Cultural leader preserved customs
Clifford J. SiJohn, a Coeur d’Alene Tribe elder active in preserving the tribe’s customs and cultural heritage, died Christmas Eve in Coeur d’Alene. He was 67.
His funeral mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday at the Rose Creek Longhouse in Worley, Idaho, and he will buried at the DeSmet Mission Cemetery.
SiJohn was a Vietnam War veteran, former police detective and cultural awareness director for the tribe. He also was emcee for the horse parade at Julyamsh, the annual powwow hosted by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in Post Falls.
“We are proud of Cliff. He was a great asset to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, our casino resort and the Northwest,” said Chief Allan, chairman of the tribe, based in Plummer.
“From Julyamsh to creating partnerships with local arts and culture organizations to his efforts to infuse the Coeur d’Alene culture into the casino resort, we are proud of his accomplishments and thankful for his efforts to preserve and share the story of our tribal culture with the world,” Allan said.
SiJohn frequently shared his knowledge of the tribe’s heritage and spiritual traditions at significant cultural events. Last April he spoke at an event treating Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to a free day of golf at the Circling Raven Golf Club. “You are truly all warriors of our heart,” he told them.
In October 2011, he offered a prayer at the release of a golden eagle rehabilitated following an injury. “He will see things with his eyes that we will never see,” SiJohn said.
At Julyamsh, he would introduce the opening horse parade with a retelling of the U.S. Army’s slaughter of more than 800 horses belonging to American Indians on the banks of the Spokane River in September 1858. SiJohn, whose ancestors fought and died in the Steptoe Battle of 1858 near Rosalia, Wash., would speak about the sacrifices of tribal ancestors.
“He worked hard to keep the traditions alive,” said Quanah Matheson, the tribe’s culture director. “He was one of our last storytellers.”
SiJohn was born May 24, 1945, in Spokane, attended grade school in Tekoa, Wash., and graduated from high school in Wellpinit, Wash., in 1963.
He served in the Army during the Vietnam War and was discharged in 1967 as a Specialist 4th Class. SiJohn worked nine years for the Tacoma Police Department, leaving as a detective. He then worked for Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Spokane Indian Reservation at Wellpinit.
In 1985 he returned to Plummer and worked in Coeur d’Alene tribal government for six years.
In 1991, he went to work for the Coeur d’Alene Casino at Worley, first in security and later as cultural awareness director.
SiJohn is survived by his wife, Lori, of Plummer, Idaho, four children, two stepchildren, 18 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He previously was married to Meritia Ford and Wanda Thum.
He was a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the Warrior’s Society, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.