To Reach Out to Others, He Reaches Back to His Roots
Philip Lane, a man steeped in the heritage of his people, likes to tell the story about his great-grandfather, the Sioux medicine man Saswe. "He went on a vision quest, going without food and water for four days. And he had a vision, a vision that the time was coming when we had to heal ourselves, to dedicate our lives to others."
The story expresses Lane's task and his inspiration. "I'm old now, and I feel very close to the beautiful ways of our people," he says. "In the years I have left, I need to be of service-to help bring about the time that me great-grandfather Saswe foresaw, the time when we can truly love one another."
Lane, 77, a 1941 forestry graduate of Oregon State, was honored in May with the E.B. Lemon Distinguished Alumni Award, and in June with the OSU Distinguished Service Award. He was honored for his devotion to the service of other, especially American Indians.
Lane has worked extensively with Indian prisoners at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, near his home. He is the spiritual leader of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), and he won that organizations; top award in 1987. He has helped OSU with recruitment and counseling of American Indian students.
Lane was born in 1915 on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in South Dakota. His mother was a Sioux, his father a white rancher who came north from Texas in a cattle drive in the 1880s. (The Larry McMurtry novel Lonesome Dove tells the story of a cattle drive much like that one.) He had perhaps a harder childhood than most young Americans who came of age during the Great Depression: his mother died when he was 6, his father when he was 13. But he had a remarkable grandfather, Tipi Sapa (Black Lodge), the son of Saswe, and the youngest chief of the Yankton band of the Sioux.
Tipi Sapa gave up his chieftainship to become the first Indian priest and bishop of the Episcopal Church. By the English name, Philip J. Deloria, he became widely known and respected among Indians and whites. A statue of him stands in a place of honor in Washington, D.C.
The Rev. Deloria's influence gave his young grandson an intensely spiritual upbringing, training him in the traditional Sioux ceremonies, which imparted discipline and respect for elders. The Christian faith adopted by his grandfather seemed a natural corollary to the Sioux ancestral ways, Lane says, for they both proclaim the same God and profess the same values of love and service. The young men were taught to follow their elders' advice without question, "with the determination of a youth on his first buffalo hunt," Lane recalls. "I was taught these things, and I was always being prepared-I was told to always be ready, never to sleep, because there might be a time when I was needed. It never occurred to me that there was any other way."
As a teenager Lane was sent to Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas. There, besides gaining basic vocational education, he developed his talent boxing-a skill that would prove useful to him later. He also made acquaintances at Haskell who would influence the course of his life, including a Umatilla Indian from eastern Oregon and a 13-year-old Chickasaw girl from Oklahoma named Lena Rose Vale, nicknamed Bow.
He finished at Haskell in 1934, at the low point of the Depression, and jobs were hard to find. But Lane's Umatilla friend knew about a government forestry program in his home state of Oregon, a federal works project aimed at eradicating the western pine beetle. So in 1934 the two young men traveled west to the Warm Springs Reservation in central Oregon and went to work in the pine forests there.
Lane was assigned to the survey crew under Charlie Chester, a 1932 forestry graduate from Oregon Agricultural School, as OSU was then called. Chester liked the look of Phil Lane-his hardworking attitude his intelligence, and his scrappiness as a boxer. He urged Lane to go on to college and become a forester.
This was something bigger than Lane had ever dreamed of. His schooling so far had been pitifully poor preparation for college. Most Indian students were not expected to aspire to higher education, and they were given few skills to help them is they did. "We got a basic education, the three Rs," Lane says, "but we were never prepared to go beyond that."
Nevertheless, he applied for and won a scholarship of $400 from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1936, at age 21, he entered Oregon State.
It took him five years to earn a degree, and it was a tough five years. The course work was rigorous, but it wasn't only that. Being both an Indian and an older student, Lane also experienced enormous cultural dislocation. He didn't have much patience, for instance, with the tradition that freshmen ("rocks") had to wear little green caps. And he never had enough money. "My shoes were so thin," he jokes," I could step on a dime and tell you if it was heads or tails."
But he knew how to ask for help. "I was befriended by a lot of people," he says, including his roommates, Earle and Merle Johnson, who helped him pass a chemistry course. He also remembers Cal Monroe, Dick Livingston, and an Indian friend, Lionel Kinuan. All these men were present at the E.B. Lemon award banquet in May.
In 1941, Lane was runner-up for the Pacific Coast Conference boxing championship in the lightweight division. A few months later he graduated from Oregon State with a degree in forest management. His program had included some civil engineering courses, and these proved valuable, for after graduation he joined the Army Corps of Engineers and was assigned to the Panama Canal.
Then, suddenly, America was in the war, and Lane joined the Navy. He served with the Seabees and the Naval Air Corps in Florida. While stationed in the Panama Canal he won the all-service lightweight boxing championship.
In 1943, Lane got a brief leave, traveled to Oklahoma, and married Bow, the woman he'd been courting, mostly by letter, for almost 12 years. "In the old days," he says, "it would have been customary to bring horses to her father to ask for her hand. I had no horses. But now I had an education, and I could provide for her."
After his discharge, Lane returned to Panama with the Corps of Engineers to work on the Sea Level Locks project. He was transferred to Umatilla in 1949 to help build McNary Dam and several other Corps of Engineers dams, and then to Walla Walla, where he continued his structural design work until his retirement in 1971.
Today Lane and his wife raise quarter horses on a ranch near Walla Walla. They have a son, Phil Jr., of Lethbridge, Alberta, a daughter, Deloria, of Duncan, B.C., and six grandchildren.
True to his ideals, Lane has actively helped the community wherever he's been. He was chairman of the Umatilla school board when the family lived there, and he continues with much civic and church work, particularly projects involving youth.
He got involved in prison outreach through a fellow horseman who happened to be the warden at the Washington State Penitentiary. "He told me there was quite a contingent of Indian men serving sentences." Lane went up to the prison and offered his services. He saw a group of spiritually impoverished men, cut off from their cultural and religious heritage.
Lane arranged a regular sweat lodge ceremony at the prison, and he prodded skeptical officials to allow the sacred pipe to be used in religious services. Now, he says, the Indian ministry at Walla Walla stands as a model for other prisons. "Many of those released have gone on to lead meaningful lives and have become assets to the people."
For Lane, the life of service is a happy one. "Even when I was very poor, there was always something inside me telling me that I have to serve people, regardless of what the cost. This came down to me from my great-grandfather Saswe. So when it's time for me to go, I will go happily, because I know I've done the task I was given to do."
Besides the E.B. Lemon Distinguished Alumni Award and the OSU Distinguished Service Award, Lane has won other awards, including the Baha'i Community United Nations Human Rights Award, the State of Washington Certificate of Appreciation, and the 1984 Governor's Distinguished Volunteer Award. He has received a Presidential Citation from Lyndon B. Johnson and an award from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for outstanding achievement and service.