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Leech lake elder and past chairman dies

WALKER — Eli Hunt, an elder member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, died Wednesday. He was 60.

Hunt, of Walker, served as tribal chairman for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Cass Lake in the late 1990s and early 2000s before vacating his seat due to a recall in 2002.

Hunt was one of 12 children born to James and Phyllis Hunt in Cass Lake. His sister, Janice, said he went on to raise six foster children of his own.

“He was kind and generous. He served God,” Janice said.

Hunt remained active in his community after his term as tribal chairman. He worked in public relations for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and hosted a Sunday morning radio show on KOJB.

“He was always giving to others. He gave of himself not only to people of the Leech Lake,” said Hunt’s niece, Cindy Kingbird.

Carri Jones, current Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tribal chair, had known Hunt since she was a child. Jones said Hunt worked with the tribal council on lobbying on the federal and state levels.

“I always remember Eli being a very sincere individual,” Jones said. “He always cared about the community and people in the band. He was a real genuine guy.”

Audrey Thayer, history instructor at Leech Lake Tribal College, worked with Hunt while she was working with U.S. Indian Health Service and he was health director in the 1990s. She also knew him in the community as an Ojibwe Hymn Singer.

Thayer said Hunt was a unique individual who had the ability to cross bridges between the non-Native and Indian communities. She said he was outspoken for the justice of his people and active in the Democratic Party.

“He was very humble and would have a hard time with us talking so highly of him,” Thayer said. “That would shy him out definitely.”

During the 10 years Thayer worked for the American Civil Liberties Union in Bemidji, Hunt would call her about issues that affected his tribe, Thayer said.

“He was a very caring individual, and that is how the community will remember him,” Thayer said. “He was very active in his community in Onigum.”

Steven Howard, executive director of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, grew up with Hunt in Onigum. Howard said he will always remember Hunt’s advice: Remember your past, learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.

Howard said funeral services usually would be held in the Oginum Community Center, but Hunt’s visitation and service will be at the Northern Lights Event Center in Walker because many people will want to pay their respects.

“The large venue for Hunt’s service is a reflection of how important he was to the community,” Thayer said.

Visitation will begin at noon Monday at the event center. Ojibwe Hymn Singers will attend the visitation at 7:30 p.m. A funeral service will be at 9 a.m. Tuesday, also at the event center. Burial will be in St. John’s Episcopal Cemetery in Old Agency.