Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Philip Deloria Returns To North Dakota

Philip Deloria Returns To North Dakota
An Author And Scholar In His Own Right
By Dakota Wind
Grand Forks, N.D. – I came awake at four in the morning. Sleep sand still thick in my eyes, I managed to roll over and turn off the alarm on my iPhone. I had set it to play “Thor Kills The Destroyer” rather than listen to a blaring alarm so damn early in the morning. I let the song play through completely before tapping the screen, then stretched hard and yawned loud. I rolled into some clothes I set out before I crashed.

I hit the road at 5:00 in the morning. Traffic was light and I managed to gas up my little beast and take to the Interstate in a few minutes. I put on my Def Leppard playlist and before I knew it, the sun was up and I was in Fargo.

In Fargo, I picked up blogger, world traveler, archaeologist, and historian Aaron (The Edge Of TheVillage) who joined me on this day trip to Grand Forks to meet and hear Phil Deloria, author and historian. Phil came to the University of North Dakota as a guest lecturer for a few days and though Deloria and I had conversed online for several years we had never met in person.

Aaron and I stopped in at some hotel where Deloria was staying at and had brunch. I ordered a round of biscuits and gravy with a pile of whipped scrambled eggs and a couple rashers of thick bacon. I have never tasted such fresh biscuits, which were somehow flaky, and with a creamy gravy to go with it. I swear the food tasted like the chef loved his job. I washed it all down with a hearty drought of sweet grape juice.

Aaron probably had bread and water, or something.

I informed Phil we were at the hotel café and he joined us in the lobby. The floor of the halls and lobby were naked tile. Naturally, noises magnified and echoed back and forth, a clatter of dinnerware and silverware sounded like a crash of thunder. Banter amongst the hotel and café staff sounded not dissimilar to a country henhouse.

Phil’s great-grandfather, the Rev. Philip Deloria, was an Episcopal minister on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, as was Vine Deloria Sr. My grandfather, Innocent Goodhouse, served as an Episcopal minister too, his time overlapped with the Delorias. Our families used to be close. Ella Deloria, was my mother’s god-mother. Time, distance, and vocations called Vine Deloria Jr. and his son Phil to the ministry and interpretation of American Western history.

St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church, Wakpala, SD, where Philip Deloria and his son Vine ministered to the Lakota people.

We talk about shared family history, and our families today. It is the Lakota custom to introduce one’s self by lineage, but as Phil and I already know the other’s family and background, we move on to the heart of our visit: the 1863-1864 Sibley-Sully Punitive Campaigns against the Sioux. Deloria’s great-grandfather, Philip Deloria, was the son of Mary Sully, who in turn was the daughter of General Alfred Sully, the antagonist behind the conflicts at Whitestone Hill and Killdeer Mountain.

I ask Phil if he had any family history about General Alfred Sully and why he left his Dakota family behind. He is a straight-shooter in this regard, and says straight up that he doesn’t know. If there was a story, it probably died with Mary.

Phil is working on a family history project, something his father had also tackled. Over coffee and juice (because I don’t drink coffee), Phil shares the story of how his grandfather Vine Sr., met his grandmother through Vine’s sister, Ella. Ella herself, had assumed leadership of the family and thought that she’d always be the one to take care of her little brother Vine.

General Alfred Sully. He had a daughter with a Dakota woman, Mary, then left them. One can read about Sully in the book No Tears For The General by Langdon Sully, another of Sully's descendants. The book omits the general's Dakota wife and child.

Phil’s family studies un-apologetically does not include much of General Sully story, other than a brief mention of how an ancestor of Phil’s, Saswe, crossed paths with Sully. Saswe had a vision before the 1862 Minnesota Dakota Conflict that he would kill four of his people, a terrible choice, a lesser of two evils to preserve as many of the Dakota people as he could.

Saswe went into a camp of Dakota, explained that Sully was coming, and that it was his destiny to kill four of his own people. Saswe killed a man after the people listened to him out, and later three others. General Sully took a Dakota woman and had a daughter by her. Saswe had a son, Tipi Sapa, Black Lodge, also known as Philip J. Deloria.

“My grandfather always got a charge out of that,” shares Phil, “The children of two antagonists married one another.”

Though Phil is descended from General Sully, I asked him if he is descended from any of the people who Sully attacked the Dakota at Whitestone Hill or the Lakota at Killdeer Mountain. Phil is not certain, he says, and would have to conduct further research into his background. He does say, however, that one of Saswe’s wives, was from Standing Rock.

I ask Phil about Killdeer Mountain and the energy development currently taking place there and if he’d be able to be there for the 150th commemoration. He teaches a late summer course and his schedule may be tight and it may well be that he can not make it.

Phil is named after his great-grandfather, the Rev. Philip J. Deloria. Among the Dakota and Lakota people, they take everyday legal names and go about their business in the land of the brave, but many keep the traditional names too. Rev. Philip was known among his people as Thípi SápA, Black Lodge.

Phil’s grandfather, the Rev. Vine Sr., was known among his people as OhíyA, Win or Triumph. Vine Jr. carried not just his father’s everyday legal name but also his traditional Lakota name.

Phil comes from a legacy of ministry. His father was a lay reader as well, but answered to the call to indigenous native rights and public education of those rights; among Vine Jr.’s works are God Is Red and Custer Died For Your Sins.

Phil heard the call to action and has pursued a doctorate in history. He is the author of Playing Indian and Indians In Unexpected Places. He is a professor of history and Native American studies at the University of Michigan. Phil carries his family history to his field of work. He can’t not when he’s talking about native studies, especially contemporary native studies in the age of self-determination.

I ask Phil if he has a Lakota name, expecting that he’d tell me he carried his great-grandfather’s Lakota name. He smiles broadly and lets out a small laugh. “My grandfather called me Pšíš,” he said, “It was my grandfather’s boyhood name.” I wonder a moment if Phil liked onions when he was a boy. Pšíŋ is onion, and Pšiŋšíčamna is wild onion.

Gratify yourself and get a copy of Philip Deloria's "Playing Indian."

Our time draws to a close as Phil’s ride to the UND campus arrives. I catch him later to sign my copy of Playing Indian, “Tehansi [male cousin], so great to have connection, and good talk. Hope you enjoy this! Phl Del.” 


  1. Great, I do have more genealogy info, and would like to converse with you, if that is possible. thanks