Clyde Warrior: Tradition, Community, and Red Power

By Paul R. McKenzie-Jones
A book review by Larry P. Madden

Clyde Warrior book coverThis biography is a study of driven man. Raised by his traditional Ponca grandparents in White Eagle, Oklahoma, Warrior understood poverty and despair. He also understood pride, tradition and spoke English as a second language. He rose beyond the racial prejudices to express ideas foreign to most Indians of this period—equal rights, education, or Indian self-worth.

Warrior was the originator of “Red Power.” Sometimes outrageous, many times outspoken, was a believer that tribal identity connected to one’s self-worth. The education system of the 50’s and 60’s combined with a paternalistic B.I.A. approach was not working, with some communities having high school dropout rates in excess of 87%. Warrior’s vision of a revised system that allowed for cultural pride, linguistic freedoms and an even handed look at history was considered radical, and he knew that social, economic and political reform were needed to insure self-determination by a truly sovereign people.

Warrior’s work tied the importance to the past to the relevance needs of today's students. Being the driving force behind the National Indian Youth Council, Warrior had a platform to pursue a better future. With the ability to operate in two worlds, Warrior also stirred emotions in both. Critics were easy to find. From the government, to noted Indian philosopher and leader of the National Congress of American Indian (NCAI) Vine Deloria Jr. Deloria once stated that “Warrior has a way of presenting his points crudely and effectively so that people would not forget”. The two leaders Warrior (NIYC) and Deloria Jr’s (NCAI) strained relations were partially due to difference in tactics. Deloria Jr’s feeling that the NIYC was too “brash and abrasive” and Warrior’s opinion of the N.C.A.I. methods of lobbying as “too slow and ineffective”… although a mutual respect is said to have endured.

With this strong foundation, his rhetoric was bolstered by his pride in community and identity, making the struggle a proactive task instead of the normal reactive style employed against B.I.A. and other government agencies in the past. This style of politics would result in the words of Warrior appearing in the echoes of both Presidents L.B.J. and Nixon’s policies. He was a integral in moving Indian people forward, but sadly he is often overlooked. Warrior’s premature death before the much celebrated glory days of American Indian Movement (AIM) does not change the fact he is a cornerstone in the foundation Native rights.

Lucky for this reviewer, I lived some of this time period albeit a ten year old kid. Although I was unfamiliar with Mr. Warrior, when I started this read. I now have heard terms referring to the Ponca societies spoken as part of today's modern powwow circuit vernacular. The BIA still is controlling force in many communities, but as Indians we have a voice and the ability to speak out for change thanks to men like Clyde Warrior.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.