How Floyd Red Crow Westerman, a Native American Icon, Died of Leukemia

Floyd Red Crow Westerman was a Dakota Sioux musician, actor, and activist who left a lasting legacy in the Native American community and beyond. He was known for his roles in movies like Dances with Wolves and The Doors, his collaborations with famous musicians like Willie Nelson and Sting, and his advocacy for Indigenous rights and environmental causes. But how did he die and what was the cause of his death?

Early Life and Education

Floyd Westerman was born on August 17, 1936, on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He was given the Indigenous name Kanghi Duta, which means Red Crow in the Dakota language. When he was 10 years old, he was sent to a government boarding school, where he was forced to cut his hair and forbidden to speak his native language. This experience had a profound impact on his life and his later activism.

He graduated from a reservation high school, served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and earned a degree in secondary education from Northern State College in South Dakota. He then pursued a career as a country-western music singer, using his songs to express his views on the European influences on Native American communities.

Music and Acting Career

Westerman released his debut album, Custer Died For Your Sins, in 1970, which was a critique of the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans. He went on to record several solo albums and collaborate with other musicians like Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Harry Belafonte, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. In the 1990s, he toured with Sting to raise funds to preserve the rain forests.

Westerman also ventured into acting, making his film debut in 1989’s Renegades, where he played the father of Lou Diamond Phillips’s character. His most memorable role was in Kevin Costner’s 1990 Oscar-winning Western epic, Dances with Wolves, where he played the Sioux leader Ten Bears, who befriends Costner’s character. He also appeared as a shaman in Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie The Doors, and had recurring roles on TV shows like Walker, Texas Ranger and Dharma & Greg.

Activism and Legacy

Westerman was a vocal activist for the rights of Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples. He spoke and marched for various causes, such as the American Indian Movement, the International Indian Treaty Council, and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. He also advocated for environmental issues, such as opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s resistance He was 71 years old. He is survived by his wife, Rosie, and five children. He was buried at Saint Matthew’s Catholic Cemetery in Veblen, South Dakota.

Westerman’s life and work have inspired many people, especially in the Native American community. He was honored with several awards, such as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the First Americans in the Arts and the Eagle Spirit Award from the American Indian Film Institute. He was also inducted into the Native American Music Hall of Fame and the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

Floyd Red Crow Westerman was a man of many talents and passions, who used his voice and his art to raise awareness and fight for justice. He was a Native American icon, who died of leukemia, but left behind a legacy of courage and creativity.