The respected and late Crow elder, Hartford “Sonny” Black Eagle, who adopted then presidential candidate Barack Obama into the Crow Nation during the 2008 democratic primaries, was honored by the president at this year’s White House Tribal Nations Conference on December 5. The conference has been an annual event under the Obama administration, and it was Black Eagle who gave Obama the Crow name Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuxshish, or “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”
Obama’s adoptive mother and wife of Sonny for more than 60 years, Mary Black Eagle, recalled, “When I adopted him I asked him to remember me when he made it to the White House. He said, ‘Mom, you’re going to be there with me too.’” True to his promise, the Black Eagle’s visited Obama in Washington, D.C. on several occasions, including during the 2009 inauguration.
At the conference, Obama spoke reverently about Black Eagle, noting it would've been his 79th birthday the day before. “And while we can’t celebrate that milestone with him today, we can celebrate his remarkable life and all that happened along the way, because Sonny’s story is not just one man’s journey to keep his culture alive, but one country’s journey to keep perfecting itself.”
President Obama related to the tribal leaders present Black Eagle’s tales of growing up in a time where he was struck for speaking his Native tongue in boarding schools, and having to read signs that said, “No dogs or Indians allowed,” to eventually living in a time when he was able to adopt a then future president into his tribe as a son.
“And over those decades, as Sonny went from being a father to a great-great-grandfather and as he taught his family the Crow language and his community the Crow customs; as he became a living symbol of the perseverance of the entire Crow Nation, Sonny stayed true to those fundamental values—to cherish the Earth and each other, to honor ancestors and preserve traditions,” Obama said.
Black Eagle walked on November 26.