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ND trailblazer, staunch advocate for Native American rights Harriett Skye dies at 86

Harriett Skye, 86, died Jan. 20 in her home in California. Skye was a staunch advocate for Native American rights. She was inducted into the North Dakota Native American Hall of Honor in 2016. Submitted photo1 / 2
Harriett Skye hosted a television program called "Indian Country Today," from 1972 to 1984. In the first 10 years of the program, she conducted 246 interviews with Native American leaders and newsmakers. The program reached viewers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Manitoba and Saskatachewan. Submitted photo2 / 2

BISMARCK—Harriett Skye, a pioneering Sioux woman who paved the way for Native Americans and hosted an unprecedented TV program in Bismarck, has died at age 86.

Skye was born on Dec. 6, 1931, in Rosebud, S.D., according to her online obituary. The eldest of seven kids, she grew up on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Fort Yates. After graduating high school, her career began as the editor of the tribal newspaper, The Standing Rock Star.

She later moved to Bismarck, where she took a job leading public relations at United Tribes Technical College. She was an editor of United Tribes News, the college's monthly newspaper, and hosted a television program called "Indian Country Today," which aired from 1973 to 1984 on the local NBC affiliate, KFYR-TV.

In the first 10 years of the bi-weekly program, Skye conducted 246 interviews with Native American leaders and newsmakers. The program reached viewers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Her interviews likely inspired other Native Americans — particularly Native American women — to enter the field of journalism.

North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner Scott Davis, who knew Skye since he was a child and worked with her at United Tribes, said she "always had positive energy."

Davis said he worked with Skye when she was the college's vice president of intertribal programs. He said she instilled upon him the importance of meeting people and making connections and said she was "very well-connected."

In 2016, Skye was inducted into the North Dakota Native American Hall of Honor, which recognizes Native Americans who have been influential leaders and crusaders of their tribe and culture.

"I'm so glad she was inducted," Davis said. "Growing up, seeing her on 'Indian Country Today,' as a young kid I thought that was the coolest thing ... I didn't understand the issues back then as a kid, but (I thought), how cool was it to see a real Indian on TV versus a Hollywood Indian?"

"Her show was a game changer for Indian Country," he said.

Skye also served on the North Dakota Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In 1979, the federal commission issued a report which called for an investigation into the hiring practices at law enforcement agencies in North Dakota, noting concerns that they were not complying with federal affirmative action hiring practices. This action was spurred by a similar study Skye and the advisory committee conducted, which looked at problems and disadvantages by Native Americans in the local criminal justice system.

She also advocated for better education for Native American children. In 1985, she participated in a demonstration near the White House against a plan to defund a program that provided education to Indian children in 27 states.

Skye went to college when she was 55 years old and graduated with a bachelor's degree in education at New York University.

In 1997, she was accepted into a graduate program in ethnic studies at the University of California-Berkeley. Her 2003 dissertation focused on the loss of land at Standing Rock to the Oahe Reservoir and how government agencies and bureaucracies have striped Native people of their land and natural resources.

Davis said Skye's acceptance speech she gave at her induction ceremony in 2016 was one that had the potential to make you cry and laugh. He said she spoke about what she and other Native people in her generation have been through.

"(Skye and her generation) created a path for people like me. They broke down barriers .... When she explained those things, it made you cry, but then, at the end of it, it was always good; you were left with a good feeling," Davis said.

A service was held on Friday in California.

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