Venne, Carl: Coroner says heart trouble claimed life; Obama remembers friendship

AP Photo by George Lane
Hardin, Montana (AP) 2-09

Gov. Brian Schweitzer ordered the American flag and the Montana state flag flown at half-staff Feb. 18 to honor the memory of the late Crow Tribal Chairman Carl Venne.

"Carl was my friend and one of the great leaders in the history of the proud Crow Nation," Schweitzer said in a statement released by his office.

The 62-year-old Venne was found Feb. 15 in his sister's home. 

Big Horn County Coroner Terry Bullis said an autopsy showed that Venne passed away of complications of coronary artery disease.

"I was honored to have worked with Chairman Venne, a strong tribal leader, who implored us to uphold treaties and honor Native ancestors... he had a fervent quest for a better life for his people.," Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

Venne greeted Obama last summer during a campaign stop in Crow Agency. The Crow adopted Obama as a member of the Black Eagle family. During January, Obama watched Venne lead Crow horsemen during the inaugural parade in Washington, D.C.

The tribe of about 11,000 members is under the leadership of Cedric Black Eagle, who rose from vice chairman to interim chairman. An election to fill the chairmanship will take place this spring, Crow spokesman Ben Cloud said.

Venne was remembered as a leader who worked for the betterment of his people by pressing for economic development on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana, and by seeking improvements in areas such as health care. The Montana Legislature, which received the State of Indian Nations address from Venne in 2003 and 2007, briefly fell silent in recognition of his life.

"Carl leaves behind an entire nation strengthened by his hard work and his dedication to all Crow people," Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement.


The chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota, Marcus Levings, issued a statement saying Venne was a close friend and respected leader, as well as an extended relative, and tribal members mourned his death.

"The people of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara were deeply saddened when we heard the news," Levings' statement said. The Hidatsa and Crow tribes at one time were one tribe, he said.

Venne was a counselor at Little Big Horn Community College when he successfully ran for the chairmanship in 2002 to complete the term held by Clifford Birdinground, who resigned. Venne was re-elected in 2004 and 2008.

He was a former chairman of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, representing 10 tribes in Montana and Wyoming, and had led the Council of Large Land-based Tribes, representing tribes in Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming.

Projects he wanted to advance included the proposed construction of a plant that would convert to coal to liquid fuel, tapping the Crow reservation's coal reserves. Work to develop the plant was a joint effort by the tribe and Australian-American Energy Co.

Venne was a Vietnam veteran and had expressed special pride in American Indians serving in the military. When he returned from military service in southeast Asia he took a taxi from Billings Logan International Airport to a highway, then hitchhiked the rest of the way home.

Throughout his chairmanship, he supported programs against use of methamphetamine and encouraged a healthful way of life on the reservation. He was instrumental in the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee's selection of Crow Agency as the place for a 2007 hearing on Indian health care.

Venne was first elected Crow tribal chairman in 2002.

Although he advocated clean living, Venne was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol after a car crashed in October. He pleaded not guilty and was scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing on Feb. 6, but did not show up for it. Big Horn County Justice Court staff said attorneys were unable to contact Venne to tell him to appear. He was scheduled for a trial in May.

His body lied in state at the Crow Agency Multi-Purpose Building on Feb. 18 from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. with a memorial tribute from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

A funeral Mass was celebrated on Feb. 19 at the Crow Multi-Purpose Building.

Burial with military honors followed at the Hardin Fairview Cemetery.

Venne is survived by his wife, Edwina, and daughters Mallory and Zena. A son, Carl Venne Jr., died in 2002.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Carl Venne Scholarship Fund in care of First Interstate Bank in Hardin.