He was just 28 years old when he first took office as chairman of the Tunica Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana in 1978 and it’s a title Earl Barbry Sr. held until the day of his passing on July 31, 2013.
According to the tribe’s website, when he took office he was the youngest member to be elected and he said the most important issues he was facing were “uniting the members and getting federal recognition.”
Without federal recognition there was not federal money coming in to help the tribe with programming, so it was all volunteer. That changed in September 1981, when under Barbry’s leadership, the tribe received federal recognition.
It was also under his leadership that a court action was initiated that helped build the foundation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The tribe also repatriated artifacts that had been looted from its 18th century cemetery. Barbry also oversaw the development and construction of housing communities, paved roads, a tribal center, court complex, social services office, as well as a hotel-casino complex and a cultural and education center.
Barbry was not only chairman of the tribe, but he also served on the Louisiana Inter-Tribal Council, he was a board member of the United South & Eastern Tribes, Inc., or USET.
This comes as no surprise to his tribe, as he is descended from a long and unbroken line of Tunica-Biloxi chiefs. Elijah Barbry, his grandfather, was the first activist chief in the state to try and get a federal response to the needs of Louisiana’s Indian people.
Earl Barbry was no stranger to accomplishment outside of his office of chairman either. In 1993, he was named the Avoyellean of the Year by the Avoyelles Journal, the highest award in the parish. He was named Minority Businessman of the Year in 1996 by the Marksville Chamber of Commerce. In 2005, he received the Leadership Award of the National Indian Gaming Association. In recognition of his cultural, education and economic contributions to the region and state he was named a Louisiana Legend by Louisiana Public Broadcasting in 2006, the first American Indian to get the honor. In 2011, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Northwestern State University.
Most recently, in June 2013, USET presented its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award to Barbry and named it after him.
A viewing will be held on Monday, August 5 from 4 to 11 p.m. (CST) at Mari Center at Paragon Casino Resort, 711 Paragon Place in Marksville, Louisiana. Funeral services will be held on August 6 at 11 a.m. at the same location. Flowers can also be sent there. Cards, letters and condolences can be sent to Mrs. Earl Barbry Sr., P.O. Box 2182, Mansura, LA 71350.
The USET office in Nashville, Tennessee will keep its flags lowered to half-mast until completion of services for Barbry.