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Henry Roe Cloud

Native American educator and activist; Born: December 28, 1884 on the Winnebago Reservation in Northeast Nebraska; Died: February 9, 1950 in Siletz, Oregon

Headshot of Henry Roe Cloud

Contact Information

Salem Campus

900 State Street
Salem  Oregon  97301


  • B.A. in Psychology & Philosophy, Yale University, 1910
  • M.A. in Anthropology, Yale University, 1912
  • B.Div. Auburn Theological Seminary, New York 1913
  • D.Div., Emporia College, Kansas, 1932

Henry Roe Cloud was born a member of the Bird Clan on the Winnebago Reservation in Northeast Nebraska. His original name was Wo-Na-Xi-Lay-Hunka (Wonah'ilayhunka) or "War Chief". At age seven, he was sent to the government-run Genoa Indian School, a hundred miles from the reservation, where he learned English but was not allowed to speak his native Sioux. At the school, he converted to Christianity and was baptized Henry Clarence Cloud.

After the death of his parents, he attended a vocational school for Native Americans, Santee Mission School close to the South Dakota border, where he trained to be a printer and blacksmith. There he decided to pursue an advanced education. In 1902, Cloud enrolled at Mount Herman Preparatory School for Boys in Northfield, Massachusetts, signing up for the Classical Course that would qualify him for college. Mt. Hermon, founded in 1881, explicitly aimed to provide an excellent education for less privileged students, and it allowed Cloud to pay his way as a work study student. Cloud worked on a farm and sold Native American crafts on the side. He studied Greek grammar by attaching his grammar notes to his plow as he followed the mule team. In this way, he not only became fluent in Greek and Latin, but also graduated as his class' salutatorian in 1906.

Right away, Henry Cloud was accepted at Yale, where he became an instant celebrity. Cloud also met a couple of missionaries, the Roes, who became his friends, mentors, and later adoptive parents; as a result, he changed his middle name to Roe. Four years later, he graduated from Yale as the first Native American ever.

While still a student, Cloud already lectured about the deficiencies of the government's Indian Schools and fought against the belief that Native Americas were only suited to vocational training, not to advanced studies in science and the humanities. In 1915, he founded the Roe Indian Institute Wichita, Kansas (in 1920 renamed the American Indian Institute), then the only Native American-run college preparatory school in the country.

Cloud became a well-known Native American activist. From 1926-1930, he was associated with a team at the Brookings Institute that studied Native American issues. In 1928, he co-authored the Merriam Report on "The Problem of Indian Administration" that led to reforms in the way Native American reservations were run. While superintendent of the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, the largest school for Native Americans in the country, Cloud was a driving force behind the Wheeler-Howard Act, also known as the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which granted certain rights of home rule to Native American tribes. In 1936, Cloud assumed responsibility for Native American education at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1947, he moved to Oregon, where he served first as superintendent of the Umatilla Indian Agency near Pendleton, then, a year later, became regional representative for the Grande Ronde and Siletz Indian Agencies in Oregon. He died of a heart attack in Siletz on February 9, 1950 and is buried in Beaverton near Portland, Oregon.

Willamette University

Classical Studies

Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.
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