Nashville Indigenous community honors Luther Medicine Bird White Eagle
Luther Medicine Bird White Eagle, as pictured on memorial program.

NASHVILLE – On Saturday, August 17, the local Indigenous community honored Luther Medicine Bird White Eagle by the holding of a Memorial Dance marking his passing a year ago, August 4, 2018. The Memorial Dance was initiated by his son, Stephan White Eagle.

The event began at noon and continued into the night with the drum group “ Southside,” Grand Entry, powwow dancers, Gourd Dancing and a performance by the Azteca Dance Group Ilhuicamina.

White Eagle was a Tsistsistas Southern Cheyenne Sacred Ceremonial Arrow Priest, a Bowstring Headsmen and a Vietnam veteran.

Melanie Bender/PW

As a fighter for Indigenous rights none stood taller locally than Luther (Lou as he was known in the Native community). White Eagle was a leader in all of the efforts to preserve Native American burial grounds and historic sites in Middle Tennessee.

Prior to that he lived in Memphis for 10 years  and was in the forefront of efforts to halt the destruction of ancient burial and sacred sites in that area, most notably the Desoto Mounds.

Lou hailed from Kingfisher, Oklahoma and was a member of the Southern Cheyenne Nation of western Oklahoma.

The history of the Cheyenne people and their epic struggle of resistance to the European invasion was reflected in his attitude toward the present-day fight for Indian rights. I fervently recall the many conversations I had with him about Native sovereignty and the endless broken promises of the federal government.

Steeped in the traditional religion of the Cheyenne people he was an Arrow Priest, and an Arrow Headsman for the Bow String Society.  He was also a member of the American Indian Movement(AIM) and the head of a Oklahoma AIM chapter in the 1970’s. He served in the U.S. military in the Vietnam War, but was always acutely aware of the huge injustices imposed on the Indigenous people by the federal government.

Melanie Bender/PW

Lou was a consistent speaker at all events, gatherings and demonstrations of the Nashville Native community. He was also a much sought after advisor concerning issues confronting Indigenous people locally and nationally, including the Standing Rock struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and the successful efforts to establish an Indigenous Peoples’ Day in this city.

As time went on he had a number of health issues, but Lou didn’t let that slow him down. I often stopped by his house seeking his thoughts on various matters. At a recent meeting before his passing I could not help but notice that he had a leg amputated above the knee due to diabetes. I made no mention of it , but later he said , matter of factly, that the amputation just made him “stronger.” This was truly inspirational and will remain with me for a lifetime.

Lou also had a great sense of humor. He will be greatly missed.


Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.