Vine Deloria

Image from the University of Colorado Law School

Native American (Standing Rock Sioux), Cultural Theory, Religion

Vine Deloria


Vine Deloria, Jr. was a preeminent cultural theorist, theologian, and educator of Native American religion, epistemologies, rights, and culture. 

Vine Deloria, Jr., a Hunkpapa Lakota, was born, in Martin, South Dakota, to Vine Deloria, Sr., and Barbara Deloria in 1933. The son and grandson of Episcopalian ministers and the great grandson of a Lakota medicine man, he was educated in reservation schools. He then earned a BA in general science from Iowa State University (1958) and a Master of Theology degree (1963) from the Lutheran School of Theology in Illinois. From 1964 to 1967, Deloria worked for the National Conference of American Indians where he became a leading spokesman for Indians in Washington as the group’s leader. Seeing that Indian tribes did not have legal counsel, and little awareness of their rights, prompted him to earn a JD from the University of Colorado (1970). He sought to start a program that would assist tribes and Indian communities to frame their basic rights, to find ways to advocate and support tribes through organizations, and to educate Native Americans on aspects of the law.

Deloria taught and worked at numerous places throughout his career. He was a lecturer at Western Washington State College in ethnic studies (1970-1972) and worked with Northwest Coast tribes in their effort to gain improved fishing rights. He taught at the University of California at Los Angeles (1972-1974), and from 1970 to 1978 he was the chairperson of the Institute for the Development of Indian Law, headquartered in Golden, Colorado. From 1978 to 1991 he was a professor of American Indian studies, political science, and history of law at the University of Arizona and developed the first MA program in American Indian Studies. From 1991 to 2000, he was faculty at the Center for Studies of Ethnicity and Race in America at the University of Colorado Boulder. In addition to teaching, he held leadership positions in advocacy and policy organizations for Indian Affairs.  

As both a lawyer and a theologian, Deloria infused his more than 20 books with humor and integrity. Recognized as a revolutionary thinker, he stated he was writing for Indian audiences most of all, hoping to instill belief in a culture that had been shattered by history and by deliberate government policy. Most famous for Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969), he also was well recognized as being the foremost scholar on tribal religion and an outspoken advocate of Native American religious freedom. His book God is Red: A Native View of Religion (1974) contrasts Native religious views with those of Christianity

Among Deloria’s prodigious scholarship of interest to folklorists are:

Singing for the Spirits:  A Portrait of the Dakota Sioux (1999)

The World We Used to Live In:  Remembering the Powers of the Medicine Men (2006)

Susana Grajales Geliga