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Submitted by Ann Weber
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Joseph Edmond Birdshead
(May 13, 1938 - March 23, 2016)

Joseph "Joe" Edmond Birdshead, 77, of Billings, Montana began his journey on March 23, 2016. He was born May 13, 1938 in Concho, OK, the son of Joseph and Rose (Tallbear) Birdshead. He grew up at Colony, Geary, Canton and Carlton, where his family farmed.

After graduating from Canton in 1956, he completed a two-year business course at Haskell Institute, Lawrence, KS, then took his first Civil Service job with USDHEW, Washington DC. He worked with the Civil Service on reservations in many states.

In 1972 Joe helped some southeastern tribes form their health system and in 1975, while serving as chief administrative service officer with the Albuquerque Area Indian Health Service, he was appointed as Concho Agency BIA superintendent, the first tribal member to hold that position. In that position he helped place some Concho tribal lands that had been in fee status into trust and helped ceremonial elders acquire land in trust adjacent to Bear Butte in South Dakota. Joe helped establish the first police force and tribal court in the C&A area. Other projects he helped with included opening the first C&A smokeshop at Watonga and constructing the senior citizens center at Clinton. He had received numerous performance awards from the US Civil Service.

His Arapaho name is "Big Comanche". A descendent of Arapaho chiefs Tallbear, Little Raven, Susie Mixed Hair Tallbear and Rose Tallbear Birdshead, he was initiated in 1975 as an Arapaho chief at Barefoot Park near Canton. In 1985 he was initiated as a Cheyenne chief at the Seiling ceremonial grounds before the Sun Dance that year. He retired from federal service on September 30, 1997.

A pipemaker, Joe has made more than 100 ceremonial pipes used in Sun Dances and sweat lodges by members of several southern and northern plains tribes. He tried to live up to the vows he took when he accepted his position as Chief. He knew many traditional Arapaho songs. He composed songs for ceremonies, families and individuals. He sang at sundances in Wyoming, Northern Cheyenne and in Oklahoma. He also sang at benefit dances, powwows (and 49’s!). Wherever Joe went he taught all who he came in contact with. His life touched so many people all across the nation, either through his pipes, through singing or through his work. In addition to all this Joe was an avid Oklahoma Sooner fan.

Joe is survived by his wife, Jo Ann (Wolftongue) Birdshead; daughter Susan (Ron) Desjarlais of Belcourt, ND; sons, Joseph Allen Birdshead of Geary, OK, David (Shelley) Birdshead of Oklahoma City, Mark (LuAnn) Birdshead of Oklahoma City, Amick (Taloa) Birdshead of Ada, OK, Phillip (Julie) Birdshead of Billings; sisters, Frances Bates, Myrlie Hawk; brothers, Clifford, Lawrence, Lavern and Sterling Birdshead; 25 grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents; daughter Nuo’wahhghis Birdshead Richardson; brothers Earl Labeau, Marvin Whiteshirt, Chuck Birdshead, Ralph Birdshead Sr., Amick Birdshead; sister Tommie Rose Birdshead Cravatt.

A traditional wake service will be held from 6 - 8:00 p.m., Monday, March 28, 2016 at the Canton Native American Gymnasium. Funeral services will be held at 1:00 p.m., Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at the Canton Schools Multi-purpose Building with Pastor Gerald Panana officiating. Interment will follow in the Canton Reinterment Cemetery under the direction of Haigler-Pierce Funeral Home, Canton, OK. Condolences may be made online at www.haiglerpierce.com.

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