War zone revelation leads local man to his life's work

 Remi Bald Eagle.
Remi Bald Eagle. (KOTA)
Published: Apr. 11, 2017 at 6:40 PM CDT
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Sometimes you can look half way around the world for something only to find it was right in front of you at home all the time.

Here's a story like that.

It’s about a KOTA Territory man who went to the battlefields of Afghanistan to find his life's calling -- right here in West River South Dakota.

Remi Bald Eagle's life and family in many ways are defined by service.

He's the son of the late renowned Lakota Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle who was gravely wounded parachuting into Normandy on D–Day.

Remi Bald Eagle served 22 years in the Army. But a revelation he had in Afghanistan in some ways made his Army career a mere preamble for another kind of service.

Service to his Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

Stationed in Afghan Tribal territory, Bald Eagle was able to bridge a communication gap between his commanding officers and Afghan tribal elders.

“I offered my chain of command the ability to speak as a tribal member,” said Bald Eagle from his office in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. “I don't think the other commanders had the benefit of (that resource.) I was able to give them the tribal perspective which they valued and which they utilized.”

Unrest in his sector eased. To Bald Eagle, the key was being able to distill to his officers what the tribal leaders wanted.

“The essence of the tribal perspective is, ‘We're here. We've been here for a long time and we plan on being here long after you're gone,' ” Bald Eagle said about the Afghan Tribal Elders he met with. “ ‘What we have to do to survive your presence is what we're most interested in.’ ”

And then he was struck with a whopper of an irony.

“My epiphany was that, here I am expressing American interests to tribal people on the other side of the planet and I should be with my tribe expressing our interests to the U.S. government,” Bald Eagle said.

That's when he knew he had to come home and work for his tribe.

Today he's the Intergovernmental Affairs officer responsible for communications between his tribe and other governments. It's still, he says, a matter of building bridges.

“I think it comes down to culture,” he said. “Most Americans don't have a grasp of the way Native Americans think.”

But with his track record translating in war zones, perhaps Bald Eagle can narrow the divide.

And there was another Irony to Bald Eagle's experience.

When his unit was relieved, insurgent activity increased in part because the new troops rejected the approach Bald Eagle helped install.

The relief unit? The Seventh Calvary -- the same outfit once commanded by one General George Armstrong Custer.