Leon Shenandoah, leader of the Onondaga Indians, died Monday. He was 81.
He was the spiritual steward of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, once the greatest Indian power on the continent, influencing life from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean.
Mr. Shenandoah died at his home on the Onondaga Nation, just south of Syracuse, surrounded by his six sons and daughter, said his son, Gary Shenandoah.
In 1983, Mr. Shenandoah defied the U.S. government and provided sanctuary for Indian activist Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, while he was a federal fugitive.
Mr. Shenandoah opposed his people accepting any assistance from the government and spoke out against the Iroquois becoming involved in gambling ventures.
In 1969, Mr. Shenandoah was chosen as the chief of chiefs, or Tadadaho, of the confederacy, which consists of the Onondagas, Cayugas, Oneidas, Mohawks, Senecas and Tuscaroras.
He officiated at weddings and funerals and sacred ceremonies and presided over meetings of the Grand Council, made up of the chiefs of all six Iroquois nations.
The slight, white-haired Mr. Shenandoah spent almost his entire life on the Onondaga reservation in an old house heated by a wood stove. He believed fervently in a supreme being called "The Creator," in reincarnation, in life everlasting and a judgment day.
He believed that Native American culture would rise again and that Western society, sickened by pollution and greed, would turn to his people for answers.
About 65,000 Iroquois live on reservations across New York, Wisconsin and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.