Former Crow leader Clara Nomee dead at 73

2012-02-01T11:48:00Z 2012-02-01T22:25:19Z Former Crow leader Clara Nomee dead at 73By SUSAN OLP solp@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette
February 01, 2012 11:48 am  • 

Former Crow Tribal Chairwoman Clara Nomee, the first woman to lead the southeastern Montana tribe, died Tuesday at St. Vincent Healthcare.

Nomee, 73, was elected to her first two-year term as chairwoman in 1990 and served an unprecedented 10 years. She also served one term as secretary of the Crow Tribe, from 1988 to 1990.

"Her 10-year tenure as madam chairman helped to bring stability in Crow tribal government and saw a decade of many achievements that still stand today to reflect the kind of leadership she brought to the Crow people," Crow Chairman Cedric Black Eagle said Wednesday in a written statement.

Nomee came to office after a series of chairmen who either were impeached or indicted on criminal charges. Her predecessor, Richard Real Bird, was convicted of fraud and embezzlement.

Nomee, before attaining office, worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Browning and Crow Agency. She retired after 30 years of government service.

Nomee also served eight years on the Board of Trustees of Lodge Grass High School.

Running for chairman her first time wasn't easy, she said in an article published two years after her first election.

"When I first ran, men said my place was at home, raising children and taking care of the husband," Nomee said in 1992.

In 1993, she was chosen as one of six tribal leaders from around the country to meet with the Clinton administration in Washington, D.C. A new Indian Health Service hospital for Crow and Northern Cheyenne members was completed in Crow Agency during her tenure.

Nomee's administration helped to spearhead the settlement of the century-old 107th meridian boundary dispute. The settlement brought millions of dollars into the tribe through a trust fund from federal coal mine royalties.

Nomee also helped start Crow Native Days, an annual event that now draws thousands of people to the reservation. Nomee wanted to develop a positive event to entertain and involve youth and to give them and all tribal members a chance to enjoy their culture.

She also was credited with putting the tribe's finances on sound footing, supporting education as no other administration had, and fighting for the hospital, a nursing home, bank and dialysis unit. She also helped push for a water compact with the state of Montana.

But Nomee had her share of controversy. In September 1998, she was convicted on a felony charge that accused her of using her influence to buy tribal land at a fraction of its worth. She was sentenced in federal court in January 1999 to five years probation and ordered to pay a fine and restitution.

At her sentencing hearing, tribal elders and others testified on her behalf. Even Judge Jack Shanstrom acknowledged her contributions, saying Nomee had accomplished many good things for the tribe and that a majority of the tribe supported her.

Nomee was not prohibited by Shanstrom from serving as the tribe's leader. When she ran for her sixth term in 2000, however, she was defeated by Clifford Birdinground, who received 67 percent of the vote.

Two years later, Birdinground pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of bribery. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison.

Black Eagle, in his statement about Nomee, called her life one that "was met with challenges and saw its share of achievements."

"Her strength and dignity to overcome life's struggles, her courage to speak against injustice wherever she saw it, her countless achievements as a historic figure in Crow government and her unwavering faith in her Lord and Savior will always remain as a true testament to her life and legacy that her family can always be proud of," he said.

The rosary will be recited at 4 p.m. on Friday in the Bullis Funeral Chapel in Hardin. Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. on Saturday in the Lodge Grass Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church. Committal will follow in the Lodge Grass Cemetery.

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