Oglala Lakota College (OLC) has announced that longtime board member and chairman Newton Cummings has passed away. Cummings completed 40 years as a member of OLC’s board of trustees, serving 22 of those years as board president.
Cummings is a former Oglala Sioux Tribal Council member and tribal president, serving from 1984 to 1986. In the 1984 primary election he took second to Dick Wilson and finished just 14 votes ahead of the third place candidate, Thomas Shortbull—OLC’s current president. In the general election, Cummings defeated Dick Wilson for the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s presidency.
He believed that the most important contribution that he made to the Oglala Lakota people was being on OLC’s board of trustees. He first came to the board in 1976. Like the late Gerald One Feather, another OLC board of trustees member, Cummings was a strong supporter of the college’s mission and work. President Shortbull has praised the work of Cummings and the board for bringing about major improvements to the college over the past 22 years. As board president he looked to the Seventh Generation and how the actions of the board would affect the college, the students, and the entire Oglala Lakota nation for generations to come.
In addition to his steadfast commitment to OLC, Cummings served on many other Pine Ridge reservation boards. He was a member of the Oglala Sioux Housing Authority, the Mini Wiconi Rural Water System, Crazy Horse Planning Commission, the Johnson O’Malley advisory board, and LaCreek District Council. He served on most of these boards as chair at one time or another. Cummings also served as Bennett County Commissioner for eight years. He helped with the Allen Road and numerous other county projects. Cummings was a strong asset as a county commissioner, as he was very knowledgeable in various aspects of tribal jurisdictions, laws, and land matters.
Cummings was one of the last from the era of the “Old Cowboys.” He remembered when his family would go to town in a wagon pulled by a team of horses. The Old Cowboys were upstanding men who dressed in Levis and ironed Western shirts. President Shortbull’s wife, Darlene Shortbull, said that Cummings was a true gentleman who treated everyone with respect and was honorable in his dealings with his Lakota people. Cheryl Crazy Bull, president of the American Indian College Fund, commented that Cummings was a good man and a great supporter of OLC and education.
Cummings will be missed by OLC staff, students, and its board of trustees. He carried in his heart the love of his family and friends, his community, the OLC board, staff, and the many students who have passed through OLC’s doors. Cummings was a true Itanca (leader).