Wagner, Clarence Curly Bear - Blackfeet cultural leader passes on

By Susan Gallagher
Helena, Montana (AP) 7-09

Clarence “Curly Bear” Wagner, a Native American historian who pressed for repatriation of ancestral remains to tribes, has passed away. He was 64.

Wagner died of cancer at a Browning hospital on the Blackfeet Reservation, said his cousin Walter Lamar.

A cultural director for the Blackfeet Tribe, Wagner shared his culture through his travels in the United States and Europe. However, he always considered the Blackfeet Reservation his home, Lamar said.

As a young man, Wagner was on the board of the American Indian Movement, Lamar said.

Later, Wagner worked for the return of human remains that were released in 1988 by the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and in the 1990s by Chicago’s Field Museum , officials at the museums confirmed.


Eileen Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian , said Wagner also was an important figure in the 1990 passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

In the early 1990s, Wagner worked on an archaeological project at media baron Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch near Bozeman to identify areas of tribal significance, said Mark Baumler, a Montana historic preservation officer.

“Montana has lost one of its most gifted tribal storytellers and cultural spokespersons,” Baumler said on behalf of the Montana Historical Society .

Wagner helped establish the “Native America Speaks” interpretive program at Glacier National Park and often presented the program to park visitors, park spokesman Wade Muehlhof said.

“He had a special ability to connect with his audience, especially children, who seemed drawn to his warmth,” said Ranger Mark Wagner, who is not related. “He was a tremendous friend of the park.”

Wagner interviewed Blackfeet tribal elders, recording their stories, and worked to preserve sites considered sacred by the tribe.

His mother died when he was 5, according to Lamar, who said that as a high school senior, Wagner and another high school student lived alone in a Browning trailer as their graduation approached.

Individual photos taken around the time of graduation show Wagner and other boys wearing the same coat and tie, which were passed around for photo purposes because the boys could not afford their own, Lamar said.

Wagner studied at several colleges, including Western Montana, Eastern Montana and Idaho State University. He was a military veteran who grew to dislike warm rain because it reminded him of his service in Vietnam, Lamar said.

Survivors include two sons and two daughters.