Willi “Chubbins,” Sichawastewin, (Mean But Kind Woman), was the first child born to William “Bill” Youpee Sr. and Isabel Floretta Weinberger on July 10, 1939, in Poplar, Mont. She attended her early school years in Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore., and graduated from Poplar High School in 1956.
As a member of the Sisseton- Yankton Dakota, Willi grew up learning and living the ways of her ancestors. In her youth, she shared many a country journey with her grandparents, Helen and Joe Brushorn, in their horsedrawn buckboard wagon hunting and gathering wild berries, turnips, medicinal herbs and plants. Other times, the family would load up and make it to tribal celebrations in neighboring reservation communities in Montana, North Dakota and Canada. Pitching tent, dancing, feasting and breaking camp was a familiar routine of Willi’s family and relations.
Willi began her academic career at Portland State University in Portland, Ore. She was an alumna of Montana State University - Bozeman, along with her sister, Helen, and brothers, Allen and Dwight. She was a member of the group of Indian students who founded the Council of American Indian Students at MSU in 1961 and was a member of the Montana State Delegation to the first National Indian Youth Conference in 1962.
In 1963, Willi was named Miss Indian America at the 10th annual All-American Indian Days in Sheridan, Wyo. She was the first Fort Peck tribal member to win the title. As Miss Indian America, Willi embarked on a national speaking tour and participated in the Montana Territorial Centennial in 1964. She was also featured in Cheyenne Autumn Trail, a short film, narrated by Jimmy Stewart, produced to provide context to John Ford’s last western.
After her tour as Miss Indian America, Willi moved to Washington, D.C., to work for U.S. Senator Lee Metcalf. During her time in Senator Metcalf’s office, Willi developed a friendship with Senator Edward Kennedy, with whom she traded jokes in Senate halls. In Washington, she met Larry Bussard. She and Larry married and spent 50 years together in Arizona and California.
Willi also worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Phoenix area office and assisted her father, a founding member and the first executive director of the National Tribal Chairmen’s Association, at that organization’s annual meetings.
Willi possessed innate artistic creativity, earning a degree in interior design photography from Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. She practiced that profession successfully for several years, contributing to portfolio development of Interior designs. During this time, she also studied photography under Ansel Adams, one of her favorite photographers.
Willi’s life was marked from an early age by her deep empathy and concern for the welfare of others. She was always first to extend a helping hand, and to offer comfort and emotional support to others on life’s journey. She was steadfast in these values of sharing, giving, and recognizing the humanity in others no matter the situation. Through the guidance of her grandparents, her parents, and her tribal community, she brought those ways to fore in her contemporary lifestyle.
Willi’s family will remember her as a devoted rescue mom to desert tortoises and dogs, especially blue heelers. She was a loving daughter, and sister, and a doting aunt and grandma. She collected nutcrackers and was a truly incredible cook and baker. She developed many dear friendships in the Phoenix, Flagstaff and Salinas areas.
Willi passed away unexpectedly while traveling in Arizona on Aug. 14, 2019, at age 80.
Willi was preceded in death by her mom and dad, Bill and Isabel; her brothers, Allen, William Jr. and Danny; brothers-in-law, Pete Ramsey and Roy LaFramboise; her sisters, Florence (Red) and Gretchen; sisters-in-law, Roxane Gibbs and Bernadine White; nephews, Joe Cloudboy, Allen (Junior), Michael George, Skay Sr., William (Billy) and David; niece, Tracy; grandsons, Skay Jr. and Armon Boyd; and grandparents, Helen and Joe Brushorn, Frank Youpee, and George and Ida Turning Bear Weinberger.
She is survived by her husband, Larry; brothers and sisters, Helen (George), Dwight, Josi (Réné), Lori, Cary (Linda) and Marvin (Renay); adopted brother and sister, Albert “Greek” Culbertson and Joan Broomfield, both of Poplar; special cousins, Susie and Aileen Red Bird; uncle, Lloyd Youpee of Poplar; and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews and grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to the Willi Bussard Memorial Fund at Independence Bank of Poplar.