Juanita Helphrey, 76, New Town, died Jan. 5, 2018, in a Minot rehab facility.
The life of Juanita Jean Helphrey (“Maaodagabagi Oxhaadish” White Flower) of New Town, began March 2, 1941, and ended Jan. 5, 2018. She was born into the Alkali Lodge Clan and her childhood was spent in Elbowoods and Mandaree with her parents Samuel and Frances (Smith) Boyd. Eventually the family relocated to New Town because of the flooding of the reservation to create Garrison Dam.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Juanita traveled to St. Louis by herself. This began a lifetime of travels that took her across the world to places such as China, Africa, Poland, and other destinations. She attended college at Dickinson State College, Mary College, Concordia, and University of California in San Diego. She lived in major cities such as St. Louis, Minneapolis, Cleveland, and Pasadena, Calif., but always with the intention of returning home to Fort Berthold. In preparation for retirement, she purchased a home in New Town and returned summers to work on her house.
Juanita's professional life was a pilgrimage of service and seeking justice on behalf of North Dakota’s Native Americans, as well as others across the U.S. and world who struggle to claim their rightful place in a society that would ignore them. Juanita's social ministry journey began in 1970 with the Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM) soon after it organized, serving on its board and staff. In 1975, she became the Executive Director of the Indian Affairs Commission of North Dakota, where she worked for justice for the reservations of North Dakota in their dealings with the wider culture, as well as with one another.
Her initial appointment by Gov. Art Link was the first time a full-time position led the Indian Affairs Commission. Prior to this, it was run by a board of elected representatives across the state. Juanita was the Executive Director for 15 years, serving under Govs. Link, Olson, and Sinner. In 1977, she was one of three Native women representing North Dakota at the International Women’s Year in Houston, and was one of the women to present resulting resolution to then President Carter.
In 1991, Juanita continued her pilgrimage of service by joining the staff of the national United Church of Christ headquarters in Cleveland, where she remained until late 2004. While leading a department in the national church, Juanita worked with many seeking social and racial justice. She carried out this ministry by helping to develop the first UCC resource that focused on becoming an anti-racist congregation, and became a leader in a church supported movement against the use of Native Americans as mascots and logos. She was also an active protester, and in 1997, was arrested with AIM activist Vernon Belcourt for burning a Chief Wahoo image during the World Series. She also protested with Russell Means, another AIM activist.
After leaving work with the national church headquarters, Juanita took over the duties of director for CAIM until 2006. During this time, Juanita began her lay ministry training through the Northern Plains Conference.
In 2007, Juanita began doing pulpit supply work with Independence Congregational United Church of Christ, which is located near Mandaree on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. This commitment later grew into her being called as the licensed pastor, serving there for two years.
Juanita also volunteered time with the Fort Berthold Council of Congregational Churches (FBCCC), administratively, which included updating bylaws and policies. This led to the writing of the history of the FBCCC churches. This eventually became the book, “Our Churches, Our Story” which is a history of the UCC churches on the reservation. All the funds raised from the sale of the book have been given to the FBCCC to be shared as the starter funds to go for repairing church buildings.
Juanita’s extensive writing included litanies for the church, her perspective and history of COREM, and poetry mainly of a spiritual nature. Internet searches show that Juanita was noted and quoted in many writings, books, and articles. She was on many boards and commissions and was asked to pray at many events. She was on education boards, including one that was instrumental in starting the United Tribes Educational Center.
Notable among her many awards were Fellowship National Endowment for the Humanities, San Diego, Charles Hall Youth Services Award, and United Church Board of Homeland Ministries Award for Services. She was very interested in following politics and the news. In 2009, she was invited to attend President Obama’s inauguration.
After ending a career traveling the world making life better for others and being recognized with many honors, Juanita was able to return to a quieter life on the reservation as she planned years before. In retirement, Juanita worked five years with the New Town Public School District in a variety of ways. She enjoyed family and community events once she returned home. She loved cooking big meals for her sons and grandson Devon, and made the best buns. She was amazing at decorating and always had a remodeling project going. Some doctors viewed Juanita as a medical phenomenon for overcoming many rare, life-threatening health issues. She also recovered from alcoholism and attended many AA meetings far-and-wide. Her health declined the last two years of her life, but she was determined to remain independent and in her home with her boys (sons, grandson, and dogs) until shortly before her death.
Juanita is survived by her sons, Jim Helphrey, New Town, Ray Helphrey, Bismarck, Brandon (Angel) Palmersheim, Garrison, Mike (Holly) Huber, Bismarck, and Darrick Bell, Minot; beloved grandson, Devon Headdress; sisters, Karen Hartman and Nellie Boyd; nieces, Ruth (Bill) Swaney, Samantha Lindgren, Krystal Hartman, and Jaime Hartman; nephew, Chris McLaughlin; and faithful companions, Timmy and BenG.
Funeral: Wednesday, Jan. 10, at 10 a.m. at Johnny Bird Veterans Memorial Hall, New Town.
Wake: Tuesday, Jan. 9, beginning at 5 p.m. in the memorial hall.
Prayer Service: Tuesday, beginning at 7 p.m.
Burial: New Town Cemetery, New Town.
www.langhansfuneralhome.com. (Langhans Funeral Home, Parshall)