Father Peter J. Powell, 1928 – 2022

Father Peter J. Powell was a scholar, ethnohistorian, author, and Anglican priest who had a profound impact at the Newberry.

Father Powell

The Newberry lost a beloved member of its community on December 15. Father Peter J. Powell, a scholar, ethnohistorian, author, and Anglican priest, passed away at the age of 94. Father Powell’s contributions to the Newberry date back more than 50 years. He had a profound influence on the activities of the D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies since its founding in 1972.

Peter J. Powell was born on July 2, 1928, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to William and Helena (Teague) Powell. A member of the Northern Cheyenne Chiefs Society since 1964, he was the adopted son of the late John Stands in Timber, the distinguished Northern Cheyenne tribal historian, and his wife, Josephine One Bear Stands in Timber.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1953, Father Powell devoted his ministry to Indigenous people. After serving as Priest in Charge at the Holy Cross-Immanuel Church, Chicago, from 1953 to 1954 and Priest in Charge at St. Timothy's Church, Chicago, from 1953 to 1961, Father Powell founded St. Augustine’s Center for American Indians, Chicago, in 1961. St. Augustine’s provided casework and supportive services for the city's Native American community. By 2006, when intensive casework and counseling services were discontinued, three generations and more than 6,000 Native American families and individuals had been served.

Father Powell participating in a canoe club race on Lake Michigan in the early 1960s with Leroy Wesaw, Art Elton, Roger Harper, and Dan Battise. Photo by Orlando Cabanban

Father Powell’s current scholarly work, a study of Northern Cheyenne ledger art, was just completed and will be published posthumously. His most recently published book was In Sun’s Likeness and Power. His book People of the Sacred Mountain won both the 1982 National Book Award in History and the Anisfield-Wolf Award in Race Relations. Other works include To Honor the Crow People: Crow Indian Art from the Goelet and Edith Gallatin Collection of American Indian Art (general editor); The Killing of Morning Star's People; and Sweet Medicine: The Continuing Role of the Sacred Arrows, the Sun Dance, and the Sacred Buffalo Hat in Northern Cheyenne History.

In addition to several honorary doctorates, Father Powell also held a knighthood bestowed by King Peter of Yugoslavia. His scholarly work has been recognized and supported by numerous prestigious awards, including fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

When he died, Father Powell was a senior research fellow at the Newberry, where his commitment to both rigorous scholarship and the Native communities he served never waned.