2007. Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman. Photo of Pete Sears and Floyd taken backstage at the “Mint” in Los Angeles before a show they played together. Floyd went into hospital the next day.


2007. Floyd “Red Crow” West­er­man. Pho­to of Pete Sears and Floyd tak­en back­stage at the “Mint” in Los Ange­les before a show they played togeth­er. Floyd went into hos­pi­tal the next day.

I lost a good friend. Floyd passed away at 5:00am, Dec 13, 2007 in Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia, he was 71 years old. Floyd “Red Crow” West­er­man was a proud, strong, com­pas­sion­ate, hum­ble, and couragous man who emanat­ed a light of peace and giv­ing wher­ev­er he went. He loved and revered the Earth that bore him. Floyd ded­i­cat­ed his life to spread­ing aware­ness of the ter­ri­ble wrongs that have, and are being inflict­ed on the Amer­i­can Indi­an com­mu­ni­ty since the white man set foot on the shores of the Amer­i­c­as. Floyd was Dako­ta Sioux, and like so many Native Amer­i­cans of his gen­er­a­tion, includ­ing his close friend, Den­nis Banks, he was wrenched away from his fam­i­ly at the age of ten, and placed in a gov­ern­ment board­ing school eighty miles from his reser­va­tion. This was a cal­cu­lat­ed attempt by the US gov­ern­ment to destroy the Native Amer­i­can cul­ture and iden­ti­ty by remov­ing a gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren from their roots and refus­ing to allow them to speak their native lan­guage, or to learn the tra­di­tions and ways of their ancestors.

This bla­tant attempt at assim­i­lat­ing the Amer­i­can Indi­an into white soci­ety failed, in large part thanks to the strength and courage of war­riors like Floyd “Red Crow” West­er­man. He over­came all obsta­cles thrown at him and grad­u­at­ed from high school on the Flan­dreau South Dako­ta Sioux reser­va­tion, con­tin­u­ing on to North­ern State Col­lege, South Dako­ta where he majored in speech, the­ater and art. He then earned a degree in Sec­ondary Edu­ca­tion, and began work on a law degree. Floyd and his young Amer­i­can Indi­an friends then took up the flame and immersed them­selves in pre­serv­ing the teach­ings of their trib­al elders.

Floyd often spread his mes­sage by tak­ing deci­sive action, like when he and AIM war­riors stood with Lako­ta Sioux tra­di­tion­al­ists at Wound­ed Knee in protest of ura­ni­um min­ing on the Lako­ta reser­va­tion. He also reached large groups of peo­ple by writ­ing and singing songs of protest that were always poet­ic and mov­ing, and rarely minced words when it came to get­ting across his mes­sage about whom he con­sid­ered respon­si­ble for the plight of the Native Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty. Even though Floyds per­son­al­i­ty was strong and deci­sive, and his music always to the point regard­ing the strug­gles of his peo­ple and those respon­si­ble, his pres­ence always seemed to bathe the room and his audi­ence with a light and spir­it of togeth­er­ness. You always sensed that Floyd’s aim was to hold the guilty account­able, but also to heal past wounds, and bring all the peo­ples of the world togeth­er in peace and har­mo­ny. His writ­ing often seemed to reflect the strong, but wise and gen­tle spir­it of Chief Seattle’s famous speech of 1854, a speech that Floyd great­ly admired.

Octo­ber 10th, 2007, Floyd had flown me down to Los Ange­les from San Fran­cis­co to play a show at a night club called the Mint. He liked the Mint; we’d worked there before with Den­nis Banks, Kei­th Sec­o­la, Char­lie Hill, and Nan­cy Lewis. Floyd had told me he was going to pick me up at LAX like he usu­al­ly did. After wait­ing out­side bag­gage claim for thir­ty min­utes or so, Accor­dion in hand, Floyd called to tell me anoth­er good friend Char­lie Hill would be pick­ing me up. I asked if he was doing okay, and Floyd casu­al­ly begins to tell me that he is lying in a clin­ic under­go­ing a blood trans­fu­sion. This took me back somewhat…he’s hav­ing a blood trans­fu­sion, and he’s sup­posed to be play­ing a show that night? I told him to take it easy and we’ll play the show at a lat­er date. Floyd pro­ceeds to inform me that he’s had trans­fu­sions before and intends to go ahead with the show as planned…he seemed to be more con­cerned about get­ting the piano I was to play from his house to the Mint in time for the show, than being in the mid­dle of an uncom­fort­able med­ical procedure.

Floyd lat­er picked me up at my hotel and we went over to the Mint to set every­thing up. I asked him how he felt and he told me the blood trans­fu­sion had made him feel stronger, and as we rode, we talked about tonights show, and his new album of Kris Kristof­fer­son songs he want­ed me to play on the fol­low­ing day. He also talked about his con­cern that the sacred tra­di­tions, cus­toms, and his­to­ry of his peo­ple aren’t always accu­rate­ly por­trayed in Hol­ly­wood movies. How­ev­er, he felt that film direc­tors Oliv­er Stone and Kevin Cost­ner go out of their way to accu­rate­ly por­tray Amer­i­can Indi­an cus­toms in their films. He talked about how much he enjoyed shoot­ing his lat­est movie with Kevin Cost­ner in San­ta Fe, New Mex­i­co, but admit­ted that it took a lot out of him.

Floyd had a lung trans­plant sev­er­al years ago, and had recent­ly been diag­nosed with Leukemia. His atti­tude was that he’d just have to move on with his life and deal with the ill­ness as best he could. We laughed a lot; Floyd had a great sense of humor. Being around Floyd, Den­nis and Char­lie was often a hilar­i­ous expe­ri­ence, they’d been friends for so long, and knew each oth­er so well that ad lib jokes would fly freely. Floyd was always able to laugh at him­self, and could usu­al­ly find humor in the most dif­fi­cult of situations.

The show went well that night, with Char­lie Hill, Max Gail, and the gang. Floyd was as on as I’d ever seen him, inter­act­ing with his audi­ence, lead­ing the band through a set of many of his favorite songs, includ­ing “Custer Died For Your Sins”, “Sun­day Morn­ing Com­ing On”, and “Fol­som Prison Blues”. His wife Rosie, whom Floyd loved very much, was vis­i­bly con­cerned for his health. But Floyd was Floyd, and the war­rior spir­it in him just kept going, even though as the evening wore on, he was obvi­ous­ly begin­ning to fal­ter, and weak­en a bit with fatigue. He would prob­a­bly have car­ried on play­ing until dawn if there had been time. And we would all have rid­den on through the night with him. Floyd “Red Crow” West­er­man had that effect on people…he was a nat­ur­al born leader, with­out try­ing to be.

Ear­li­er in the dress­ing room, while I helped him secure his tra­di­tion­al bone Chok­er around his neck, he explained that he wouldn’t be able to make it to the stu­dio tomor­row as he had to have a bone mar­row test in the morn­ing. He said he’d try and get down after­wards to see me off if he could. I was due to fly out in the ear­ly afternoon.

Char­lie picked me up the next morn­ing and dropped me off at the stu­dio, where I whipped through as many tunes as I could before leav­ing for the air­port. Floyd was plan­ning on com­ing down to record vocals lat­er that week.

I thought of Floyd while I was record­ing and won­dered how he was get­ting on at the hos­pi­tal. I mar­veled at his strength of char­ac­ter. To have had a lung trans­plant, then find out he suf­fered from Leukemia, to have a blood trans­fu­sion in the after­noon, and know that he will be back at the hos­pi­tal the next day for a bone mar­row test, and still muster the for­ti­tude to play a show the same day was aston­ish­ing. After his trans­fu­sion, he’d rest­ed at home for a cou­ple of hours, man­aged to pick me up at my hotel in good humor and dri­ve us to the club, made sure every­body had the musi­cal equip­ment they need­ed, hung out hap­pi­ly with his friends in the dress­ing room, and played a long show into the evening while inter­act­ing close­ly with his audi­ence, all with­out bat­ting an eye.

The fol­low­ing day, Floyd had his bone mar­row pro­ce­dure done, but the hos­pi­tal decid­ed to keep him in for a few days of obser­va­tion. He had a slight­ly ele­vat­ed tem­per­a­ture. I spoke with him a few days lat­er and he was frus­trat­ed because he said he felt well enough to check him­self out, but the med­ical staff were still con­cerned about his tem­per­a­ture and thought he should stay in a bit longer. He nev­er did leave the hos­pi­tal. His con­di­tion grad­u­al­ly wors­ened until he end­ed up on life sup­port. He lat­er showed some signs of recov­ery and it looked for a bit like he might ral­ly. But his mas­sive strength of spir­it just couldn’t hold his bro­ken body togeth­er any longer. His ances­tors were call­ing him home. It was time to make his final jour­ney, and once again, proud­ly ride the windswept trails and hills of the Dako­ta Nation. Floyd, although our paths crossed over the years, I only got to know you well in recent years. But I felt our friend­ship grow steadi­ly stronger. You have been an inspi­ra­tion to all who had the good for­tune to cross your path. Your phys­i­cal body is no more, but your spir­it will live on forever.

We will miss you.
Pete — with Floyd Red Crow Westerman.
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Den­nis Valen­tine and Pauline Avilés like this.

Den­nis Valen­tine Very nice trib­ute Pete.… touching.
May 21, 2012 at 8:13am · Like
Pete Sears
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