Indian nationalist, social critic, student activist, renowned fancy dancer, and youth leader, Clyde Warrior (Ponca, 1939–1968) was a major figure in the Native American student—youth movement of the 1960s. He helped found the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC). His ideas changed how Indian people thought about activism and nationalism. Thousands were inspired by his charisma, commitment, and clamor for change.
Warrior was born during the Great Depression near Ponca City, Oklahoma. His grandparents raised him traditionally. As a young man, he became instrumental in the revival of Ponca songs and dances. By 1957 the newspapers were already calling him a world champion dancer. In 1958 Warrior won an award in the design category at a state-level high school art competition. By early 1961 he was attending Cameron Junior College in Lawton, Oklahoma.
Early in the spring of 1961, Warrior traveled to the University of Oklahoma to attend a regional planning conference for the American Indian Chicago Conference. Before the semester was over, he returned to the University of Oklahoma to join 300 Indian youth and students for the annual meeting of the Southwestern Regional Indian Youth Council. Although he was a newcomer to the youth council movement, which had emerged in the Southwest, Warrior became its president. The young people who elected him were amazed at his confidence and Indian pride.
In June 1961, Clyde Warrior attended the American Indian Chicago Conference with nearly thirty students from the Workshop on American Indian Affairs. They were frustrated that older Indian leaders expected them to run errands. The students did this, but they also took matters into their own hands. Several won election to leadership positions at the conference. For instance, Warrior served on the Drafting Committee and helped revise the Declaration of Indian Purpose. The students also formed a youth caucus. During the conference Warrior performed a ceremonial song and announced that he had prayed in behalf of the confused delegates. He also helped the youth caucus to seize the microphone and told the conference delegates to stop being so deferential toward white people.
When the conference concluded, Warrior and several of the students returned to Colorado for the remainder of their summer workshop. Many of the students had been radicalized by their experience in Chicago and grew impatient with the slow and steady approach to change advocated by their instructors. Some of the students stayed, others left early, and the most committed among them, including Warrior, assembled in August at Gallup, New Mexico. At this meeting the students discussed their goals, elected officers, and decided to call their organization the National Indian Youth Council. Warrior was elected to its board of directors.
Between late 1961 and 1964 Warrior cemented his reputation as a national Indian leader. He was nominated for a spot on his tribal council. He presided over a National Indian Youth Conference and was in demand on college campuses as a speaker. He returned to the Workshop on American Indian Affairs, served as coeditor of its student newsletter, and soon became coeditor of the University of Chicago periodical Indian Voices. He worked with Marlon Brando and publicists in New York City to help tribes in Washington State secure their fishing rights. At the March on Washington and Freedom Summer, he increased his knowledge of civil rights strategies. He was invited to speak in Washington, D.C., on how the War on Poverty could benefit American Indians. In late 1964 he published his influential essay, "Which One Are You? Five Types of Indians."
During the last four years of his life, Warrior maintained a demanding schedule. He married and became a father. The NIYC elected him its president. Colleges called him for speaking engagements. His testimony before the president's National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty was reprinted as "We Are Not Free." He represented the NIYC at Martin Luther King Jr.'s anti-Vietnam peace march in New York City. The John Hay Whitney Foundation awarded him an Opportunity Fellowship for graduate work in American Studies. These activities took a toll on Warrior. He put on weight and the excessive drinking harmed his liver. He died suddenly while working on an Oklahoma summer school project in July 1968. In his honor, the NIYC organized the Clyde Warrior Institute in American Indian Studies.
Smith, Paul C., and Robert Allen Warrior. 1996. Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee. New York: The New Press.; Steiner, Stan. 1968. The New Indians. New York: Harper & Row.