After having borne three sons and one daughter, Ohiyesa was Mary’s last child, for she died giving birth to him, therefore the name “Hakadah” (“pitiful last”) was given to him at birth. Yet, Hakadah would become much more than pitiful last in life. He became a doctor and was the only doctor at the Wounded Knee massacre many years after his birth. Later in childhood he received the name Ohiyesa (pronounced Oh hee’ yay suh).
Ohiyesa was born February 19, 1858 near Redwood Falls, Minnesota. He was an author, physician, reformer and advocate. He was born to Many Lightnings, of the Dakota tribe and his wife Mary Nancy Eastman. Mary’s father was Seth Eastman, whose paintings are very significant of Indian life among the Dakota and Ojibwa tribes of Minnesota. Seth, a white man, married Wakaninajinwin, daughter of Cloud Man, a Dakota chief.
During the Minnesota Uprising of the Dakotas in 1862-63, Ohiyesa was safely taken to relatives of his father in North Dakota and Manitoba. He was later reunited with his father, whom had changed his name to Jacob Eastman, and older brother John. They homesteaded in Dakota Territory. Ohiyesa then went by the name of Charles Alexander Eastman.
Pitiful was by far the last thing that Ohiyesa ever was. Thanks to the encouragement of his father, Ohiyesa obtained his education at mission and preparatory schools then went on to Dartmouth College where he graduated in 1887. Just a year later he earned his medical degree from Boston University.
Ohiyesa was the first Native American doctor at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, just 30 miles north of Wounded Knee, and a distinguished author of many books about life and culture of the Native Americans. He was the only doctor in the hospital at Pine Ridge at the time of the Wounded Knee Massacre and treated the victims.
One cannot imagine the horrors he must have seen that fateful day in December of 1890, or the looks in the eyes of the dying. This historical tragedy was to influence his distinguished career. He stayed on at Pine Ridge until 1903. In the movie, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, Ohiyesa, one of the three main characters, was portrayed by Adam Beach.
After World War I, Eastman served as president of the Society Of American Indians. He was an inspector for the government in the 1920’s and inspected conditions of reservations. He was a spokesman and advocate for his people.
One of his books, From The Deep Woods To Civilization, did much to raise the white people’s awareness of the Native Americans and their cultures and issues. Ohiyesa also had his own private medical practice and after Pine Ridge, served at the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota.
Besides being a doctor and advocate for the Native Americans, Ohiyesa was very instrumental in helping to establish organizations for young men. From 1894-1897 he established 32 groups of Indians for the Young Men’s Christian Association. In 1910, working with Ernest Thompson Seton of the Woodcraft Indians and Daniel Carter Beard of the Sons of Daniel Boone, Ohiyesa helped found the Boy Scouts of America. Caring for and speaking for his people was his life and dedication. In 1933 he was the recipient of the first Indian Achievement Award.
Eastman was active in politics, focusing on issues of Indian rights. He served as a lobbyist for the Dakota between 1894 and 1897. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt assigned Eastman the responsibility for revising the allotment method of dividing tribal lands. In 1923-25, Eastman served under Calvin Coolidge as an Indian inspector. He was also a member of the Committee of One Hundred, a reform panel examining federal institutions and activities dealing with Indian nations.
Ohiyesa died January 8, 1939. He was one of the many Native Americans who stood up for his people and dedicated his life to them. Caring for and speaking for his people was his accepted and honored purpose in life.
In his autobiography written in 1902, Indian Boyhood, Eastman wrote of the memory of his Naming Ceremony.
After a day of games and friendly contests for bravery among the young men of the tribe and guests from other tribes, Hakadah (he was still at that time called “The Pitiful Last”) was summoned into the center of the tribal circle. Hakadah’s band had been the victors. He entered the circle, not knowing what was to happen and looking as if he were about to die. He was to receive his name.
The tribal members cheered loudly as he stepped forward to Chankpee-uyhah, the medicine man and waited with fear and respect. He was awe-stricken. With great ceremony and pride, Chankpee-uyhah conferred the name:
“Ohiyesa (Winner) shall be thy name hence-forth. Be brave, be patient and thou shalt always win! Thy name is Ohiyesa.”
Ohiyesa left to us a legacy of hope for his people and for all who have a goal of reaching their highest potential in life.
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