Robert Begay, 63, of Aberdeen, SD passed away on March 4, 2021 after a long courageous battle with COVID-19 at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, SD. Robert was born on August 16, 1957 in Rapid City, SD. He attended Rapid City Central High School and the University of South Dakota. He was an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and was also Diné.
Robert touched so many lives. He is well known throughout all of Indian Country for his willingness to help anyone in need, his positive and joyful outlook on life, his tenacious spirit, and strong work ethic.
After serving time in the US Army, Robert began his career in Lower Brule, SD where he held several positions throughout the years at Lower Brule High School including bus driver and then transportation supervisor, high school basketball coach, and athletic director. During his time as a transportation supervisor, he was substitute driving on a bus route and noticed a home on fire. He pulled his bus over in a safe location, radioed for the fire department and ran inside the burning home. He rescued the entire family, extinguished the source of the fire, and then finished his bus route. He was a modern-day hero and was recognized with the U.S. Department of the Interior Exemplary Act Award for his heroic actions.
He later was the Director of the largest all-Native American high school basketball tournament in the state of South Dakota, the Dakota Oyaté Challenge for many years. During his time as Director, the Dakota Oyatè Challenge included 16 girls teams and 16 boys teams from several states and was sanctioned by the South Dakota High School Activities Association. He really brought the sport of basketball to new levels while infusing culture and tradition for youth across the Midwest.
In addition to his time spent working at Dakota Wesleyan University as an Activities and Event Coordinator, Huron University Student Recruiter, and Sales Representative for the Lakota Times Newspaper, Robert spent the last 13 years serving in the U.S. federal government Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services (BIA OJS). He was a Correctional Program Specialist for the District 1 Law Enforcement and Corrections Operations in Aberdeen, SD. He was responsible for 27 Tribal Detention programs daily across three states and 16 tribes. He specialized in planning, implementing, and monitoring corrections standards. Prior to joining the BIA he had also worked in the corrections field in the private sector as a juvenile life skills worker (juvenile correction officer), and a juvenile facility marketing manager. He was one of the pioneers in OJS Detention to help create a standardized monitoring tool for Indian Country Jails. He was instrumental in drafting, establishing, and implementing health service memorandums of agreements (MOAs) for BIA/OJS facilities that are now mirrored nationwide in BIA corrections programs. He met with government officials on corrections policy at the district, regional, national and U.S. presidential cabinet level. He dedicated his career to serving Native people and was a strong advocate for tribes. He was quoted saying, “Never forget to have care and compassion for our Native American People we serve.”
Many people probably do not know, but Robert was raised in Indian boarding school and foster care. To be able to rise to the levels he did from such humble beginnings, is astonishing and such an inspiration. He had an ability to make the best out of any situation and have a positive outlook. He was always happy and enjoyed making others happy. He will be remembered as a man of great character, kindness, humility, and service to his community, Indian Country, and the United States. Robert was also very strong in his faith in Jesus Christ and God, may we find peace in knowing he is in heaven looking down on all of us and may his teachings and legacy live on through all those he had an impact on.
Robert is survived by his daughter Faith Eileen Begay-Dominique (Mercedes) of Washington D.C. and his former wife Julie Umberger of Lower Brule, SD; his son Robert Tiger, daughter Roberta Tiger (Jeryn), and former wife Kathleen Tiger, all of Eagle Butte, SD; his son Luther Talks (Catherine) of Waconia, MN; his siblings: Terry Begay, Benjie Begay, Verlie Swanigan, Leitha Foster, Randy Begay, Ann Marie Koenig, Sandra Silversmith, Violet Begay, and Samuel Begay; his grandchildren: Arizona Hodges, Shayanne Smith, Kia Aungie-Ouellette, Sapphire Tiger, Thomas Lucero III, Jeremiah Tiger, Jeryn Big Eagle Jr., Lushen Big Eagle, Sä Tiger, Izabella Tiger, and Talley Tiger; his great grandchildren: Olivia Big Eagle-Tiger, Takoda Fiddler, and Kadence Ouellette; and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, and dear friends.
He is preceded in death by his parents, Dorthy Mae White Hawk and Johnson Denet Begay Sr., and his brothers Randall Begay, Arthur Begay, and Johnson Deal Begay Jr.
Robert’s family has lost too many family members to the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, Robert did not feel it was safe to hold funeral services until after the pandemic has ended. In honoring his wishes to keep his family and friends safe, Robert’s family has decided to wait and hold a funeral and celebration of life memorial when the pandemic has ended. Please save any cards or flowers until that day so we may all celebrate Robert’s life together when it is safe to have an in-person gathering.