Earl Old Person was born on April 15, 1929, in a village outside Browning, just east of Glacier National Park and within the 2,285-square mile Blackfeet Indian Reservation. His parents, Juniper and Molly (Bear Medicine) Old Person, were ranchers who spoke almost no English. Neither did Earl, until elementary school, and he continued to speak the Blackfeet language at home.
His wife, Doris (Bullshoe) Old Person, died in 2002. His survivors include his daughter, Erlina Old Person, and his son, Earl Jr. He also had several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but specific information about them was not immediately available.
In 1937, when he was 8, Earl and several other Blackfeet students traveled to Cleveland and New York City, where they performed tribal dances to raise money to build a new church on the reservation. As an adult, he still spoke reverentially about riding the subway and eating at a restaurant on Broadway owned by the boxer Jack Dempsey.
A decade later, he joined a delegation of Boy Scouts sent to the World Scout Jamboree, an international festival held that year in Moisson, France, outside Paris. He was the sole American Indian in the group, and he pitched his father’s tent along the banks of the Seine.
When he returned, he worked as an interpreter in the tribe’s land office, and in 1954 a contingent of Blackfeet elders persuaded him to run for the tribal council. He won, and he remained on the council for the next 62 years, much of it as chairman, with two brief gaps when he lost re-election, only to come back a few years later.
As the leader of one of the country’s largest Native American tribes, Mr. Old Person became an unofficial spokesman for all of them, a role that frequently took him overseas.