Sonny Tuttle (Red Nations Art)
The notice in the paper was small, just the barest hint of a full, full life that touched people around the country.
“Sonny Tuttle,” it said, inviting people to celebrate his life. “Beloved,” it called him. “He was Lakota Sioux and had strong ties to the Flathead Valley and people.”
So strong that his memorial service today at the St. Ignatius Longhouse drew people from around the region.
“I have to say I’ve never met a man like him that had so much positive – he was positive at all times. There was nothing that got him down,” says Francis Cullooyah, cultural director for the Kalispel Tribe, who came to Tuttle’s service from Cusick, Wash.
Cullooyah knew Tuttle, who hailed from Pine Ridge, through his work, through powwows and also through the art whose exhibitions took Tuttle around the country. Tuttle founded Red Nations Art, a family enterprise that grew around Tuttle’s traditional hide paintings, some of which sell for tens of thousands of dollars. He used elk, deer and buffalo hides, as well as the occasional moose or antelope hide, according to his Web site, here. Family members also painted and beaded.
Although Tuttle lived most recently in Lander, Wyo., near the Wind River Reservation, his late wife, Leah, was from the Flathead Reservation and Tuttle maintained his Montana ties, Cullooyah says.
While Tuttle’s death in an accident last Saturday near Columbia Falls, Mont., came as a shock, there was laughter at times during today’s service, Cullooyah says. He remembers a time when he and his family were following the Tuttles to a powwow in Idaho. Sonny Tuttle asked his wife to drive so that he could change into his powwow regalia in the camper, so as not to miss a minute of dancing when he arrived. As the two families pulled in, they were surprised to find good parking spots close to the powwow grounds. And when Sonny Tuttle leapt from the camper in his finery, a passer-by complimented him on being ready so early – a full week early.
Cullooyah laughed when he recalled that day. And then his voice cracked. “I learned something from him personally,” he said of his friend. “We shared a sweat lodge together, we shared a lot of interaction. He was probably one of my best friends.”
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