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Melvin Lee HoustonFree Access

Melvin Lee Houston

August 7, 1953-Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

Melvin Lee Houston (Santee Dakota) began his journey to the spirit world on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022. He lived an extraordinary life in service of Native peoples and his Dakota Oyate. He will forever be remembered for his amazing humor, his intellect, his ability to bring together Indian Country and allies, and his dedication and life’s work for sovereignty, treaty rights, and a better future for Native communities.


Melvin was born August 7, 1953 and raised in the Native community of South Sioux City, Nebraska by his mom, Merle Hoffman and his dad, Harry Houston.  He was taken to St. Augustine’s Boarding School at age 7, and because he tried to escape so many times, he was deemed an ‘incorrigible’ and sent to the Kearney Home for Boys. When he was released in 1969, he joined the Sioux City chapter of the American Indian Movement. He was one of the first students at the newly formed Survival School at the Sioux City Indian Center, where he studied the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty and treaty law.


Mel participated in the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties and was one of the last people removed from the BIA building. He traveled back to Minneapolis with John and Tina Trudell and their family after the take over and lived with them at the newly established Native housing project, Little Earth of United Tribes, operated by AIM. In 1973, he went to protest the murders of Raymond Yellow Thunder and Wesley Bad Heart Bull in Buffalo Gap and Custer, South Dakota. He was a veteran of the occupation of 1973 Wounded Knee, where he helped bring in needed supplies from the outside. After the occupation, he helped organize public support for Wounded Knee trials in Sioux Falls, SD, Lincoln and Council Bluffs, NE and St. Paul, MN.


In 1975, Melvin participated in the take-over of the Fairchild Plant on the Navajo reservation to protest the treatment of Native workers, and he was there to support the Menominee Warrior Society in their occupation of the Alexian Brothers Abbey to secure restoration of the Menominee Nation’s sovereign tribal status. It was there that he and other AIM members received the call to come the Jumping Bull compound in Oglala, South Dakota, to help protect the elders in the community from then Chairman Dick Wilson’s GOON Squad.


“Mel was always there when people needed help. He wasn’t in it for glory. He stayed in the background and did the work movements needed,” said Milo Yellow Hair.


Melvin was part of the advance team that set up housing, food and built community support for the Longest Walk in 1978. He was also the advance team for Leonard Peltier’s escape trial in Los Angeles in 1980. “He would go into a town, read all the newspapers and periodicals, and develop background on the politicians, churches, and others we should meet with,” said Milo. “He was a natural organizer because he could build trust with people.”


Melvin worked for the Oglala Sioux Tribe throughout the 1990’s. He worked with two tribal chairmen and a host of community members to get the Honeywell Corporation to return close to 3,000 acres of land in the Black Hills to the Lakota Nation. Honeywell had purchased the land for munitions testing, which would have destroyed the land’s ecology and sanctity. Mel was involved with a number of land protection movements, including Earth First!


In the mid-90’s, Mel began working closely with Chief Harry B. Wallace of Poospatuck Nation.  He lived with Harry and the two traveled together to work on issues of Native rights, sovereignty, economic development and cultural revitalization.


“He was a man of ideas,” said Wallace. “He was acutely aware of issues of racism and the impact of colonization and saw how we could free ourselves by restoring our economies and cultures.”


Mel came home to live at Santee in 2000, and over the past decades, devoted himself to learning Dakota history and working to tell the true story of the 1862 Dakota War. He was the Santee representative to the Minnesota Historical Society. In 2012, he helped coordinate an event and walk from Flandreau, SD to Pipestem, MN to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Dakota War. He was a proud Dakota exile whose family descended from Cetan Hunka, one of the 38 Dakota men hung at Mankato in 1862.


Melvin is an example of strength, resilience and transformation. In a wheelchair with one leg, heart failure and renal failure, he decided to quit drinking in 2006 in order to live. Despite his health issues, he traveled to annual Wounded Knee liberation celebrations, to Dakota NAGPRA meetings, to the Standing Rock camp and more, always with a t-shirt or sign supporting Native resistance across the back of his wheelchair.


Melvin is survived by two daughters, Sasha Houston Brown and Elaine Archambault, three grandchildren, Elias Archambault, Alexus Archambault and Aleah Sabel, his nephews and nieces Tim Cavillo, Todd Cavillo, Russell Torrez, Fallon Torrez, Robert Wabasha, Bobby Wabasha, Derek McKenzie Big Eagle, Angie McKenzie, Adam and Amber Boyle, Shayne, Rodney and Nina Houston, aunties and uncles Judy Hoffman, Sharon King Hoffman, Lola Larvie, cousins Lisa Hoffman, Steve Hoffman, Landon Hoffman, Rico Hoffman, Pearl Larvie, Joyce Larvie, Robin Larvie, Dana Larvie and Tony Larvie. He is preceded in death by his grandparents Pearl and Taft Hoffman, mother Merle Hoffman Houston, father Harry Houston, biological father John Mackey, son Shannon Houston, aunties Belva, Carol and Karen Hoffman, uncles Curtis, Dennis and Clyde Hoffman and many movement relatives who will greet him in the next world.

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