Courtesy Oglala Lakota College
Newton Cummings, long-time board member and board chairman for Oglala Lakota College, walked on June 29, 2016.

Oglala Lakota College Board President Walks On


Newton Cummings, long-time board member and board chairman for Oglala Lakota College, walked on June 29, 2016. He had served 40 years as an OLC Board of Trustees member, 22 of those as president.

Newtong was born on July 8, 1937 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota to Newton A. Cummings Sr. and Margret (Gresh) Cummings. His grandparents, Milton and Margaret (Livermont) Cummings settled in the Martin area in 1902. He was one of six children.

Newtong was raised one mile north of Martin on his dad’s 1910 original allotment of trust land. He and his siblings walked to school from their home, but not before they did their chores around the ranch. Since most of the land the cattle grazed on was unfenced land, he and his siblings would ride horseback to keep the cattle on the family’s property.

Reminiscing about growing up in the 1940s and 1950s with a he told a Bennett County Booster reporter that those were tough years. “We did not have too much and sometimes we went for two or three weeks without meat. We lived on mom’s canning. One day dad brought home a ring of bologna, and that was a real treat!”

He also told the reporter: “The Great Sioux Stampede was held every 4th of July in Martin, it was always exciting with dad, loading up the wagon with hay and we would stay the whole day for the festivities. Indian and white people got along excellent and never had any problems.”

During the ‘49 blizzard Newton remembered snowbanks being higher than trees on their property and piled up between the haystacks and cows. He and his siblings had to drag baled hay over the snowbanks every morning until the snowbanks melted.

When Newton was 16, his family moved to the ranch headquarters, 7 miles north of Martin. He went to Holy Rosary Mission in 1956 for his last two years in high school. He was a good athlete, and excelled in football and track. He was given the name “Crazy Legs Cummings” for his style of running the football as a halfback. He received a scholarship to attend the University of Notre Dame. However, the scholarship was only for tuition, and his parents were unable to afford the cost to send him. Then he went to work on the family’s ranch.

In 1958, he married Erma Cottier, and they had seven children. He was 39 years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He was told he had 14 months to live, so he started chemotherapy. After being on chemo for a few years, he told the doctor he was no longer going to do it. To him and his doctor’s surprise, his leukemia went into remission. He believed that prayer had helped cure the leukemia. After he became well, he decided to help others more. Thus he began his career in politics and serving on various boards.

In 1976, he was elected to the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council and served eight years. In 1984, he was elected as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

As tribal president, he wanted to achieve self-sufficiency for the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and divorce the tribe from dependency on the federal government. He developed a five-year strategic plan, which involved building a meat packing plant on the reservation. Other phases focused on farming, irrigating and feed lot operations. He was making progress with his plan, when he ran for a second term and was defeated by five votes.

From the mid 1970s he was on numerous boards on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He was a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Hosing Authority, the Crazy Horse Planning Commission, the Johnson O’Malley advisory board, the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Board, and the LaCreek District Council. He served on most of these boards as chair at one time or another. He believed the most important contribution he made to the Oglala Lakota people was being on the Board of Trustees of Oglala Lakota College. He first came to the Board of Trustees in 1976 and served 40 years as Board of Trustees member with 22 years as board president. He also served on the Local Board of the LaCreek College Center. Like Gerald One Feather, he was a strong believer and supporter of the work of Oglala Lakota College. OLC President Thomas Shortbull has on numerous occasions praised the work that Newtong and the Board of Trustees have done in bringing about major improvements to the college over the last 22 years.

Newton has served as a Bennett County Commissioner for the past 8 years. He helped with the Allen Road and numerous other county projects. Newton was a strong asset as a County Commissioner, as he was knowledgeable in the aspects of tribal jurisdiction, laws and land matters.

Newton is also a survivor of prostate cancer and skin cancer. In the first part of April 2016, he was diagnosed with liver cancer, which eventually took his life.

Newton is preceded in death by his loving wife Erma (Cottier) Cummings of 53 years, his parents Newton A. Cummings Sr, and Margret (Gresh) Cummings, his brothers, John “Jack” Cummings, Doyle Cummings, Donald Livermont and Bernard Livermont, his sister Marian (Livermont) Burton, his granddaughter Melissa Cummings. He is also preceded in death by his Hunka Father Chief Frank Fools Crow, Hunka Mother, Emma Brave Hawk and Hunka Brother, John Denver.

Newton is survived by his sons, Charles Cummings Sr., Newton (Becky) Cummings III, Richard Casey Cummings, William (Sandra Christensen) Cummings, all of Martin, SD, Peter (Jonlene One Star) Cummings of Aberdeen, SD.  Hid daughters, Mary (Craig Austin) Frantz of Lakewood, WA and MaDonna Peterson of Martin, SD.  Along with 28 grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren.  His sisters, Betty Carland of Van Nuys, CA, Anita (Dan) Fisher of Broken Bow, NE, Joan (Lowell) Erichsen of Sioux Falls, SD and Hunka sister Mary Rose Dillion of Martin, SD.

Oglala Lakota College has established the Newton Cummings Scholarship, and people may give to this scholarship fund, via Thomas Shortbull, OLC President.

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