Eddie & Regina Foote
Eddie and Regina Foote, Dedicated Couple
“In April 1997, a good man died in Montana.” These were the opening words of my first letter to you, in which I began to tell you about some of the unforgettable Northern Cheyenne elders I have known and about their desperate need for an Assisted Living Center.
The man who died, Eddie Foote, had been a vital part of St. Labre history for more than seventy years. Eddie was one of my dearest friends even though his job was what some people might call menial.
Eddie was diagnosed with throat cancer; and I watched him linger on in dreadful pain, refusing to enter a nursing home more than 100 miles from home. For years, Eddie had lovingly cared for his wife Regina (Turtle Woman), who had lost both hands and feet to the devastating disease of diabetes. I have so many fond memories of Regina, a strong, healthy woman before contracting this killer disease. In my early years in Montana during the 1950’s, I remember Eddie and Regina irrigating fields, putting up hay and cutting grain. After a hard day’s work in the fields, they went to their tent along the Tongue River and Regina, bone tired, prepared a meal and washed clothes.
They finally found steady work when a New York firm opened a plastics factory on the reservation. When Indian jewelry was introduced, along with other mail order items, Regina became an outstanding producer of first-rate jewelry. But the 1976 oil embargo increased costs and the factory that employed more than 150 Cheyenne people had to close. It was a hard blow to the frail reservation economy.
While many were then unemployed, Regina was hired at the school cafeteria where she quickly became one of the chief cooks. Early in the morning, long before the day began for other employees, Regina was in the kitchen preparing breakfast for nearly 500 hungry children. Then it happened. Diabetes took control of Regina’s life and she had to retire. Eventually she lost her hands, her feet and one leg. Completely dependent on Eddie, she had to travel to Billings three times a week for dialysis treatments. Three round trips or 750 miles, hours of dialysis and 12 hours of travel on icy roads every week exhausted her.
One day she and Eddie came to my office to ask for what they thought was the impossible. “Do you think you could get a dialysis machine here at the Mission? The trips are killing me,” Regina pleaded. “She can’t go on like this,” Eddie added, “She can’t regain her strength before it’s time to make another trip.” I couldn’t turn them down. With the help of friends, we quickly converted a small building at St. Labre into a dialysis center. The quality of Regina’s last years was greatly improved.
Looking back to what that small dialysis center meant to Regina and to other members of the community is satisfying to me today because I now realize it was our first step towards providing Assisted Living to elderly Northern Cheyenne. Regina passed on to the next camp on September 22, 1991. Eddie suffered alone for six more years because he refused to leave home to die miles from his people.
Soaring Eagle is a 501(c)(3) organization unaffiliated with any tribe or religion, and we receive no federal funding. We depend solely on the support of generous donors who share our vision and our commitment to honoring Native American history and heritage.