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From a childish search for mythical cities of gold and fountains of youth to the simple recognition that lands are essential for human existence."In "We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf" (1970), Mr. Deloria argued that technology and corporate values were destroying American life, and urged a return to the tribal standards of Indian culture as a window to salvation.

In "God is Red" (1973), he took that position of deliverance-through-Indian-ways further, arguing that American Indian spiritual traditions, far from being dated, were in fact more in tune with the needs of the modern world than Christianity, which Mr. Deloria said fostered imperialism and disregard for the planet's ecology.

But Mr. Deloria often said he was writing for Indian audiences most of all, hoping, he said, to instill belief in a culture had been shattered by history, and by deliberate government policy.

"If you mark down the great figures of the American West in recent times, he belongs there because of his role in reshaping Indian country," said Charles F. Wilkinson, a professor of law at the University of Colorado and a longtime friend. "I think in the last 100 years, he's been the most important person in Indian affairs, period."

Vine Deloria Jr. was born in the depths of the Great Depression, on March 26, 1933, in one of the poorest parts of the nation, then or now, in the town of Martin, S.D., near the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation, the son of a Indian Episcopalian clergyman. The family name, according to the Encyclopedia of North American Indians, was derived from the name of a French fur trapper called Des Lauriers, who was taken into the tribe around 1800.

He was educated initially in reservation schools, and after a stint in the Marines in the 1950's, received a degree in general science from Iowa State University.

But religion and spirituality at the border of Indian and white ways was a running theme in the Deloria family - an ancestor, the...