2011-04-27 / Voices

John Artichoker: New Times for old enemies…


In 1975, the National Council of Churches issued a report written by a well-known Native American author that strongly criticized the National Congress of American Indians for, among other things, having an “incestuous relationship” with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In his response to the report, NCAI President Mel Tonasket replied that “although the BIA is always trying to ‘ do it to us,’ we deny that we are related to them.”

Indeed, from its inception, NCAI has had strained relations with the BIA, even though it was Native Americans in the offices of BIA Commissioner John Collier who worked to bring about the founding meeting of NCAI in 1944. During the height of the termination era, the BIA worked to discredit NCAI, and later worked to destroy it. On principle perhaps, NCAI was expected to have an arms- length with the BIA, thus the criticism by the noted Indian author.

At times, such as the tense era when NCAI was pressing for tribal selfdetermination and lobbying for the Indian self-determination provisions of PL 93-638, the relationship with the BIA became even more taut. And this was worsened by the antics of the American Indian Movement. During this period in the 1970s, key leaders in the BIA, called “old liners” by NCAI and its allies, were targeted as enemies, and regularly blasted in Congressional hearings and in editorial commentary and cartoons.

This all came back to me in recent times when events brought me together with one of the BIA “enemies,” a Lakota man I had in earlier times greatly admired – John Artichoker, Jr.

On March 25th, 2011, I had the honor of presenting the first award of the outstanding Native American alumni of the University of South Dakota. In the first of what will be an annual event sponsored by the Tiospaye Student Council there at USD, the award went to John, who graduated from the University in 1951, and is the oldest living Native American alumnus. The Tiospaye members selected him, but I also had the honor of nominating him.

Although I had heard of him years earlier as an emerging Indian leader in South Dakota, I first met him in person while I was a senior at USD and he had returned to campus to pursue a Masters degree after several years as Director of Indian Education for the state of South Dakota. I was in my third semester as a senior at the time, and totally broke becauseIhadusedupmytribal education loan ($3,000). With his own stipend, John invited me to his home and hired me to do some illustrations for a brochure he was producing, and I was thankful for the help.

In his comments upon receiving the alumni award, John told the audience that I was one of his biggest disappointments ever. He said that he had expected me to become a noted Indian artist, but instead I wound up as Director of NCAI and one of his tormentors.

As we visited that evening, it felt good setting aside old animosities and talking about important positive things and what the future held for the many Native students in attendance at the banquet. What had made him an enemy in those heady days of change in the 1970s seemed so much less important today, and made me wonder why I had never called John and asked him to get together to discuss what I perceived were our differences over policy. It was,

VOICES I suppose, what was expected of me as NCAI Director, to be opposed to whatever the BIA proposed as policy, and antagonistic to the BIA’s leaders.

John H. Artichoker, Jr., is truly one of the outstanding leaders to come out of Lakota country. An enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, he worked his way through college in the late 1940s, and played on the USD football team as a linebacker, back when scholarships for that were not available. He received his Masters degree in 1957 and went on to a life of accomplishments and honors.

While serving with the BIA in several important positions, John received the Junior Chamber of Commerce’s award as one of America’s Ten Outstanding Young Men of 1964. The only other Native American to receive that award was another Oglala, Olympic gold medallist Billy Mills. (The only Native woman I know to have received the award of America’s Ten Outstanding Young Women award was another Oglala, Judi Cornelius.) John was also awarded the USD Alumni Achievement Award in 1956, one of two Native Americans to have received it.

He has served all Indian Country well, and has brought great honor to the Oglala oyate. He was fully deserving of the honor, and should be named to the South Dakota Hall of Fame to join the forty some other Native Americans in that Hall.

Charles “Chuck” Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association,a forerunner to the Native American Journalists Association, in 1969, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972- 78. He is retired and lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He can be reached at, and his website is

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