenty books, entitled Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. This book became one of Deloria's most famous works.[11] In it, he addressed stereotypes of Indians and challenged white audiences to take a new look at the history of United States western expansion, noting its abuses of Native Americans.[12] The book was released the year that students of the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement occupied Alcatraz Island to seek construction of an Indian cultural center, as well as attention in gaining justice on Indian issues, including recognition of tribal sovereignty. Other groups also gained momentum, with organizations such as the American Indian Movement staging events to attract media and public attention for education.

The book helped draw attention to the Native American struggle. Focused on the Native American goal of sovereignty without political and social assimilation, the book stood as a hallmark of Native American Self-Determination at the time. The American Anthropological Association sponsored a panel in response to Custer Died for Your Sins.[13] The book was reissued in 1988 with a new preface by the author, noting, "The Indian world has changed so substantially since the first publication of this book that some things contained in it seem new again."

Deloria wrote and edited many subsequent books and 200 articles, focusing on issues as they related to Native Americans, such as education and religion.[7] In 1995, Deloria argued in his book Red Earth, White Lies that the Bering Strait Land Bridge never existed, and that the ancestors of the Native Americans had not migrated to the Americas over such a land bridge, as has been the predominant theory among archaeologists and anthropologists. Rather, he asserted that the Native Americans may have originated in the Americas, or reached them through transoceanic travel, as some of their creation stories suggested.[14]

Deloria's position on the age of certain geological formations, the length of time Native Americans have been in the Americas, their possible coexistence with dinosaurs, etc. were influential in the development of American Indian defenses against scientific racism. Deloria controversially rejected many of the most common scientific explanations, not only of the origins of indigenous peoples in the Americas, but other aspects of history that contradict Native American accounts.[14][15] Deloria argued that mainstream scientists are virtually incapable of independent thinking and are hobbled by their reverence for orthodoxy. He wrote that scientists characteristically persecute those who dare to advance unorthodox views, and that science is thus essentially a religion.[16] Deloria was criticized for his embrace of American Indian traditional histories by anthropologist Bernard Ortiz de Montellano and English professor H. David Brumble, who say such views are not supported by the scientific and physical evidence, and contribute to problems of pseudoscience.[17]

Deloria often cited American Indian creation accounts and oral traditions in support of his views relating to science. He also cited the views of Hindu creationist Michael Cremo.[18]

Nicholas Peroff wrote that "Deloria has rarely missed a chance to argue that the realities of precontact American Indian experience and tradition cannot be recognized or understood within any conceptual framework built on the theories of modern science. And in fact, it is certainly true that no one, with or without the aid of scientific theories and concepts, can, in any absolute meaning of the word, know what life was like as a member of the Menominee Tribe six hundred years ago. But we can imagine what it was like."[19]

Academic career

In 1970, Deloria took his first faculty position, teaching at the Western Washington University College of Ethnic Studies in Bellingham, Washington.[7] As a visiting scholar, he taught at the Pacific School of Religion, the New School of Religion and Colorado College. From 1972 to 1974 he also taught at the University of California at Los Angeles.

His first tenured position was as Professor of Political Science at the University of Arizona, which he held from 1978 to 1990. While at UA, Deloria established the first master's degree program in American Indian Studies in the United States. Such recognition of American Indian culture in existing institutions was one of the goals of the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement.[7] Numerous American Indian studies programs, museums and collections, and other institutions have been established since Deloria's first book was published.

Deloria next taught at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1990 to 2000.[20] After he retired from CU Boulder, he taught at the University of Arizona's College of Law.[7]

Honors and legacy

  • In 1974, after the publication of God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, Time Magazine named him as one of the primary "shapers and movers" of Christian faith and theology.[7]
  • In 1996, Deloria received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas.[21]
  • In 1999, he received the Wordcraft Circle Writer of the Year Award in the category of prose and personal/critical essays for his work Spirit and Reason.[22]
  • In 2002, he received the Wallace Stegner award from the Center of the American West and was honorably mentioned at the 2002 National Book Festival.[20]
  • In 2003, he won the 2003 American Indian Festival of Words Author Award.[23]
  • In 2018, he became one of the inductees in the first induction ceremony held by the National Native American Hall of Fame.[24]

Marriage and family

At his death, Deloria was survived by his wife, Barbara, their children, Philip, Daniel, and Jeanne, and seven grandchildren.[25]

His son, Philip J. Deloria, is also a respected historian and author.[26]


After Deloria retired in May 2000, he continued to write and lecture until he died on November 13, 2005, in Golden, Colorado, from an aortic aneurysm.[6]


  • Aggressions of Civilization: Federal Indian Policy Since The 1880s, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-87722-349-1.
  • American Indian Policy In The Twentieth Century, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8061-1897-0.
  • American Indians, American Justice, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983. ISBN 0-292-73834-X.
  • Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence, New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1974.
  • A Better Day for Indians, New York: Field Foundation, 1976.
  • A Brief History of the Federal Responsibility to the American Indian, Washington: Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1979,
  • Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, New York: Macmillan, 1969. ISBN 0-8061-2129-7.
  • For This Land: Writings on Religion in America, New York: Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0-415-92114-7.
  • Frank Waters: Man and Mystic, Athens: Swallow Press: Ohio University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8040-0978-3.
  • Genocide of the Mind: New Native American Writing (with Marijo Moore), New York: Nation Books, 2003. ISBN 1-56025-511-0.
  • God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, Golden, Colorado: North American Press, 1994. ISBN 1-55591-176-5.
  • The Indian Affair, New York: Friendship Press, 1974. ISBN 0-377-00023-X.
  • Indians of the Pacific Northwest, New York: Doubleday, 1977. ISBN 0-385-09790-5.
  • The Metaphysics of Modern Existence, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979. ISBN 0-06-450250-3.
  • The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty, New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. ISBN 0-394-72566-2.
  • Of Utmost Good Faith, San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1971.
  • Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact, New York: Scribner, 1995. ISBN 0-684-80700-9.
  • The Red Man in the New World Drama: A Politico-legal Study with a Pageantry of American Indian History, New York: Macmillan, 1971.
  • Reminiscences of Vine V. Deloria, Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota 1970, New York Times oral history program: American Indian oral history research project. Part II; no. 82.
  • The Right To Know: A Paper, Washington, D.C.: Office of Library and Information Services, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1978.
  • A Sender of Words: Essays in Memory of John G. Neihardt, Salt Lake City: Howe Brothers, 1984. ISBN 0-935704-22-1.
  • Singing For A Spirit: A Portrait of the Dakota Sioux, Santa Fe, N.M.: Clear Light Publishers, 1999. ISBN 1-57416-025-7.
  • Spirit and Reason: The Vine Deloria Jr. Reader, Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Pub, 1999. ISBN 1-55591-430-6.
  • Tribes, Treaties, and Constitutional Tribulations (with Wilkins, David E.), Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999. ISBN 0-292-71607-9.
  • We Talk, You Listen; New Tribes, New Turf, New York: Macmillan, 1970.
  • Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths, Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Pub, 2002.
  • The World We Used to Live In: Remembering the Powers of the Medicine Men, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, CO. ISBN 978-1-55591-564-3(pbk.); ISBN 1-55591-564-7. 2006

Secondary Literature

  • DeMallie, Raymond J. (December 2006). "Vine Deloria Jr. (1933–2005)". American Anthropologist. New Series. 108 (4): 932–35. doi:10.1525/aa.2006.108.4.932.
  • Indians and Anthropologists: Vine Deloria Jr., and the Critique of Anthropology, ed. by Thomas Biolsi, Larry J. Zimmerman, University of Arizona Press 1997, ISBN 0-8165-1607-3
  • Destroying Dogma: Vine Deloria Jr. and His Influence on American Society, ed. by Steve Pavlik, Daniel R. Wildcat, Fulcrum Publishing 2006, ISBN 1-55591-519-1

See also


  1. "Previous NCAI Leadership | NCAI". Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  2. "Vine Deloria, Jr". Colorado Law. January 25, 2017. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  3. Johnson, Kirk (November 15, 2005). "Vine Deloria Jr., Champion of Indian Rights, Dies at 72". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  4. Wishart, 60
  5. Wishart, 59
  6. Johnson, Kirk. "Vine Deloria Jr., Champion of Indian Rights, Dies at 72." New York Times. November 15, 2005 (retrieved Aug 26, 2009)
  7. Lorenz, Melissa. Vine Deloria Jr., EMuseum @ Minnesota State University, Mankato. 2008 (Archived copy retrieved April 19, 2015)
  8. "Vine Deloria, Jr". Colorado Law. January 25, 2017. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  9. Wilkins, David (2015). "A Tribute to Vine Deloria, Jr.: An Indigenous Visionary". Revue Française d'Etudes Américaines. 3 (144): 109–118. Retrieved May 31, 2016 via
  10. Wilkinson, 107
  11. Johnson, Kirk (November 15, 2005). "Vine Deloria Jr., Champion of Indian Rights, Dies at 72". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  12. Wilkinson, 108.
  13. "Native Americans and Archaeologists: Review - Archaeology Magazine Archive". Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  14. Jenkins, Philip Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality, OUP USA (November 24, 2005) ISBN 978-0-19-518910-0. p. 233.
  15. O'Leary, Denyse. By Design or by Chance in the Universe: The Growing Controversy on the Origins of Life, Augsburg Fortress (August 3, 2004) ISBN 978-0-8066-5177-4 p. 155
  16. Brumble, H David (1998). "Vine Deloria Jr, Creationism, and Ethnic Pseudoscience". RNCSE. 18 (6). Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  17. Bernard Ortiz de Montellano. "Post-Modern Multiculturalism and Scientific Illiteracy", APS (American Physical Society) News, January 1998, Vol 7, No. 1
  18. Deloria's critics on this issue include: Bruce Thornton, Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge, ISI Books, 1999.; H. David Brumble, "Vine Deloria Jr., Creationism, and Ethnic Pseudoscience", American Literary History 1998 10(2):335–346; George Johnson, "Indian Tribes' Creationists Thwart Archeologists", New York Times, October 22, 1996; John C. Whittaker. "Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americas and the Myth of Scientific Fact", book review in The Skeptical Inquirer, Jan–Feb 1997
  19. Pavlik, Steve; Wildcat, Daniel R. (2006). Destroying dogma : Vine Deloria Jr. and his influence on American society. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Pub. p. 96. ISBN 1555915191.
  20. "Vine Deloria Jr., Renowned Author And American Indian Leader, Dies At 72." Archived June 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine University of Colorado at Boulder News Center. November 14, 2005 (retrieved Aug 26, 2009).
  21. List of NWCA Lifetime Achievement Awards, accessed August 6, 2010.
  22. "Vine Deloria Jr". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  23. Writer, DANNA SUE WALKER World Staff. "American Indian Festival of Words honors Deloria". Tulsa World. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  24. "National Native American Hall of Fame names first twelve historic inductees -". Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  25. Kirk Johnson, "Vine Deloria Jr., Champion of Indian Rights, Dies at 72," The NY Times, November 15, 2005. Accessed Nov 29, 2012.
  26. "Indians in Unexpected Places: Philip J. Deloria" University Press of Kansas. (retrieved August 26, 2009)


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