Cedar Tree, Helen oldest Northern Arapaho, passes at 96

By Matt Joyce
Cheyenne, Wyoming (AP) 1-09

Helen Cedar Tree, the oldest member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and a longtime supporter of tribal community and cultural preservation efforts, has passed away. She was 96.

Cedar Tree passed away January 10 of natural causes at a Fort Washakie nursing home, the tribe said in a news release.

Tribal members said Cedar Tree was widely known on the Wind River Reservation, often by the nickname “Grandma Helen.”

“Everybody knew who she was,” said Donovan Antelope, the tribe’s director of public relations. “It’s actually a great loss to the tribe. She was very well respected and very much loved by everybody.”

Cedar Tree was born April 4, 1912, and lived on the central Wyoming reservation her entire life. Her first language was Arapaho, and she was involved in teaching tribal language and culture to younger generations, said Jon Lee Crispin, her grandson.

Only about 200 members out of the Northern Arapaho’s total population of about 8,800 to know the Arapaho language, Antelope said.

Cedar Tree spent time working in reservation schools to help develop cultural and language classes for tribal students, Crispin said.

Cedar Tree was also an original member of the Northern Arapaho Culture Commission, an original member of the Chief Yellow Calf Memorial Club – which formed in the late 1930s – and formerly served as an election judge, according to the tribe.

Back when the Chief Yellow Calf Memorial Club started, the members would provide assistance to families dealing with the death of a family member, Crispin said. More recently, the club has organized an annual powwow, which is held in early summer in Ethete.

As a member of the Culture Commission, Cedar Tree helped develop curriculum for Arapaho classes to be taught in reservation schools, Antelope said.

Cedar Tree was also involved in tribal ceremonial activities, including singing in the Eagle Drum Group, Crispin said.

Cedar Tree is survived by three daughters, a son and multiple grandchildren, nieces and nephews, Crispin said.

Rosary services were held Jan. 14 at the Blue Sky Hall in Ethete for Cedar Tree, who was a member of the Native American Church and the Catholic Church, Crispin said. A funeral service is set for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Blue Sky Hall, followed by burial at the Yellow Calf cemetery.