Southern Red River Valley residents and friends, past and present, are mourning the late Emmett Ernest Eastman Sr.
Eastman, who died Monday, Oct. 4 in Rochester, Minnesota, was 89. His life included serving as a dorm matron at Circle of Nations School, “the pursuit of social justice in native country and throughout humankind” and running for leisure, enlightenment and “to (advocate) for Mother Earth.”
“Our Deski Emmett Eastman Sr. took his journey to the stars early this morning, with his daughter by his side,” Sula Eastman wrote. “Pidameya for all love and kind words from everyone. Our Tiwahe feels the love during this tough time.”
Eastman’s funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 10 at Sisseton Wahpeton College, Agency Village, South Dakota. There will also be an all-night wake following a 7 p.m. service Saturday, Oct. 9 at the college. Eastman’s interment will take place at Goodwill Presbyterian Cemetery, Agency Village.
More than 33 years ago, in the summer of 1988, Eastman was a member of the “Run for Land and Life” movement. Participants began a 3,600-mile anti-nuclear peace march in Hiroshima, Japan, stopping at power plans and other nuclear facilities nationwide.
“Our neighbor Emmett grew up facing adversity and tragedy, including the loss of his wife and son (Frances and Charles) one day in 1973,” recalled Lise Erdrich, Wahpeton. “He took up running sometime after that and became sort of a beloved Forrest Gump-level recognized phenomenon, being spotted on the powwow trail and running scene everywhere.”
Wayne Beyer, Wahpeton’s parks and recreation director, remembers Eastman as a man of few but meaningful words.
“What a runner he was — in the area, on the highways and out a few miles past town. He was dedicated to physical fitness,” Beyer said.
The Facebook page “I’m a friend of Emmett Eastman!” has been one of several forums for people who loved an admired Eastman to share their mourning and memories.
“(I) always marveled at how much respect was shown to Emmett everywhere he journeyed, especially by Native youth,” Joan Quinn Eastman wrote. “The world needs to take a lesson, a lot of lessons, from the indigenous culture of this land.”
Commenters on the “I’m a friend” and other Facebook pages remembered Eastman for his service to Circle of Nations, his positive attitude and wit, the respect he garnered and the multitude of people “who crossed his path and became friends.”
“I must say that (he) is one of the finest examples of (a) human being that I have personally ever known. Prayers go out to the entire family and extended family. We love you, Emmett, and you will be missed but definitely never forgotten,” a commenter wrote.
Shavonne Wilkie is a member of Circle of Nations’ board. By the time she met Eastman, he was no longer working at the school, but remained a beloved friend and respected figure.
“I remember that at the powwows, he would always dance to almost every song,” Wilkie said. “He was on the go. I would him running. You’d be out on the highway and see him running.”
Alongside Eastman’s activism was his advocacy for youth. Erdrich remembers how he would always encourage them, taking the time for visits and talks.
“He was out there living his life to the fullest (as well as) a good example to others for lifelong fitness and tenacity,” she said.
The second of nine children, Eastman was raised in northeast South Dakota. His life included a childhood on the farm, service with the U.S. Air Force and being a father of seven. Later in life, his obituary stated, “he found his calling in running.”
“Not only was running good for the mind, body and spirit, but it opened the doors to the world,” the obituary stated. “He ran throughout the globe to bring awareness to the atrocities brought upon every plant, rock, tree and most importantly water after colonization. He advocated for Mother Earth through running.”
Erdrich shared another fascinating fact about Eastman.
“Many of the local Native people and WIS students came from illustrious ancestors, as did Emmet,” she said. “Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa) was a physician and Ivy league graduate who survived the events and aftermath of the 1862 Minnesota conflict. He was a key figure in starting the Boy Scouts of America.”