A ceremonial dancer, a teacher and the daughter of a chief, Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile graced the Shinnecock Powwow every year since her father revived the festivities in 1946.
Known by her tribal name, Chee Chee, Haile, of Southampton, was a beloved and respected elder. "She will be missed," the Shinnecock Nation said in a statement.
Haile died Friday at her home with her family at her side, a Shinnecock spokeswoman said. She was 85.PhotosRecent notable deaths See alsoSee more LI, U.S. obitsMore coverageComplete coverage: Shinnecock Indian Nation
"She was an inspiration to me all of my life, she was a role model," said Beverly Jensen, the Shinnecock spokeswoman.
Facebook friend Lisa Votino-Tarrant said she was saddened to discover she had so few pictures of the two of them.
"Until I realized the reason for that was because every time I was near her, I wanted to be in the present." So she would focus on what Haile was saying.
"Those words were often small things I will carry with me the rest of my life," she said.
Haile, known for her dance rendition of The Lord's Prayer at powwows, held a bachelor's degree from SUNY Oneonta, a master's from New York University and an honorary doctor of humane letters from Southampton College.
She was an educational consultant on Native American culture for schools in Schenectady before returning to the reservation to help care for her father, Chief Thunderbird, after he fell ill.
Though Haile welcomed visitors to the powwow, to her, the most profound aspects of the ceremonies were private. "Last night, before anybody came, we had an opening ceremony, a blessing," Haile told Newsday in 1995.
"What's important goes on when nobody is looking. It's the opposite of so many things around us that are a facade," she said.
Her father restarted the prewar festitivies in his front yard because he was disturbed by the "dying spirit" of his people, and he had dreamed one night that his late grandfather told him to revive the tribal customs.
Haile's Shinnecock heritage was central to her life.
"We never wished to be anything other than Shinnecock. Just think of the odds, to be born among seven hundred people out of all the billions of people in the world. And here we are, surviving," she told Newsday in 1989.
In addition to serving on the Tribal Council and on the board of directors of the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center & Museum, she belonged to the Shinnecock Presbyterian and Southampton Methodist churches.
Haile is survived by her husband, Richard. The couple had four children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Visiting hours are Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Hamptons United Methodist Church in Southampton. Her funeral will follow, according to Brockett Funeral Home Inc.