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Doris Leader Charge Dies At Sinte Gleska University

MISSION, S.D. - A woman many in the nation remember only for her role in the production of the movie "Dances With Wolves" leaves a living legacy of students who learned the Lakota language, and a budding theatre project.

Doris Leader Charge of Parmelee, S.D., the Lakota language educator who translated the script and appeared in the Oscar-winning film, died Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Sinte Gleska University in Mission where she had taught Lakota studies for more than 28 years.

Leader Charge, 70, portrayed Pretty Shield, wife of Ten Bears in the movie filmed in western South Dakota in 1989.

In addition to serving as a Lakota-language consultant and instructor for the film, she was a special guest at the 1991 Academy Awards ceremonies. She appeared onstage to translate into Lakota part of screenwriter Michael Blake's acceptance speech for best screenplay.

Leader Charge was born May 4, 1930, on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. She attended a boarding school and St. Mary's School for Girls in Springfield. After rearing two daughters and four sons, she taught at Sinte Gleska University in the mid-1970s while taking courses. She received an elementary education degree in 1984.

Leader Charge served on the SGU board of regents alongside her daughter, Rita Millard Means, a founding chairwoman. Her pursuit of a degree in her senior years demonstrated a deep commitment to education.

She also contributed to efforts which brought theatre and a theatre curriculum to the university.

"She did a great deal for the students at Sinte Gleska University and other universities across the United States. She always wanted her people to have things better than what she had in her life," her son, Richard Leader Charge, said.

In addition to her teaching career, she was a highly respected tribal elder and cultural leader.

"My mother was a traditional person. She was a person who extended herself to many people ... students and tribal colleges. She always made time for her colleagues and her students," daughter Rita Millard Means said. "She never didn't have time for somebody. She always made time."

Cheryl Crazy Bull, former university vice president and a close friend, said, "She was a great storyteller. I would sometimes ride with her for 10 or 12 hours on a trip and the whole time she would tell me stories about things she experienced, ceremonies that she saw and then she would tell me Indian stories of how things came about. It's one of the things I will really miss."

Crazy Bull said, "Her sense of humor and her perseverance is what I most admired. "She was really devoted to keeping our language and our spiritual practices alive. She was really a deeply spiritual person. She was a Sun Dancer and she went to sweats ever since she was a little girl. Her dad was a singer so she was a part of that all of her life."

"The loss of her fluency and her understanding of language instruction is significant. She helped the university improve the ability of its staff to instruct the language," Crazy Bull said.

She is survived by her husband Fred Leader Charge Jr. of Parmelee, daughters Mary Millard and Rita Millard Means, and sons Gerald Millard, Richard Leader Charge, and Robert Leader Charge.

Funeral arrangements included a wake at SGU in Antelope Community Feb. 22 and St. Agnes Hall Feb. 23. Services were held Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. at St. Agnes Hall, with burial at the Holy Innocent Cemetery in Parmelee.

From Indian Country Today and other sources.

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