Funeral procession for Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person

Funeral procession for Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person

BROWNING, Mont. - The community is honoring Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person all week with funeral services and opportunities to pay respects to their long-time leader. 

On Tuesday, a funeral procession brought him from Polson all the way to the Blackfeet tribal offices. 

From county to county, law enforcement escorted him to Browning with park services escorting him through Glacier. 

Once in town, he was escorted to the tribal offices by law enforcement, family, dancers, singers, and even students from surrounding schools. 

"It's only fitting that we put him here at the council chambers for while. He's been there so many years for us as our leader and chief," Ervin Carlson, director of the Blackfeet tribe buffalo program, said. 

Once he was brought into the council chambers, his family was given an hour of privacy before the public was allowed in to pay their respects with a walk through. 

Starting on Wednesday, he will be escorted to the Browning High School gym where he will stay until his funeral on Friday - there is going to be a church service on Thursday evening. 

"As Indian people, as Blackfeet we do things in four, that's our culture. So, the four days on the fourth day that's when we'll lay him to rest," said Carlson. 

Jay St. Goddard tells Montana Right Now his dad and the chief were very close and it was an honor to get to know him, learn from him and serve with him. 

"It made me proud, I guess he saw the confidence in me as a young tribal leader... He nominated me as chairman when we had to re-elect a chairman for our tribe. I did my best at the time as a tribal leader to serve our people the way as our chief did. He always said work hard for your people," said St. Goddard, liaison for the Blackfeet housing department. 

Chief Old Person was the longest serving elected Tribal official in the United States.

He was elected to the Blackfeet Tribal Council in 1954 and served on the council for 56 years. 

Chief Old Person has been the tribe's chief since 1978, he died on Oct. 13 from cancer, he was 92 years old. 

"There will be no more chief, if there is that will be up to the family. Because he was chosen by a group of elders than we no longer have. In this day and age, the people that were able to witness or see that should be very fortunate; lucky I guess to have a chief, one of the last chiefs of a tribe - nation," said St. Goddard. 

We were able to speak with his niece and she says she remembers him as a gentle and loving man. 

St. Goddard says these words will always stick with him from Chief Old Person: "He always said continue, whatever happens you gotta continue on, you gotta go forward."

This isn't just a community in mourning or the Treasure State - it's the entire nation as Chief Old Person was recognized by Senator Steve Daines. 

“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,” said Daines in a statement last week. 

He was even recognized on the senate floor by Senator Jon Tester. 

“He was a keeper of Tribal history, a tireless advocate, and for many, he was a national voice for the challenges in Indian Country. There are too many honors and awards for me to name, but Chief Old Person’s impact goes far beyond his accolades… He will sorely be missed by the Blackfeet Nation, by the state of Montana, by Indian Country across this country, and my wife Sharla and I, as well as countless others that knew him. The world is a better place because of Chief Old Person and the work that he did. He will never be replaced," said Tester. 

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