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Friends mourn Red Cloud

When you heard American Indian singing and drumming around the Prairie Island Indian Community in recent years, you could bet Winfred Red Cloud was near.

When there were spiritual blessings to be made around town, he was the man. And when young people or outsiders had questions about traditional native culture, they often turned to Red Cloud.

But on Friday, at the age of 60, his drum was silenced. Red Cloud died of organ failure in his native state of South Dakota.

Those who knew the 2007 Amos Owen Award winner best said his loss deals a major blow to the community - both on Prairie Island and around Red Wing.

"I just feel a real loss in my heart knowing that Winfred is no longer among us in body," said Deb Gullickson, who nominated him for the Amos Owen Award, a recognition given annually by the city to an individual who has demonstrated a local commitment to human rights.

Friends and loved ones said Red Cloud's unique ability to foster understanding between native and non-native cultures will be missed.

"I've never known anyone like that, and I don't know that we ever will again," said Luann Klindworth, a friend and psychologist who called Red Cloud "a respected colleague."

Her sister, Diane Bremer, spent the last seven years in a personal relationship with Red Cloud after his wife, Julie Campbell, died in 2001.

"He was the most wonderful, caring person that I've ever known," Bremer said Tuesday.

She remembered her self-described "significant other" as a gentle - and mystical - man whose stoic public persona belied a tender personal side.

A member of the Oglala Sioux Nation, Red Cloud was raised on the economically ravaged Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Bremer said his family had no plumbing in its tiny home and lived off the land, farming vegetables and hunting wildlife.

Frustrated with the government's relations with American Indians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he turned militant and became associated with American Indian Movement. Bremer said he was involved in several confrontations against the federal government, including the 1973 occupation at Wounded Knee, S.D.

"The things that were promised his people were not delivered," Bremer said.

Red Cloud was arrested for his role in uprisings against the government and sentenced to federal prison, Bremer said.

She said it was during his imprisonment that Red Cloud reshaped his approach to life. He used the opportunity to share the traditional customs he learned from his grandfather with other American Indian inmates.

Red Cloud came out of prison "very much a changed person," Bremer said.

"Incarceration helped him realize his spiritual gifts," she said.

He moved to Prairie Island in 1989, where he married Julie Campbell. He went on to serve as the tribe's cultural liaison and tobacco prevention specialist.

Over the years Red Cloud extended his spiritual outreach, meeting with American Indian spiritual leaders from around the country and sharing his insight with non-native community members.

In recent years, Red Cloud returned to prison - but not as inmate. He became an adviser at two Wisconsin correctional facilities, where he led sweat-lodge ceremonies and counseled American Indian inmates on using native culture - beadwork, crocheting, singing and drumming - to overcome struggles.

"That's really where his heart was - for helping people," Bremer said.

He also made a lasting impact at Prairie Island, said Audrey Bennett. The former Prairie Island Tribal Council president remembered Red Cloud's generosity and warmth.

"He had a kind, gentle soul about him," said Bennett, who was Red Cloud's sister-in-law.

Friends said Red Cloud worked closely with the tribe's youths - especially the Takoja Singers - with whom he enjoyed passing on traditional customs. He also performed blessing ceremonies around Red Wing and assisted the Goodhue County Historical Society.

Bennett said that even though he was not an enrolled member at Prairie Island, the tribe embraced Red Cloud.

"He's going to be a lost treasure," she said.