Funeral service for Hildreth Marie Venegas, 93, of Sisseton was held on Friday, April 19, 2013, at 10 a.m. at the Tribal Community Center, Agency Village with the Rev. Charles Chan, the Rev. Vern Donnell, Deacon Vernon Cloud, and Senior Catechist John Cloud III officiating. Pianist was Billy Kohl. Drum group was Wahpekute. Pallbearers were Edmund Johnson Jr., Eric Marshall, John TwoStars Jr., Okokipe Jones, Iver “Boots” Cloud, Ephriam Red Earth, and Donnie Eastman. Honorary pallbearers were Edmund TwoStars, Marlo Cloud, Wayne peewee Eastman, Carol Adams, Chris Mato Numpa, Rosebud Marshall, and all of Hildreth’s grandchildren, relatives and friends. Interment was in the Sisseton Cemetery, Sisseton. There were wake services at the Tribal Community Center, Agency Village, on Thursday, April 18, 2013, at 7 p.m.
Hildreth Marie Twostars-Venegas spent her life in community service. The daughter of Jemima and David Twostars, she was born Hildreth Marie Twostars on Oct. 27, 1919, in Sisseton as the youngest of 12 children. National and local publications about her life’s achievements and efforts are available because of her convictions to hard work, furthering education and serving Indian Country. As a public speaker, Hildreth had audiences in churches, colleges, governments and tribes across the United States and her life is filled with honors and awards. After early schooling in Sisseton, she attended Flandreau Indian School for her final three years of high school, graduating in 1938. She then attended Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan., and earned her diploma for a two-your course in business in 1940. During World War II, she was a civilian employee working in the Pentagon for a Colonel in the Air Force.
Returning to Sisseton to raise her family of five children, Hildreth worked for almost 40 years in government service, primarily in the Indian Health Service for 28 years. Hildreth is one of the few Indian women to hold such a position as Service Unit Director in the Indian Health Service in the 1900s. In 1949, she attended the Phoenix Academy of Beauty Culture in Arizona, earned her beautician’s license, and later owned and operated her own beauty shops in Arizona and South Dakota. Selected as State Mother of South Dakota in 1970, she also received the title Mrs. Indian Seminar at the first national meeting of American Indian women at Fort Collins, Colo. Honored as a South Dakota Merit Mother in 1972 and 1981, Hildreth Venegas appeared in the 1973-74 edition of Personalities of the West and Midwest in recognition of past achievements and outstanding service to community and state, and later appeared in the 1975-76 edition and the 1975-76 Bicentennial edition of "Community Leaders and Noteworthy Americans." She had close friendships with Marie Calica of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Ore., and many other women across Indian Country. In 1974, Hildreth brought about 100 American Indian women guests to a national conference hosted in Sisseton.
In 1977, Hildreth was elected President of the North American Indian Women’s Association at the Chilocco, Okla., meeting and was selected by Haskell for its Outstanding Alumni Award. Hildreth Venegas testified at the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1977 Hearing before the United States Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, Ninety-Fifth Congress, First Session on S. 1214 to establish standard for the placement of Indian children in foster or adoptive homes and to prevent the breakup of Indian families. In 1978, Hildreth Venegas received special recognition and a letter from President Jimmy Carter, who invited her to participate in the White House Conference on Balanced National Growth and Economic Development.
On March 31, 1980, she received the Jefferson Award in recognition of outstanding public service, active involvement in community affairs, and continual effort to improve the image of the Indian. In October 1983, Hildreth Venegas was given a certificate and plaque of the National Congress of American Indians held in Green Bay, Wis. It is fitting that her efforts to establish Indian-white harmony should be honored by both races. She earned an Honorary Lifetime Membership of the SWO Human Services Board and served five terms on the Coteau des Prairie Hospital Board. She also served as Vice-President of the Roberts County Heritage Museum Board. Hildreth served one term as Tribal Treasurer in 1983 and later two terms as the Old Agency District Councilperson. In 1992, Hildreth chaired the State’s American Lung Association Convention, which united Indians and non-Indians to discuss health issues that affect the citizens of South Dakota’s small, rural bi-cultural communities. The American Lung Association of South Dakota honored her in 1996 with the “Agnes M. Holdridge Award,” for outstanding contribution in the prevention and control of lung disease and providing a significant impact on the respiratory health of people around the State of South Dakota. It is the highest honor awarded by the organization.
Hildreth Twostars-Venegas graduated from Sisseton Wahpeton College in 1985 at age 66 and promoted the Student Alumni Association. Her educational experience at the Sisseton Wahpeton College held a special place in her heart. During an SWC Dakota Humanities Symposium, the display of 150 years of old letters written in the language of the Dakota by the Dakota prisoners at Fort McClellan in Davenport, Iowa, during the 1862 years of 1869 opened translations, presentations and participation in open discussions about the meaning of the letters. The symposium was a forum for the Dakota community to discuss the significance of the letters from a historical perspective and their place in contemporary times. She continued her education at the University of Minnesota at Morris, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Indian studies with emphasis on anthropology/sociology in 1994. In her pursuit of higher education, she was accepted at Northern State University in Aberdeen to the social science program in 1996. Hildreth Venegas was the first Native American woman selected to receive the 1996 South Dakota's Premier “Spirit of South Dakota” Woman's Award in Huron. The award plaque is an outstanding piece of art; each individually created by renowned sculptor, Dale Claude Lamphere. She received the award for her leadership qualities, courage and strength of character and community commitment, to illustrate the best of South Dakota womanhood in promoting social, civic, cultural and/or educational advancement of others. The Sisseton native has devoted much of her life to social, cultural and health issues that impact South Dakota’s citizens.
In 1997, Hildreth Venegas was an invited guest speaker for civilian panel for discussions with senior military leaders at the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa. The U.S. Army War College (USAWC) is the Army's ultimate professional development institution that prepares selected military, civilian and international leaders for the responsibilities of strategic leadership in a joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational environment. Hildreth was honored as a 1999 South Dakota Hall of Fame Inductee in the Historical Category. Hildreth Venegas continued her “lifelong endeavors to facilitate more harmonious relationships between the Indian the non-Indian segments of the community to promote the positive image of Indian women and to improve living conditions for the entire community” and in the Native American Womens Association continued “to promote unity among Indian women and involvement in projects which will improve the health, education, and family life of Indians.”
Hildreth is survived by three daughters: Twila Cloud of Sisseton, Floy Venegas of Aberdeen and Crystal Venegas of Aberdeen; one sister, Naomi Jones of Aberdeen; seven grandchildren; numerous great-grandchildren and numerous great-great-grandchildren.
Hildreth was preceded in death by her parents; husbands; one son, John “Skip” Wilson; one daughter, Sharon Wilson Hill Rice; one granddaughter, Donna Wilson; one grandson, Jai TwoStars; two granddaughters: Tehya Carlson and Courtney Owen; three sisters: Arvina, Angeline and Nancy; and seven brothers: Eli, Elijah, Charles, Johnny, Norman, Emery and Louie.