The Western Heritage Award, given annually by the C.M. Russell Museum, goes to author David McCullough and Chief Earl Old Person.
The Western Heritage Award recognizes significant contributions in interpreting and documenting the legacy, culture, life, and country of Charles M. Russell’s West. It is presented annually by the Great Falls museum in one or more of the following categories: art history, artistic merit, musical achievement, Western storytelling, preservation, conservation, literature and statesmanship.
David McCullough is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is beloved for his scholarship and engaging historical storytelling.
McCullough is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Trumanand John Adams, both of which have been adapted by HBO for a television film and a miniseries, respectively. He has also won the National Book Award twice, first for The Path Between the Seas, which describes the creation of the Panama Canal, and second for Mornings on Horseback, which tells the story of seventeen years in the life of Theodore Roosevelt,
“I think it’s important to remember that these men are not perfect,” McCullough stated regarding John Adams. “If they were marble gods, what they did wouldn’t be so admirable. The more we see the founders as humans the more we can understand them.”
His most recent title, The Pioneers ,published in 2019, tells the story of the first European American settlers of the Northwest Territory.
Chief Earl Old Person has been an impassioned ambassador for the Blackfeet Tribe for more than five decades. At the urging of tribal elders in 1954, Old Person ran for and was elected to his first term as a tribal council member. At only 25, he was, and still is, the youngest tribal member ever elected to the Blackfeet tribe’s most powerful legislative body.
Between 1964 and 1969, Old Person won his first seat as chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, became president of the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest, and served for two years as president of the National Congress of American Indians, a pan-tribal organization founded in 1944 to combat the U.S. government’s termination and assimilation policies.
Old Person’s appointment as chief of the Blackfeet is his most humbling and personally gratifying achievement. According to the archives of the Smithsonian Institution, the last principal chief of the Blackfeet, Chief White Calf, died in 1903. During a formal ceremony in 1978, the family of James White Calf bestowed the tribal chieftainship upon Old Person.
He has remained a tireless advocate for the advancement of the Blackfeet people. The University of Montana has awarded him an honorary doctorate of human letters and endowed a $5,000 scholarship in his name for Blackfeet students attending the university. In 1998, he received the Jeannette Rankin Civil Liberties Award and a year later, the University of Lethbridge awarded him the first Christine Miller Memorial Award for Excellence in Native American Studies.
When he retired in 2016, Old Person had held public office for 56 years – longer than any other elected official in Montana history.
View a virtual Western Heritage Award celebration by clicking on this video link.