Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

EASTMAN, CHARLES (1858-1939)

Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa) devoted his entire life to helping Native Americans. He believed that Indians could retain their beliefs, but they also needed to selectively adopt non-Indian ways in order to function in the dominant culture. This was the message he often presented in his lecturers and his eleven books and numerous articles. Elaine Goodale Eastman, his non-Indian wife, assisted him in his publications.

Eastman was born near Redwood Falls, Minnesota, on February 19, 1858, and raised in the traditional manner of a Santee Sioux hunter and warrior. His life drastically changed at age fifteen, when his recently Christianized father convinced Eastman to join him at Flandreau, Dakota Territory, and enroll in Flandreau Mission School. For the next seventeen years Eastman attended a number of schools, including Santee Normal Training School and Dartmouth College, ultimately receiving his medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine in 1890.

His first of several government appointments was as Indian physician at Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota (1890–93), where he witnessed the massacre at Wounded Knee. Other government positions were outing agent at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania (1899), Indian physician at Crow Creek Agency, South Dakota (1900–1903), head of the project to revise the Sioux allotment rolls (1903–9), and Indian inspector (1923–25). At times, he clashed with his white superiors regarding policies. His nongovernment work included a brief medical practice in St. Paul, Minnesota (1893), serving as Indian secretary of the International Committee of the YMCA (1894–98), and representing Santee Sioux claims in Washington DC. For several years, the Eastman family ran a summer camp near Munsonville, New Hampshire.

As an active Indian reformer, Eastman helped found and later served as president of the Society of American Indians. He condemned reservation conditions, supported Indian citizenship, and called for the abolition of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In his final years, Eastman continued to present lectures and worked with the ymca and Boy Scouts of America and on several research projects. In 1933 he was awarded the first Indian Council Fire Medal for his lifelong work in addressing Indian and white relations. Eastman died in Detroit, Michigan, on January 8, 1939.

See also GENDEREastman, Elaine Goodale

Raymond Wilson Fort Hays State University

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