Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

JONES, HAROLD (1909-2002)

Harold Stephen Jones, a Santee Sioux, was the first Native American to be elected bishop of any major denomination. Born in Mitchell, South Dakota, on December 14, 1909, Jones was raised by his grandparents, the Reverend William Holmes, an early Indian Episcopal priest, and his wife, Rebecca, a Caucasian. This dual heritage fostered his eventual ability to serve successfully in a racially conflicted church and society.

Jones's childhood was spent in Niobrara, Nebraska, and Wakpala, South Dakota, where his grandfather served mission churches. His grandfather died while Jones was in his teens. Then came a struggle with discrimination and poverty as he helped support his grandmother and continued his education. He graduated from Northern State College in 1935 and received a licentiate in theology from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, in 1938. He married Blossom Steele, a Lakota, in December of 1938, a week after his ordination as deacon.

Beginning with Messiah Chapel in Wounded Knee, Jones was assigned in rapid succession to four small chapels on the Pine Ridge Reservation. There was never adequate compensation, which led to mounting debts on top of unpaid college loans. Three children were born into the Jones family, with only the daughter, Norma, surviving. Moves to the Cheyenne River Reservation in 1947 and back to Pine Ridge in 1952 brought added responsibilities but no financial relief. That finally came when he was called in 1956 to serve a white congregation in Wahpeton, North Dakota.

In 1968 the national Episcopal Church called him to take over the Navajo mission field in Arizona, where he had to adapt to a different language and culture. While there he was elected suffragan (assistant) bishop of South Dakota and was consecrated in a great multiracial service in Sioux Falls on January 11, 1972. His ministry as bishop was severely limited by a stroke after less than a year of service to both white and Indian congregations, and he had to take an early retirement in 1976. Subsequently, the Rt. Rev. Harold Jones lived with his daughter in Chandler, Arizona, and died there on November 12, 2002.

Mary E. Cochran Tacoma, Washington

Anderson, Owannah. Four Hundred Years: Anglican/Episcopal Mission among American Indians. Cincinnati: Forward Movement Publications, 1997.

Cochran, Mary E. Dakota Cross-Bearer: The Life and World of a Native American Bishop. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. That They May Have Life: The Episcopal Church in South Dakota. New York: Seabury Press, 1977.

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