Longtime Native American rights advocate Alfred Leo Smith died Nov. 19. Smith was from Chiloquin, was a member of the Klamath Tribe and was known in Native communities throughout the Northwest. He died shortly after celebrating his 95th birthday in Eugene.
He’s remembered as a “loving husband, friend, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and fearless warrior,” says his wife of 34 years, Jane Farrell, in a statement sent to his supporters. “He will be missed and remembered for generations to come.”
In a landmark 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case, Employment Division v. Smith, Smith fought to provide protection for the Native American Church and its religious peyote ceremonies. He and Galen Black were fired from a private counseling service for using peyote and were then denied unemployment benefits. The headline-making case bounced back and forth between the high courts of the U.S. and Oregon and Smith eventually lost, but the issues raised a national debate and led Congress to amend and strengthen the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
Smith was a 50-year adherent to Alcoholics Anonymous and “Native recovery through cultural and spiritual practice and programs development on local, state and national levels,” Farrell says.
A video of Smith speaking about his life and activism can be found on the EW blog.