Profiles: Thomas Greenwood, Native American Rights Activist

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Thomas "White Buffalo" Greenwood devoted over five decades of his life to advancing Native American rights.

Seventy-five-year-old Tom “White Buffalo” Greenwood, a member of the Cherokee nation, has devoted much of his life to furthering the cause of Native American rights. While still in his 20’s, Tom became a member of the Indian Council Fire and fought to extend voting rights to all American Indians. After founding several Indian resource centers, Greenwood served as a delegate to the National Congresss of American Indians. And in 1961, as a chairman of the American Indian Chicago Conference, he helped establish the Indian policy that was presented to President Kennedy as an alternative to the harsh policies of the previous administration.

Today, Thomas Greenwood’s energy and enthusiasm remain high. For Greenwood, being in “retirement” means only that he has more time to concentrate on two of the most important issues of his life: the restoration of the environment and the preservation of his 2,000-year-old heritage. Tom recently completed a successful campaign to preserve 92 miles along the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal. And he’s currently coauthoring a history of the Des Plaines River Valley.

The white buffalo, from which Greenwood got his Indian name, is looked upon by Native Americans as a creature of great vision. Tom explains that the animal is considered a good omen sent by the Great Spirit.

But Greenwood is quick to point out that individual names are of little importance to him. “A hundred years from now,” he says, “they’ll forget the names-but the land that you’ve made a monument will always be there.”

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