Sometimes in life you meet people who make an ever-lasting impression. The first time I met Wounded Knee Council Representative C.J. Clifford was at a Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association meeting- he was dressed nicely, wearing a leather vest, cowboy hat, jeans, and boots. His smile was warm and demeanor was charming.
Since moving to South Dakota, I have attended several GPTCA meetings and during my short but memorable interactions with C.J., it was always a pleasure to see such a charismatic, bold, and most importantly, and a strong voice for the Lakota people.
Valiant and determined when dealing with federal government representatives, he was a forced to be reckoned with, oftentimes cornering representatives with his unapologetic truths and questions.
When my husband would discuss important meetings he attended, I would regularly ask my husband “What did C.J. say about that?”. I asked because I was genuinely interested in C.J.’s opinion and looked forward to stories of boldness in his dealings with “the feds”.
One of my favorite memories was witnessing C.J. take center stage at the 150th Commemoration of the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty in Wyoming. He wore a beret with an eagle feather in it and proclaimed the many ways that the U.S. government failed to uphold the very rights of the treaty that was being commemorated. Throughout his speech, there was applause, akishas, and lilis.
Oftentimes I would look at his Facebook posts because he regularly did something that I quite enjoyed- C.J. would share photos of a digital thermometer showing the temperature where he lived. I would compare it with weather conditions of Eagle Butte, and use C.J. posts as talking points when I would playfully and purposefully complain of the cold weather with my husband.
It was with great interest that I followed the recent Oglala Sioux Tribal elections, and much to my delight, that C.J. was re-elected as a council representative.
The last time I sat down with him was during lunch in Rapid City- he ordered fresh fruits and a salad. Some people around the table made jokes of his menu choice, but C.J. proudly shared that he had lost over 40 pounds by making healthier eating decisions. Here was a tough cowboy and proud Lakota man, happily eating a salad and not caring what others thought- it was a great lesson for all present at the table.
I have so many other memories of Mr. Clifford I could share, and although I did not know him well enough to have the honor of calling him my acquaintance, I witnessed much about him to respect him and grieve his passing.
It is in shock, disbelief, and pain that I write this column, because today I heard the news that C.J. journeyed on into the Spirit World. His passing is a devastating loss to Indian Country and to those who knew him.