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Former Tribes’ Chair Ryan Dies

Kenneth Ryan, a former chairman for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, died Saturday, Feb. 17, at the age of 80.

Ryan served as the tribes’ chairman from 1985-1987 and he was also an elected tribal council member. In addition, he was at the forefront of establishing the Fort Peck Community College.

State legislator Frank Smith knew and respected Ryan for several decades.

“For one thing, he knew the history of the reservation really well,” Smith explained. “I would pick his brain about a lot of things.”

Smith would called Ryan from Helena whenever historical information was needed to pass or debate a bill.

“He had a lot of history in his mind,” Smith said. “We will miss a lot of that.”

Smith noted that Ryan was involved in both economic development and tourism efforts to benefit Native American communities.

Ryan was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters from the University of Montana for his work on the Assiniboine language orthography and curriculum. Ryan was only the second indigenous person to create an orthography for a heritage language. He wrote 23 Assiniboine lessons. He helped develop Native American language courses in Native spirituality, language and culture. He assisted his granddaughter in creating Nakona University, which is an online Nakona school.

He accepted the Fort Peck Code Talker Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the Fort Peck Tribes in 2013.

Ryan met the Pope in Rome during 1994, while Ryan was serving as the ceremonial leader on behalf of the American Indian College Fund.

Ryan also worked for the Administration of Native Americans, Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services.

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