All of us at the Cheyenne River Youth Project wish to send our deepest condolences to the tiošpaye of Marcella LeBeau (Wigmuke Waste’ Win, Pretty Rainbow Woman), who passed away on Sunday, Nov. 21, at the age of 102. Our hearts are aching with this loss as well; not only was Marcella a dear friend to Executive Director Julie Garreau and her mother, the late Iyonne Garreau, she served on CRYP’s advisory council for more than 20 years. She was more than our friend; she was our mentor, advisor, and protector.
Marcella’s life touched three centuries. A member of the Two Kettle Band of Lakota, Marcella was born on Oct. 12, 1919, in Promise, South Dakota, on our Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. Her great-grandfather, Chief Joseph Four Bear (Mato Topa), signed the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868, and another great-grandfather, Rain In The Face, fought in 1876 at the Greasy Grass (Battle of the Little Bighorn).
Marcella was a survivor of the Indian boarding school experience, and she went on to earn an undergraduate nursing degree in 1942 from St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre, South Dakota. In 1943, she enlisted in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, serving in France, England, and Belgium under the 76th General Hospital unit during World War II, including D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. Marcella left the army as a first lieutenant, and she earned the French Legion of Honor Award in Paris on June 6, 2004, the 60th anniversary of D-Day. She often said later that this service was the greatest honor of her life.
Marcella worked for the Indian Health Service for 31 years. She also served one term as District 5 council representative on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council, and thanks to her efforts, our reservation became the first smoke-free community in South Dakota. Her accolades include induction into the Native American Hall of Fame and the South Dakota Hall of Fame, and awards from South Dakota State University, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Daughters of the American Revolution.
To us, she was a respected elder in our community, a mother and grandmother who constantly advocated for the Lakota and all indigenous peoples. She set a powerful example in her life, one to emulate, because she sacrificed so much to care for others. She showed us how to love our country, our community, our family, and ourselves.
As Marcella makes her journey to the Star Nation, she has left behind a shining legacy. Rest well, Marcella. You are missed and loved beyond measure, and in your memory, we will keep following the sacred path you have left for us to follow.