A Native American hero | Columnists

We all need a hero.  Whether that person is a religious figure, a parent, a favorite teacher, or a movie star, it’s human nature to need someone to serve as a mentor, a champion, or a model for living.  

This is a story about someone you may not have heard of, but can definitely serve as an example for us all.  Charles Eastman MD, also named Ohiyesa (pronounced oh-ee-suh), which means “winner”, was born in 1862 in an Native American village near Redwood Falls, MN. His mother died during childbirth, but he would go on to have a normal youth within the Native American culture. 

 Ohiyesa began a formal education when his father enrolled him into the missionary school in Flandreau, SD.  He was a bright young man, who after his schooling moved on to Dartmouth college in Nebraska, Wisconsin. Eventually, he would attend medical school in Boston, graduating in 1890.  

Doctor Eastman first practiced medicine in South Dakota at Pine Ridge and later at the Crow Creek Reservations.  He was one of the first Native American physicians to practice scientific based medicine on a reservation, and was even eyewitness to both the events leading up to and following the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29, 1890.  

Eastman went on to champion Native American rights, became a Washington lobbyist for the Dakota Sioux, and was assigned by Teddy Roosevelt, and later Calvin Coolidge, to several tribal responsibilities.  

He wrote about his Native American boyhood, as well as his medical and political experiences, providing a marvelous and unique two-world perspective.  But most endearing, perhaps, was how Charles Eastman helped establish more than 30 Native American YMCA groups.  He would later help Ernest Seton of the Woodcraft Indians, and Daniel Beard of the Sons of Daniel Boone, to found the Boy Scouts of America. 


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