Dr. Caleb Shields, Wambdi Wahachanka, Eagle Shield
Caleb Shields, 83, started his journey January 1, 2022, in Mesa, Arizona. Caleb was born on April 15, 1938, to Fred Shields Sr. and Frances Smith in Poplar, MT at the old hospital building. Caleb grew up on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and in several West Coast cities where his parents worked in the shipyards during WWII.
Caleb attended various schools. In the early years he went to school in Seattle and Portland. He then attended a few years of grade school in Poplar and one year at the Old Day School in Fort Kipp. From there he went to Pierre Indian School in South Dakota from fifth through eighth grade. He spent his first two years of high school at Flandreau Indian Vocational High School in South Dakota and finished his last two years of high school in Poplar, graduating in 1956.
Right after graduation, Caleb enlisted in the U.S. Navy and spent seven years serving our country aboard an aircraft carrier, destroyer and finally with the SeaBees, a Mobile Construction Battalion.
After military service, Caleb attended Western States College of Engineering in Los Angeles, CA majoring in electronic engineering. During this time, he met his wife of 58 years, Yvonne LaRoque while she was employed at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They married in Compton, CA at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church on November 30, 1963. His employment field was within Vanguard Electronics, a major aerospace firm. He advanced within the company and became their Operations Manager for a plant opened in Mexicali, Mexico to manufacture and assemble electronic components for the space industry. He spent four years working at the Mexican facilities until he had the opportunity to return home to work for the Fort Peck Tribes as the Director of the Fort Peck Planning District in 1974.
He entered the political arena in 1975 when he successfully ran for the Tribal Executive Board, where he served for eight terms before his election to the Tribal Chairman’s position in 1991. He served as chairman until 1997 then ran for another term on the tribal council until his retirement from politics in 1999.
While chairman, Caleb worked on improving relations between the state and tribal governments and preserving the reservation’s natural resources, water in particular.
In 1992, with the help of Tribal Attorney Mary Pavel of the Sonosky & Chambers firm in Washington D.C., an initiative was developed to set the path for the Tribes’ water pipeline and water treatment center project.
The project addressed the need for quality water on the reservation and throughout Northeastern Montana in response to energy development contamination of water sources, according to “The History of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation,” a book Shields co-authored.
In September of 2012, twenty years after Caleb set in motion the process to build the pipeline project, the Fort Peck Tribes dedicated its new water treatment plant in honor of him and named it the “Wambdi Wahachanka (Eagle Shield) Water Treatment Facility, in honor of his Indian name.
He was also among several dozen Fort Peck Tribal members that were proud members of the American Indian Movement, a national activist organization which formed to address poverty, discrimination, and police brutality among Native Americans.
He was also a devoted Poplar Indians fan who frequently served as announcer for the teams’ star quilt ceremonies at the district basketball tournaments as well as sitting in the stands cheering on his children and grandchildren. He enjoyed all kinds of music, including powwow and Sundance songs and classical music.
He enjoyed dancing at powwows and participated in the Sundance ceremony during the summers.
In 2009, Shields received an honorary doctorate degree of human letters from the University of Montana.
In nominating him, Dr. Kate Shanley wrote: “Mr. Shields’ outstanding accomplishments over his 50-year career stand as testimony to his deep commitment to his own people from the Fort Peck Reservation to the state of Montana, and to Indian Country and the nation in general.”
Former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams, now a Senior Fellow at UM’s O’Connor Center, remarked that Shields was “one of the nation’s most articulate and forceful Native American leaders.”
Shields led a joint task force to assemble and coordinate a book, “The History of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana, 1800-2000.” Publishing the book was a tireless effort and a dream of Shields for many years, family members said.
Historians say the book is an invaluable, comprehensive history of both written and oral accounts of the Assiniboine and Sioux in Montana.
Shields was also a frequent visitor to Washington D.C. where he incessantly lobbied on behalf of the Tribes and Indian Country.
In a September 2012 tribute on the U.S. Senate floor, Montana Sen. Max Baucus, also the former Ambassador to China, said of his friend, “He has stood in the Halls of Congress, often in the face of severe opposition, defending the governmental and sovereign rights of tribes. He has stood up to the federal government when the federal government has failed in its obligation to the tribes of this country. Significantly, he did all of this without ever making an enemy and without ever treating any person with disrespect. We can all stand to learn something from this man who, while he had many battles, never made any enemies,” Baucus said when Shields left the political arena.
Although Caleb is well known for so many great accomplishments and his leadership, he also loved his family unconditionally. He had close relationships with all of his siblings and kept in regular contact. He was proud of his children and grandchildren in all that they did including their educational and military milestones. Caleb loved serving the people of the Fort Peck Tribes for almost 30 years. He loved our culture and its traditional ways. He loved making people laugh and sharing funny stories and jokes. He loved football, peanut M&Ms, old fashioned doughnuts, electronic gadgets and always had to have the latest. He loved to learn and would tell people he traveled around the world reading National Geographic as a kid.
Caleb is survived by his wife of 58 years, Yvonne; a son Anthony Shields Sr (Andrea) and daughter Suzanne Boyd (Lowell). Brothers, Stoney Anketell (Julie), Chet and Chuck Eagleman. Sisters, Roseann Shields, Sherry Shields, and Sandy Azure. Brother-in-law, Rusty Stafne. Grandsons, Anthony Shields Jr., Mikkel Shields, Caleb Klinger (Valencia) and Urijah Shields. Granddaughters, Alyssa Shields, Jessica Shields, Celesse Shields, and Payton Klinger. He is also survived by nine great-grandchildren and numerous nephews and nieces.
Caleb is preceded in death by his mother, father, daughter Antoinette Shields, brother Fred Shields Jr., sisters, Joy Shields, June Stafne, Shirley Redstone, special brother-in-law, Kenny Azure Sr and nephews, Kenny Azure Jr., Larry Connor, Tom Stafne and Patrick Clements.
Dad, you are now at rest. Your hard work here is done. You left a legacy that will forever make us proud. We love you and will see you again. Mitakuye Oyasin (We are all related)
A prayer service will be held on Friday, January 14, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. at the Poplar Cultural Center. Funeral services will be held on Saturday, January 15, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. at the Poplar Cultural Center. Interment will follow at Poplar City Cemetery.
Clayton Stevenson Memorial Chapel has been entrusted with arrangements. Condolences for the family may be left using the form below.