Published on September 4, 2013 by Amy
(William) D’Arcy McNickle (January 14, 1904 – October 10, 1977) was a writer, Native American activist and anthropologist.
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D’Arcy McNickle, an enrolled Salish Kootenai on the Flathead Indian Reservation, became one of the most prominent twentieth-century American Indian activists. He was born on January 14, 1904, to an Irish father, William McNickle, and a 100% Cree Métismother, Philomene Parenteau. He grew up on the Flathead Reservation in St. Ignatius, Montana and went to mission and non-reservation boarding schools. In 1925 McNickle sold his land allotment on the Flathead Reservation so that he could raise the money necessary to study abroad at Oxford University and the University of Grenoble. After returning to the United States, McNickle lived in New York City until he was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1936.
McNickle worked under Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier during the 1930s and 1940s. The Bureau of Indian Affairs first hired him as an administrative assistant, but by 1950 he had been appointed chief of the tribal relations branch, and he soon became an expert. He was appointed the director of the University of Colorado’s American Indian Development, Inc. in 1952, and received an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1966. Later that year, he moved to what is now the University of Regina, to create the anthropology department. In 1972, he helped create the Center for the History of the American Indian in Chicago’s Newberry Library; the center was named in his honor in 1984. Also named in his honor was the library at the Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Reservation.
McNickle was also instrumental in drafting the “Declaration of Indian Purpose” for the 1961 American Indian Chicago Conference, helped found the National Congress of American Indians, and was named a fellow of the American Anthropological Association.
McNickle was married three times: to Joran Jacobine Birkeland from 1926–1938; to Roma Kaye Haufman from 1939–1967; and to his AID co-worker, sociologist Viola Gertrude Pfrommer, from 1969-1977. He had two daughters, Antoinette Marie Parenteau McNickle (with Joran) and Kathleen D’Arcy McNickle (with Roma). He died of a heart attack in October 1977.
McNickle’s best-known literary contribution was his novel The Surrounded, which tells of Archilde Leon, a young half-Salish male returning to the Flathead Indian Reservationwho finds that he cannot communicate with either his white (Spanish) father or his traditionalist Indian mother. Archilde begins to find his place on the reservation after one of the elders, Modeste, teaches him the stories of Salish history, and Archilde simultaneously reconciles with his father and adopts his mother’s Indian traditions. However, at the end of the novel, he is wrongly accused of two murders (one committed by his mother) and surrenders in a scene that represents the book’s title.