Charles Trimble: Overdue obituary of Shirley Plume
In the bitterness of the political environment that pervaded the Pine Ridge reservation over the past several decades, the death of Shirley Plume was noted only in a cursory and terse announcement relegated to the deep interior of the local newspaper. The following is a proper obituary, long delayed, taken from the eulogy at her funeral, February 1, 2004, in the Wounded Knee school gymnasium.

Shirley Trimble Plume lived a good life and a remarkable one. She was born November 18th, 1920 at Interior, SD. She attended school at St Francis Mission and married Paul Plume in 1940. That marriage produced four children, Paulette Green, Emma “Pinky” Clifford, Paul Randall “Randy,” and David Albert “Tally.”

Shirley lived a life of community service, and the Oglala Lakota Nation flag presented at the wake by the Tribal Council in her honor, notes her community service.

Shirley served in the federal government from the lowest level of clerical staff and rose to be named the first Indian woman to serve as a Superintendent of an Indian Reservation.

But there was skepticism on the part of some that she would be up to the task of that important position. Some had predicted that she would not be accepted; and that the tough Hunkpapa up at Standing Rock would never be “bossed around by a woman.” And they were right, because Shirley had no intention of bossing them around.

She had a deep understanding and respect for Indian people and their tribes. And she understood the special relationship between the tribal government and the federal government, which is based on trust. She was not there to boss them but to serve their interests. She was there to see that the power of the federal government was always available to protect their lands and their resources. Not just the tribe itself, but the individual Indian land owners as well.

She started a tradition there at Standing Rock of making reports regularly to the Tribal Council. But at each of those meetings she would go to each of the Council members and offer her hand. That handshake was an expression of trust, and she was deeply committed to her trusteeship of the tribe’s resources, rights, and interests.

The flag of the Standing Rock tribe, the symbol of their sovereignty, was sent to the funeral by their Tribal Council as a sign of respect and appreciation, to honor Shirley’s dedicated service to them.

Shirley had deep respect for tribal government. When she retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs following the death of her husband, Paul, she moved home to the Pine Ridge reservation, on their family land. This was her homeland. She served as Executive Director of the Tribe, then as a member of the Tribal Council. The money she received for her service she gave back to the people, as contributions to the schools, as scholarships to our young people going away to college, and to help individuals in need. She gave away far more than she ever earned in her positions with the tribe.

In her service on the Council, she understood the Tribal Government’s role as the agent for the people’s sovereignty. She understood that the Lakota word, Oyate, means the people, and it also means the nation, and that the two are inseparable. She was there to serve the people. And as a representative of the people’s sovereignty, she recognized her responsibility to always act in an honorable manner, because she reflected the tribe and its sovereignty and its people.

At her wake, Tribal Councilwoman Kathy Janis told of the time she first decided to run for office. She went to visit Shirley and to ask her advice. Shirley advised her on the difficulties and frustrations of the job; but went on to encourage her. “We Lakota women are strong,” she said, “and you can do it.” Then she added, “Always be honest with everybody – your constituents, your tribe, and yourself.”

Shirley was a true patriot to her tribe and to all tribes. She was a patriot to tribe and homelands, long before those words became political buzzwords.

Shirley was dedicated to education for Indian youth. At her funeral Dr. David Gipp, President of the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck spoke of her role in the startup of the college when she was an employment officer at Standing Rock. He noted “Shirley was a strong advocate for education and training for grass roots people.”

Here on the Pine Ridge Reservation, she served on various Boards, including the Wounded Knee School District, and Oglala Lakota College. Every year she took great pride and joy in giving the Lucy Trimble Memorial Scholarship to a student at each of the four high schools on the reservation. That scholarship, in honor of her mother, has been collected in the Trimble family and given to graduating high school students on the reservation over the years since 1964.

She was a woman of great compassion and generosity. Her kindness was genuine, and it was felt by many people, including many in the packed gymnasium. At her wake the huge bank of flowers – from large bouquets to a bottle with a single rose, represented the admiration and affection of many people.

She loved her family, her extended family of all those she took into the family circle.

Shirley leaves a great legacy of love, honor and respect, which she showed by her own example. And she leaves a challenge with us, a challenge to always be compassionate and generous, and to give of yourself in service to the people.

Shirley, had a boundless love of God. She was a devout Catholic, but she respected all other religions. She believed in eternal peace and eternal life. She has earned that eternal peace and everlasting life, and her spirit remains with us.

Charles E. Trimble is an Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-78. He is retired and lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with his wife.

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Tim Giago: Moving from victimhood to victors (9/1)
Q&A with Charles Trimble: On Indian victimhood (8/25)
Charles Trimble: Shed the chains of victimhood (8/15)