Oct. 11, 1934 – Oct. 3, 2019
Lloyd M. Elm knew firsthand what it was like to be a struggling Native American student.
“I was in the fourth grade, in the Syracuse public school system, when I was tracked into the slow learner group,” the founder and principal of Buffalo’s Native American Magnet School 19 told Buffalo News reporter Agnes Palazzetti in 1985. “Once there, I was categorized and trapped until my parents decided to do something about it – take me out of the white man’s school.”
They sent him to Haskell Indian Institute in Lawrence, Kan., where, he said, “I was in the top 10% of my class.”
He went on to become a high school teacher, principal, college professor and a nationally recognized advocate for better education for Native American youngsters.
A resident of West Falls, he died Oct. 3. He was 84.
He grew up in Nedrow on the Onondaga Reservation outside Syracuse and distinguished himself as a long-distance runner at Haskell, becoming the Kansas State High School mile champion in 1953.
At the College of Emporia in Kansas, he excelled in football, basketball and track and was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
He played on three undefeated Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference football teams. During his junior year, when he scored six touchdowns, he was co-captain and was voted All Conference first team fullback. He also was co-captain of the basketball team.
As a runner, he won the half-mile, mile and 2-mile events in every conference meet and set school records for all three distances.
To be close to his ailing father, Mr. Elm transferred to Syracuse University on a full scholarship for his senior year. A member of the fabled Onondaga lacrosse team in the early 1950s, he played lacrosse for Syracuse on a squad that included football great Jim Brown.
He went on to serve in the Marine Corps and earn a master’s degree at Pennsylvania State University before returning to Syracuse to teach in the Lafayette School District. He later completed a doctorate at Penn State.
A biology teacher and basketball coach, he led a two-day student boycott of classes in 1971 to protest the high drop-out rate of Native American students and the lack of cultural programs for them. It led to a summit meeting of State Education Department officials and Onondaga leaders, which resulted in the introduction of instruction in the Mohawk and Onondaga languages and more community input in curriculum and teacher hiring.
The following year, as chief of the Onondaga Nation, he petitioned governors and guided the return of ancestral bones taken from an Iroquois burial ground by a Pennsylvania archaeology professor and his students.
He became the first Native American principal of the Onondaga Indian School in 1973 and worked to expand it from six grades to eight. There he earned the name Gah Nonh Sah Se, or “New House,” for his ability to improve the school.
He served on the board of directors of the National Education Association in 1973-74. Later he became a member of the state Board of Regents. When the Regents formed a Native American Advisory Committee, he was named chairman.
In 1975, he went to Washington, D.C., where he served for five years in the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education, supervising programs in more than 100 schools nationwide that received grants under the Indian Education Act of 1972.
During those years, he also was superintendent of the New York State Fair Indian Village in Syracuse and was among the Onondaga chiefs who successfully petitioned Syracuse University in 1978 to get rid of its Saltine Warrior symbol and its mascot, Big Chief Bill Orange.
One of his tasks in Washington was a cost-effectiveness study of Native American programs in the Buffalo schools. In 1983, associate Buffalo school superintendent Joseph T. Murray brought him in as administrator of those programs. He established Native American Magnet School 19 on the city’s West Side in 1984 and served as principal until 1997.
He went on to become a professor of American Indian studies at Cornell University, then was a professor in the Education Department at SUNY Buffalo State.
Listing faculty accomplishments in 2007, Buffalo State noted that during the previous year Mr. Elm received an award from the Native American Indian Education Association of the State of New York for his enduring work with Indian education, gave a presentation at the National Education Association Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women in Philadelphia, was invited to talk at the Wisdom Keepers convocation of Native American elders in Council Grove, Kan., and was keynote speaker at the celebration of the Canandaigua Treaty between the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee and the United States.
He was named 1987 Educator of the Year by the National Indian Education Association, which also gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. He received the President’s Award from the New York State School Board Association and twice was given the National Education Association’s Leo Reano Memorial Award.
His first marriage to Isa Attocknie, a 1958 Comanche Nation princess and descendant of renowned warrior, orator and chief Ten Bears, ended in divorce. He was remarried to the former Grace J. MacDonald.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Daniel Perrott and Lloyd Elm Jr.; five daughters, Paula Hayward-Elm, Sandra Shear, Nadja Printup Jones, Linda Greenan and Patricia Elm-O’Connor; 25 grandchildren; and 31 great-grandchildren.
Services were held Oct. 6 in the Onondaga Nation Longhouse in Nedrow.