HBO Film About Wounded Knee

In 1893 Charles Eastman, his wife and their new baby moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he started a medical practice. Shortly thereafter, he accepted a position as field secretary for the International Committee of the YMCA, and for three years traveled extensively throughout the United States and Canada visiting many Indian tribes in an attempt to start new YMCA’s in those areas. In 1897, Dr. Eastman went to Washington as the legal representative and lobbyist for the Sioux tribe.

From 1899 to 1902, he again served as a Government physician to the Sioux at Crow Creek Agency, South Dakota. Starting in 1903, as an employee of the Indian Bureau, he spent over six years giving permanent English family names to the Sioux. In the process of creating both English names and family lineage records, he met and interviewed almost every living member of the Sioux tribe.

His first book, “Indian Boyhood,” was published in 1902. It is the story of his own early life in the wilds of Canada, and it was an immediate public success generating public notoriety and a demand for more of his writings. He wrote a total of eleven books, including Red Hunters and the Animal People (1904), Old Indian Days (1906), Wigwam Evenings (1909), Smoky Day’s Wigwam Evenings: Indian Stories Retold (1910), The Soul of the Indian (1911), Indian Child Life (1913), Indian Scout Talks (1914), The Indian Today: The Past and Future of the First American (1915), From the Deep Woods to Civilization (1916), Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains (1918). All of his books were successful, some were used in school editions, and many were translated into French, German, Danish, and Czech languages. He also contributed numerous articles to magazines, reviews, and encyclopedias.

In 1910, Eastman began his long association with the Boy Scouts, helping Ernest Thompson Seton establish the organization based in large part on the prototype of the American Indian. It was also at about this time that he started to become in high demand as a lecturer and public speaker, traveling extensively in the US and abroad. Dr. Eastman was chosen to represent the American Indian at the Universal Races Congress in London in 1911. His public speaking continued for the remainder of his life.

Beginning in 1910 and for the rest of his life, Ohiyesa also became involved with many progressive organizations attempting to improve the circumstances of the various Indian tribes. At one time he was president of the Society of American Indians, one prominent organization of that type. From 1915 to 1920 the Eastman family created and operated a summer camp for girls, Oahe, at Granite Lake, New Hampshire, attempting to teach Indian life-ways to young girls.

He and his wife separated in August 1921. While the couple declined to comment on the reason for their separation, descendants later commented that they believed that the primary reason was the increasing dispute between the couple regarding the best future for the American Indian. Elaine Goodale Eastman stressed total assimilation of Native Americans into the dominant society and she apparently increasingly tried to dominate her husband’s views.

Eastman favored a type of cultural pluralism in which Indians would interact with the dominant society, utilizing only those positive aspects that would benefit them, but still retaining their Indian identity, including their traditional beliefs and customs; in effect living between two worlds. Eastman believed that the teachings and spirit of his adopted religion of Christianity and the traditional Indian spiritual beliefs were essentially the same and had their common origins in the same “Great Mystery;” a belief that was controversial to many Christians.

In 1928 Ohiyesa purchased land on the north shore of Lake Huron, near Desbarats, Ontario, Canada. For the remainder of his life, when he was not traveling and lecturing, he lived there in his primitive cabin in communion with the virgin nature that he loved so dearly. In his last years he spent only the coldest winter months with his son in Detroit, where he died on January 8, 1939, at the age of eighty. For several years toward the end of his life he worked on a major study on the Sioux, but the project was never completed. Ohiyesa was presented a special medal honoring the most distinguished achievements by an American Indian at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.