By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Flags of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the United States flew in the gentle breeze at the entrance of Cherokee Central Schools as the Tribe laid to rest one of its greatest members. Beloved Man and former Principal Chief Robert S. Youngdeer, who passed away on Saturday, Oct. 20, was remembered and honored at a funeral service held at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 24.
A coffin draped with a U.S. flag sat front and center as friends, tribal members, and family came to remember a man known for his service to country and Tribe.
“Father, warrior, Cherokee Chief, Beloved Man of the Cherokee,” said Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed. “He was born in 1922 as a member of ‘the Greatest Generation’ – a generation that was raised with very little in the ways of material substance, a generation that had seen real poverty, and a genuine lack and unquestionable need. And, yet he is part of the generation that stood on the foundation of the principles of family, faith, and love.”
Chief Sneed said Chief Youngdeer understood the meaning and the purpose of sacrifice and service. “He was a man who led by example. When he spoke his mind, he spoke the truth. Oftentimes, his wisdom would fall on deaf ears.”
Chief Sneed told of a speech Chief Youngdeer made that has impacted him to this day. “At the time, I was 16 and the Eastern Band and Western Band were about to hold their first Joint Council since the Removal. I was part of a group of nine other young men who were going to run the Eternal Flame from Cherokee to Red Clay, Tenn.”
The group gathered at the old Charles George Memorial Gym, along with state and federal politicians, community members, and the media for a send-off. “Chief Youngdeer was set to deliver what many would expect to be a somber eulogy-type speech. What he spoke was the absolute, unadulterated truth regarding the federal government’s treatment of Cherokee people. His opening salvo, after approaching the podium, was this, “In 1838, the great Indian-hater Andrew Jackson sought to destroy our people.” He went on to describe the atrocities that were committed against our people and against tribes in the southeast. I knew, at that moment, that Robert S. Youngdeer was a Chief and not a politician. I have respect for him that has remained with me and will remain with me through all the days of my life.”
Chief Youngdeer served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. He was wounded at Guadalcanal for which he received the Purple Heart. He later become a paratrooper in the U.S. Army which was followed by a career as an Indian policemen on various reservations. Last October, he was awarded the Chapel of the Four Chaplains Legion of Honor Bronze Medallion from Gregory Hunt, Marine Corps League Foundation president, who read Chief Youngdeer’s obituary during Wednesday’s service.
Commander Lew Harding, Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143, praised Chief Youngdeer’s service in the military as well as his service to the Tribe and his fellow man. “The ‘Greatest Generation’ lost one of its greatest members four days ago…we are blessed that he passed our way. He was the incarnation of leadership, love, and courage. His sacrifice is an example to us all.”
He went on to describe many of Chief Youngdeer’s sacrifices in combat and noted, “His love of God and country is a bright and shining light, and now he is with his beloved Geneva. May he rest in peace in the reflective glory of God.”
Chief Youngdeer served as Principal Chief of the Tribe from 1983-87 and later penned his memoirs entitled “The Memoirs of Robert Youngdeer: Marine, Chief, and Proud American”. Tribal Council bestowed the titled of Beloved Man onto Chief Youngdeer on Jan. 4 with the passage of Res. No. 91 (2018) which stated in part, “Those who enjoy the freedom for which this brother paid such a high price, as he laid down in the dirt, a bullet through his head, his life’s blood draining from his body on a faraway Pacific Island, wish to honor his sacrifice as a Warrior Chief who has dedicated his life in service to his people and to his country.”
Pastor Dan Conseen led the service on Wednesday and said, “One thing that stood out about him was that he always walked in a dignified manner. There are those who take on the roles of leadership and they become a saddle and they weigh them down. When Robert was given those, he carried them in a most dignified manner, and they didn’t drag him down.”
During the service, Brother Bo Parris offered the opening and closing prayers and songs were offered by Barbara Waldroup, Phyllis Shell, and the Welch Family Singers.
Following Wednesday’s service at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center, the Youngdeer family had a private funeral at the Youngdeer Cemetery. Pallbearers included: John R. Nelson, Daniel Conseen, Warren Dupree, Orion Holmbert, Eddie Welch, and Wilbur Paul.