GREAT FALLS — The Blackfeet Tribe announced on Wednesday evening that Chief Earl Old Person, the longest serving elected tribal official in the U.S., has died at the age of 92. He died at Blackfeet Community Hospital in Browning after a long battle with cancer.
The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council ordered all Flags on the Blackfeet Reservation to fly at half staff in his honor beginning on Thursday until sunset on the day of his interment.
A news release from the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council says that Old Person was elected to the council in 1952 and served for more than 60 years, and served as chairman for more than 50 years. During that time, Earl met many dignitaries including every U.S. President since Dwight Eisenhower, the British Royal Family, the Shah of Iran, and other world leaders.
In 1978, the family of the late Jim White Calf bestowed the hereditary chieftainship to Earl.
Old Person was an orator and leader for the Blackfeet People, the Blackfoot Confederacy, and Indian People across the United States and Canada.
In 1994, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Montana in recognition of his accomplishments and contributions. Seth Bodnar, the president of UM, said on Twitter:
The entire UM community feels deep sadness at the loss of Chief Earl Old Person. He not only led the Blackfeet Nation with wisdom and grace but also had a profound impact on the Griz family. The weight of this loss will last. We are all better for having been influenced by him.
Governor Greg Gianforte released the following statement :
It is with heavy hearts we mourn the passing of Chief Earl Old Person. With the confidence of his people, Chief Old Person put others before himself to serve a greater good. Chief Old Person leaves a lasting legacy with his love for people, unparalleled strength of character, dedication to service, and commitment to preserving cultural heritage. Chief Old Person dedicated his life as a tireless advocate, educator, storyteller, and song singer not only for the Blackfeet people, but also for our state and nation. His legacy will live on for many generations. Our prayers are with Chief Old Person’s family, friends, and the Blackfeet Nation.
U.S. Senator Steve Daines of Montana said on Twitter:
I was saddened to hear the news of Chief Earl Old Person passing away. He was a great Montanan and a great American. My prayers are with his family, friends and the entire Blackfeet Nation. It was an honor to know him.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester of Montana said on Twitter:
Today, Sharla and I mourn the loss of a great man and a dear friend, Chief Earl Old Person. Chief Old Person was a fierce advocate for the Blackfeet Nation and all of Indian Country for his entire life, and the world is a better place because he was in it. He will never be replaced, and we are holding his loved ones and the Blackfeet people in our hearts.
James McNeely, the Tribe's public information officer, said in the release: “The Blackfeet People have suffered a huge loss today with the passing of Chief Old Person. A chapter in our history has come to a close. The Blackfeet Tribe offers prayers and support to the family of Earl at this time.”
Memorial services are pending; we will update you as we get more information.