SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Michael Jandreau, who as the leader of South Dakota's Lower Brule Sioux Tribe for at least 35 years was known for a variety of economic development projects but had recently faced allegations of financial wrongdoing, died Friday. He was 71.
Jandreau died from complications from pneumonia and heart disease at Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls, said tribal attorney Marshall Matz, of Washington, D.C.
"We have lost a visionary Tribal leader who was widely respected throughout the State of South Dakota and the nation," Matz said in an email to The Associated Press.
Councilman Orville Langdeau, who is also the tribe's secretary and treasurer, said, "An icon in Indian Country is gone."
Jandreau was elected to the Lower Brule Tribal Council in the early 1970s and by 1980 was chairman. He earned praise from tribal members and state and federal leaders for economic development projects that benefited the 1,300 Native Americans who live on the tribe's reservation along the Missouri River.
The tribe owns the Golden Buffalo Casino & Motel, a propane plant, a construction company, hunting and tourism enterprises, and a farm that made it one of the nation's top popcorn producers and processers.
"Chairman Jandreau served his tribe for decades, and he was always willing to talk with me about how the state and Lower Brule could partner," Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in an email.
But Jandreau spent his final days defending himself against allegations of financial wrongdoing outlined in January by Human Rights Watch that accused him and others of diverting money and concealing financial activity.
Jandreau and Matz denied any wrongdoing, and Matz urged the organization to retract its findings and issue an apology.
"I believe in myself. I believe in what I've committed my life to, and so every day I talk to that guy first, and I go through my life," Jandreau told the AP on Feb. 28 at the state Capitol in Pierre, pointing upward. "To me that's what it's all about. You know, I've lived my life with one thought in mind: that what I reach beyond this life is more important to me than becoming a wealthy man by skullduggery or wickedness."
Jandreau was born Oct. 20, 1943, in Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek reservation. He was educated in Catholic American Indian schools. He had 10 children, according to Matz. His wife, Jackie, died in 2011.
Associated Press writers Kevin Burbach and Carson Walker contributed to this story.