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
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