Vincent Keahna was the dancer who stood still while others moved in circles or moved in circles while others stood still.
Even after he gave up dancing, the movement was still there, visible as he raised the flag with other veterans honored at the powwows he attended.
A member of the Meskwaki Nation and a Vietnam-era veteran, Keahna is remembered as a talented fancy dancer, a beloved grandfather and a man who earned and kept the regard of those who knew him.
“He was just one of those men that people showed respect to,” said his daughter, Tish Keahna Kruzan. “He was just a stand-up guy.”
After a brief hospitalization, Keahna died May 8 at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System surrounded by his family. He was 82.
Vincent Keahna was born May 26, 1936, on the White Earth reservation to Floyd “Flodo” Keahna and Frances Goodwin Keahna. His mother was a renowned artist whose woven baskets were displayed at the Smithsonian Institution.
Keahna grew up in Naytahwaush village in Mahnomen County, where in winter children fashioned skis out of old barrels and sped toward jumps to see if they could fly. As a teenager, Keahna raced around with his friends in a 1939 Ford, once driving so fast that the car nearly tipped, said lifelong friend Lowell Uran.
Keahna and Uran were as close as brothers, and Keahna treated his friend’s 12 siblings like his own.
When Keahna started making money repairing semitrailer trucks, he bought pairs of boots for Uran’s five younger brothers.
Keahna left Naytahwaush as a teenager to attend Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota. He made lifelong friends at the boarding school and was elected class president. He graduated in 1955.
After high school, he played on a baseball team affiliated with the Washington Senators.
In 1960, Keahna was drafted into the Army. He served as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and was a member of the honor guard at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Keahna recalled the heartbreak he felt when he saw the toddler John F. Kennedy Jr. salute his father’s casket less than three years later.
During the Vietnam War, Keahna served in Cambodia, though the details of his deployment there are vague. He didn’t talk about his time in Cambodia until the movie “Platoon” came out in 1986, Keahna Kruzan said. Sometimes, if he spiked a high fever, he would be slammed with flashbacks.
After the Vietnam War, Keahna lived for a time on the East Coast. Work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs later took him around the country, though he eventually returned to Minnesota.
Keahna remained active in the American Legion and held a variety of jobs before and after his retirement, from construction to delivering flowers. Of all his roles, though, his favorite was being a grandfather.
“As soon as he had his first grandchild, he was hooked,” Keahna Kruzan said. “His life’s work … was to be the best grandfather to every single one of the kids.”
In addition to his daughter, Keahna is survived by his wife Rosalyn Robertson, sons Floyd Keahna, Conrad Robertson and Dan Robertson; sisters Mercilyn Hoyle, Deanna Rasmussen and Lauren Lovejoy; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A memorial will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Minneapolis American Indian Center.