In her hometown of Watonga, Okla., Rosemary Hail Conner was teased for wearing hand-me-down clothing. That's why the brand-new pink dress she received as a gift was so meaningful to her. It also led to a nickname she kept for life: Pinky.
Even as she built a global life alongside her diplomat husband, Conner still went by Pinky "down in Indian Country," said her son, David B. Conner.
The great-great-granddaughter of two Cheyenne chiefs (Roman Nose and Iron Shirt) and the great-granddaughter of an Arapaho chief (Hail), Conner died Oct. 16 in Lakeville at 81. Family members said she was soft-spoken, engaging and graceful.
"She was as traditional as we can be in today's world, but she also loved to shop. She was an amazing woman," David Conner said. "It took me a long time to see how much she sacrificed for us."
Conner went to federal boarding schools for Native children as a girl, graduating from Chilocco Indian School in 1959. She later attended Arkansas Junior College and Union College in Kentucky.
An accomplished Native dancer, she won first place at the national American Indian Exposition in Anadarko, Okla., in 1963, competing in the "women in cloth" dance category. She would participate in powwows — including regularly attending the Gathering of Nations — throughout her life.
Several years after high school graduation, she joined the U.S. Marine Corps. and served in the Vietnam War.
"Their grandmother had encouraged my mom to go away to try and make a different life. And so she did," her son said. "She saw that a way was in the Marines, and being in the service in our tribes is considered exceptionally honorable."
"And she said it was easy to her after boarding school," he added.
It was through the Marines that she met David Conner at a party in Cherry Point, N.C., celebrating the corps' 190th birthday. They were married in 1966, made a home in Fairfax, Va., and started a family, taking their three children on the road with them.
David Conner became a deputy inspector general in the U.S. Foreign Service, and the family served tours around the world, including two in Kenya, where some of their happiest memories were made, said her son.
"I remember standing on the Great Wall with my mom, and being in Tiananmen Square with her a week after the massacre, and on top of Mount Longonot [in Kenya] when we ran out of water, or on the African coast when she tapped on a shell and a crab climbed out of its home," he said.
Conner found friends and community as a leader of the North American Indian Women's Association and served nationally as treasurer for the group as well as president of the District of Columbia/Virginia chapter. She was also a member of the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C.
When her son David moved to Minnesota more than a decade ago, Conner often visited — especially to spend time with her three grandsons. After her husband died in 2019, she moved here, living with her son and his family.
She was "apprehensive" about Minnesota at first but came to be grateful for the place, her son said. "She was happy with Minnesotans and she was happy there were other Natives here," he said.
Besides her son David, Conner is survived by her brothers Delbert Hail and Larry Roman Nose of Watonga, Okla.; daughters Dawn Standing Barahona of Ottawa, Ontario, and Jennifer Conner DeMarco of Mechanicville, N.Y.; three grandchildren and three grand-stepchildren.
Services have been held.