Courtesy Sixkiller Family
Graveside services and interment will be Saturday, October 3.

Memorial for Jess Sixkiller; Murderer Still Unidentified

Steve Russell

A wake for murdered Cherokee elder and activist Jess Sixkiller has been scheduled at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, October 2.

RELATED: Jess Sixkiller Murdered in Phoenix

Sixkiller spent his life advocating for urban Indians, documenting discrimination against them and seeking redress. A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, at the time of his death Sixkiller was an active member of the Valley of the Sun Cherokee Organization, formed to connect absentee Cherokees to their tribal government in Oklahoma.

Before moving to Phoenix, Sixkiller was known as the first American Indian to serve as a sworn officer on the Chicago Police Department. He later became the first Indian detective in Chicago.

Sixkiller earned a Master’s in Urban Studies from Yale University and, with a grant from the Ford Foundation, he became the founder and first director of the National Urban Indian Organization, an offshoot of the National Congress of American Indians. NUIO does not survive today in its original form but became a precursor to a number of national organizations serving urban Indians. It was at a 1969 NUIO conference in San Francisco that a very young Russell Means was first exposed to the American Indian Movement.

Sixkiller served for 19 years as director of ACTION, the federal umbrella organization for volunteer programs, in Arizona and Nevada.  Late in life, he became active in business entities by Indians and for Indians, founding the Native American Insurance Company, Native First Energy, Tribal Building Solutions, and Native First Capital Markets Group.

Jess Sixkiller leaves behind his wife of 58 years, Tammy Sixkiller, a citizen of the Tohono O’odham Nation from the Gila River Indian Community. His daughter Ellen walked on before him, but he is survived by daughters Janell and Sue and son Jess Sixkiller Jr. He was also grandfather to Shannon, Thunder, Shaundeen, Tsali, Sampson, Scott, and great-grandfather to Raine.

Graveside services and interment will be Saturday, October 3, at 7 a.m. at the Squawbush Cemetery, District 1, Blackwater, Gila River Indian Community.

There has been no apparent progress in identifying the perpetrator who took Sixkiller’s life. The Phoenix Police Department is still describing the incident as a random home invasion and if the police are correct the crime will be very difficult to solve.

A reward has been posted for information that solves this crime and the police are asking anyone with information to call Silent Witness at (480) WIT-NESS. Family friend Eddie Webb, citizen of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, told Phoenix channel 15, “This is not a crime statistic, this is an icon in American Indian history.”

The Sixkiller family chose these words for his memorial:

He saw the inequality that still prevailed and fought every day for what he knew was right. His journey was interrupted before he could bring it to a close, but his spirit has kept it alive in the friends and family who continue to feel his passion vibrate in their souls. Our loss is great, but as long as the love that made him an unrelenting force prevails, we fight on.

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