Samuel John Around Him Jr. (1942 - 2006)
Prayers and Smoke go out to all who feel this loss...
Lakota Spiritual Leader, Language Teacher Dies
By Heidi Bell Gease, Journal Staff Writer
KYLE -- A respected spiritual leader who taught the Lakota language
to hundreds of students on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has
John Around Him, 64, died at his home near Kyle Wednesday night
after a battle with bone cancer. A relative said his cancer was
diagnosed when doctors ran tests related to pre-existing heart
"I think he was one of the most respected spiritual leaders on the
reservation," said Oglala Lakota College president Tom Short Bull.
Around Him has taught Lakota language at the college for three years.
"We as Lakota people do not do enough to recognize and give
appreciation to people who are contemporary heroes to us," Short
Bull said. "And that's what I see John as being, one of the heroes
of this reservation."
Around Him was honored last month when Gov. Mike Rounds declared
Aug. 28 as "John Around Him Day" in South Dakota.
Around Him, who spoke Lakota as his first language, had a long
relationship with Little Wound School in Kyle, where he worked as a
bus driver and served on a Parent Advisory Committee before
beginning his work as a language teacher.
Matilda Montileaux, a second-grade teacher and language teacher who
worked closely with Around Him, said he taught elementary, middle
school and high school students over the years. He gave opening
prayers at school functions, announced for powwows and helped start
a youth drum group, Eagle Mountain Drum Group.
"They were young boys then, and now they basically have families of
their own," Montileaux said. "And they're still singing."
Around Him did extensive work with Indian inmates in South Dakota
prisons, trying to help them maintain their connection to culture
and heritage. He offered pipe and sweat-lodge ceremonies to Indian
inmates, who make up 24 percent of the state's prison population,
according to state officials. Around Him also did cultural awareness
training for prison staff.
Short Bull said Around Him also worked with at-risk youth.
"He helped so many young people who were having difficult times,
going through the Lakota traditional ceremonies to help straighten
their lives out," he said.
"He was a very good counselor," added Montileaux, who is also
Around Him's niece. "I don't know if he knew that he had those
Around Him also held sundances for years in honor of his father and
Those who knew him say his passing is a big loss for Lakota people.
"In terms of him being here physically, it's a major loss,"
Montileaux said. "But I think what he has taught us, we should be
able to use to carry on. Basically it's up to us to carry on the
teachings. Not just about the language, but about life in general."
Short Bull said Around Him had stepped up to fill a void when
longtime Lakota language instructor Calvin Jumping Bull died last
year. Jumping Bull had given songs and prayers at OLC graduations
"Now the issue is who is going to come and fill the void that John
has left," Short Bull said. "Hopefully someone will step forward,
but we're really losing a lot of really good people on this
Around Him was honored by South Dakota officials last month for his
work with state prison inmates. At the time, he said he didn't know
when he would be called home, "but I want you to continue on with
"The students, they all need to learn," Around Him told
listeners. "They will carry on, they will learn the words and the
Around Him, a Vietnam veteran, was active in the American Legion
Post No. 265.
Preliminary obituary information appears on page C2.
Contact Heidi Bell Gease at 394-8419 or