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PROFILE: Henry Roe Cloud

Henry Roe Cloud: Pioneering Native American educator

Copyright © 2004 by Jean Sanders

Henry Roe Cloud, born on the Winnebago Reservation in Northeast Nebraska, was the first Native American to graduate from Yale University. He was a distinguished educator and ordained Presbyterian minister whose leadership brought about improved social and educational opportunities for American Indians.

Cloud was born into the powerful Bird Clan on December 28, 1884. This clan could start or prevent wars, which may explain Cloud's Indian name: Wo-Na-Xi-Lay-Hunka (Wonah'ilayhunka) or "War Chief." His father was Na-Xi-Lay-Hunk-Kay or Nah'ilayhunkay. His mother was "Hard-To-See."

At age seven, Cloud was taken to the government dictated Genoa Indian School over a hundred miles west of Winnebago. His main memories of that time included herding sheep, flying kites and fighting with other boys. As a child he spoke a Sioux dialect, but later became fluent in English, Latin, and Greek.

Cloud credited an uncle as his first spiritual teacher when they sat by the Missouri River, lit a fire and sang sacred songs. The government transferred him to its Winnebago Reservation school where he learned about Jesus, his "spirit-friend." For Cloud, this meant soul searching and no more fighting. Some Indians considered this cowardice and cautioned him against adopting white men's ideas, but Cloud remained spiritually steadfast.

Some sources say Genoa school teachers named him Henry Clarence Cloud because they couldn't pronounce his Indian name. Others say he assumed the name Henry Cloud when he was baptized.

Cloud's parents died in 1896 and 1897 respectively. Soonafter, he went to the vocational Santee Mission School near the South Dakota border where he trained as a printer and blacksmith. After reading Self Help by Samuel Smiles, he determined to self-pay for further education and avoid government aid.

In 1902 Cloud entered Mount Hermon School in Northfield, Massachusetts which offered a work-study program. He financed his education by selling Indian crafts and working on a farm. He attached Greek grammar notes to the plow so he could study as he followed the mule team. In the summer of 1906 he graduated as class salutatorian. That fall he became the first Native American student admitted to Yale University.

During his freshman year Cloud attended a lecture by missionary Mary Wickham Roe. She spoke about American Indians' conversion to Christianity. Mary became his friend in faith. Cloud met her husband, Reverend Dr. Walter C. Roe, the following summer at the Fort Sill Reservation in Oklahoma.

Initially the Roes were his mentors, but a family-like relationship developed and the Roes adopted him formally. Cloud honored them by taking Roe as his middle name. Each summer Cloud joined their missionary work among the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho at Colony, Oklahoma and, at his request, on the Winnebago Reservation.

At Yale, Cloud lectured, debated and wrote about deficiencies in government-run schools. He decried the prevailing attitude that Indians were best suited only to vocational training rather than being taught science, literature and philosophy.

He participated in the annual Lake Mohonk Conferences of Friends of the Indian, where action was taken to influence governmental policies. He also advocated the return and allotment of the Apache prisoners held at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Cloud received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and philosophy in 1910 and a Master of Arts in anthropology in 1912, both from Yale. From 1910-1911 he studied sociology at Oberlin College. He attended Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1913. He returned to school and received a doctorate of divinity from Emporia College, Kansas in 1932.

Cloud was active in the Society of American Indians founded in 1911, precursor to the Pan-Indian National Council of American Indians. At the 1914 conference in Madison, Wisconsin, he met Elizabeth Bender, a Minnesota Ojibwa (part Chippewa). They were married on June 12, 1916. Subsequently, they had four daughters and a son, his namesake and youngest child, born in 1926.

Three years later the boy contracted pneumonia and died. According to Winnebago tradition, a mother whose child has died may adopt another child who is a family friend whether or not that child's parents are still living. Both families agree, but waive legal proceedings. A public announcement is made and the adoptee is included in all family activities. Elizabeth Cloud adopted Jay Hunter. Succeeding generations of both families remain close.

In 1912 and 1913, Cloud chaired a delegation of Winnebagos who met with U.S. President Taft. In 1914, he served on the federal government's Survey Commission on Indian Education. In 1914 and 1915, he investigated the Indian school system for the philanthropic Phelps-Stokes Fund.

The Roes and Cloud wanted to establish a college preparatory school for Indian boys but Walter Roe died before the plan reached fruition. Cloud carried on. In the fall of 1915, the Roe Indian Institute, renamed the American Indian Institute in 1920, opened in Wichita, Kansas as the only Indian-run high school in the country. It emphasized academics and leadership training. Cloud was superintendent and served as editor of The Indian Outlook.

In 1923, Cloud was appointed to serve on the federal "Committee of 100," an investigative and advisory group concerned with Indian affairs. Between 1926-1930, Cloud was part of a team that studied Indian problems for the Brookings Institute. In 1928 he coauthored the "Meriam Report," officially entitled The Problem of Indian Administration. It pointed out deplorable health, educational and general living conditions on Indian reservations and resulted in significant reforms.

In the early 1930s, Cloud was a representative to federal offices on Indian Affairs. In 1933 he was appointed superintendent of the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, the country's largest Indian school. Melding science and scripture, he stated in his 1934 Baccalaureate Sermon, "A man's inspiration for life, however different a form it may take in him, nevertheless must come from one source and one only. The scientist who gives a whole lifetime over to the task of scientific discovery is merely delving into the manifestations of the wisdom of God."

Cloud was instrumental in winning acceptance of the Wheeler-Howard Act, known also as the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. It proclaims the need ". . .to conserve and develop Indian lands and resources; to extend to Indians the right to form business and other organizations; to establish a credit system for Indians; to grant certain rights of home rule to Indians; to provide for vocational education for Indians . . ." Cloud helped tribes organize under its provisions. For this, in 1935 he was given the Indian Achievement Award, the Indian Council Fire's highest honor.

Cloud left Haskell in 1936 to supervise Indian education at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1947 he was named superintendent of the Umatilla Indian Agency near Pendleton, Oregon. In 1948, he was appointed regional representative for the Grande Ronde and Siletz Indian Agencies in Oregon.

During these later years he helped tribes prepare for the impact that hydropower dams would have on salmon fishing. He also traced Indian genealogies; this determined their eligibility to share in a $16 million government settlement for prior illegal land seizures.

Cloud died of a heart attack in Siletz, Oregon, on February 9, 1950 and was buried in Beaverton, Oregon. In 1997 a new residence hall at Haskell Indian Nations University at Lawrence was named in his honor.

While Cloud felt that Native Americans had no choice but to assimilate into white society, he wanted to preserve their identity. Early in his career he was at odds with Bureau of Indian Affairs leaders, but over the years he came to respect them. John Collier, his colleague there, called Cloud "the most important living Indian."

An entry on Cloud is included in the prestigious American National Biography, Vol 5 (1999).

For more information, consult "900 Famous Nebraskans" at www.nsea.org or www.beatricene.com/gagecountymuseum or www.nebpress.com.