When Art Owen, Dakota spiritual leader, addressed the crowd gathered at Barn Bluff on Oct. 16, his voice was positive, filled with hope that the Prairie Island Indian Community and the city of Red Wing were coming together to work for the benefit of all.
Ten days later, at age 68, he died unexpectedly at the United Hospital in St. Paul.
Peggy Rehder, former Red Wing City Council member, said she has heard conversations since the ceremony at Barn Bluff "about how helpful it was to have Arthur speak out, and now, it is just sad that that voice is silent."
The Rehder family has been connected to the Owen family since the 1960s. During the flood of 1965, several members of the Amos and Ione Owen family stayed at the Rehder home so the kids could go to high school just a few blocks away. The flood cutting off Prairie Island ended up lasting "not days, but weeks," according to Rehder.
She said Amos Owen, Art's father, made a pipestone carving for her mother, and the carving "had a special place in our living room as one of my mother's favorite collectibles. Through the years my mother stayed close with Amos and Ione."
Art Owen was a veteran of the war in Vietnam, and he dedicated time to helping other vets work through the trauma caused by war.
"A lot of us went through some hard times," Owen said in a 2014 article in the Republican Eagle. "And a lot of people just keep it to themselves."
He emphasized the importance of community and working together to help others whether they are veterans, young people, those struggling with alcohol or drugs, or any other community members.
"He was one of those people whose heart was so incredibly big," said Rayanna Lennes, communications manager for the Prairie Island Indian Community. "He really encaptured what a Dakota warrior is. He cared so much about the community and the tribe and Dakota culture and preserving it and living in an honorable way. You could tell when you met him."
In 2001, the Red Wing Human Rights Commission created the Amos Owen Award in honor of the Dakota spiritual leader who died in 1990. In 2014, Art and his brother Ray shared the honor of receiving that award.
In accepting the award, Art Owen's comments showed much about his character. "Two of us can't carry this responsibility," he said. "It takes a whole family to do that, and it takes a whole community to do that."
Red Wing Mayor Sean Dowse said, "He knit the past to the future so that we understood the values of the Dakota and how those values relate to and guide our decisions that we are making today. He taught us meaning, respect, and gave us a vision of the united community."
Shelley Buck, president of the Prairie Island Tribal Council, said, "We are saddened by the passing of Art 'Sung Ska Natan' Owen. He was a father, grandfather, uncle, husband, leader, protector, and spiritual leader who brought people of all walks of life together. This loss is tremendous and hard to put into words. He fulfilled so many roles in this Community that it was like losing more than just one man."
Buck continued, "We ask for prayers for his family, our People, and all those whose lives he touched during his time here."