The Way of the Bear Henry Smith, Jr., 1932-2022

The Canyon ChronicleBy The Canyon Chronicle

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The Way of the Bear  Henry Smith, Jr., 1932-2022
Henry in Blue ribbon shirt, blue bandana, bear claw choker: c. 1990. Henry was from the Ojibway Bear Clan. The ribbon shirt was made by Michele Stork. He was buried wearing it.
Henry Smith Jr., of Topanga, CA, age 90, beloved elder of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe, passed away July 21, 2022, in Tarzana, CA. Henry was born into the Bear Clan at dawn on June 10, 1932, the son of Henry and Agnes (Barber) Smith. Henry weighed four pounds at birth. Agnes put him in a shoe box by a wood stove to keep warm. The Tribal Elders named him “Waa-say-gii-zhig,” meaning “Bright Sky Man.” He grew up on the reservation in New Post, WI, and became a skilled hunting and fishing guide, and a vital part of his family’s maple syrup business. At a young age, Henry lived with his blind grandmother apart from his own family to help her on Little Round Lake. She taught him how to trap small animals. He caught his first rabbit at four years old. He loved boxing and baseball and played on several local teams.
Mimi and Henry on their paint horses, Wobin and Kamaika. Wendy named this photo “Legends” as it captures something timeless about their passion for the life they lived. This photo was taken at their place on Old Canyon as they were headed out for a bareback ride.
He joined the Navy in 1951. As a Navy airplane mechanic, he traveled throughout the United States. He frequently donated blood, earning him extra days off which he spent accompanying pilots into the skies. He received the National Defense Service Medal. After his honorable discharge in 1955, he returned to the reservation for a year. At that time, the Indian Relocation Program was actively recruiting on Indian Reservations for candidates with high-tech skills. Since opportunities were limited on the reservation, Henry took the offer of employment in the aerospace industry in California at the Rocketdyne Canoga Park facility. He rode a bike to work and shared an apartment until he answered an ad for a “country cottage” for rent. That’s how he met Mimi and her three children. It was love at first sight. He eventually married Mimi and was a devoted husband and stepfather to her children.
Henry on his beloved paint horse, Kamaika, in the Old Canyon Meadows, c. 1968. Kamaika lived to be 38 years old and was a Medicine Hat Paint, considered sacred by the Sioux tribes. Henry competed in equestrian endurance races with this horse.
His life with Mimi was an adventure every day. He learned to ride horses and they competed in the Tevis Cup endurance equestrian rides in the High Sierras. They rode almost daily, and trained along the (then wide open) firebreaks in Topanga to prepare for the equestrian endurance races. Many an afternoon or full moon would find them on the crest of Henry Ridge, laughing as they galloped along their beloved hills.

They were passionate about Native American Justice issues and were actively involved in the American Indian Movement (AIM). During that time, they knew such dignitaries as Russell Means and Leonard Peltier, demonstrated at Wounded Knee and Alcatraz, and visited reservations throughout Indian Country promoting fishing rights, land restoration and justice.
Publicity Shot: Henry was in two movies, Billy 2 Hats, with Desi Arnaz Jr. and Gregory Peck, and shot in Israel (1974); and Kid Blue, with Dennis Hopper, shot in Mexico (1973). Both movies rated poorly, but Henry had a blast doing them, traveling the world. His stage name was Henry Medicine Hat.
Under the stage name of Henry Medicine Hat, Henry was in two films, Billy 2 Hats, shot in Israel (1974), starring Desi Arnaz Jr. and Gregory Peck; and Kid Blue, with Dennis Hopper, shot in Mexico (1973). Both movies rated poorly, but Henry had a blast doing them and traveling the world.

Their hillside home in Topanga Canyon was a gathering place for artists, musicians, actors and activists. Henry and Mimi were legends in Topanga, serving as Grand Marshals of the Topanga Days Parade in 1980. When Mimi passed away twelve years ago (2010), the music died. Henry comforted himself by creating a wild animal sanctuary on his property. Wild foxes and birds of every kind appeared on his deck every morning and his countless photographs document a unique and fragile ecosystem. He joined the Canyon Sages, a social club for Topanga seniors, attending every monthly dinner and holiday celebrations

His stepdaughter, Wendy Skolfield, and her husband John, live close by and Henry was a weekly visitor in their home, and in the final months of Henry’s life, Wendy and John were a vital and devoted part of his care.
Henry and Mimi as Grand Marshals in 1980 Topanga Days Parade.
Henry was loved and respected by every single person he met. His gentle manner and delightful sense of humor made every room glow. Henry was deeply loved and respected by his children and numerous grandchildren. His stories of growing up on the reservation enthralled every generation.

Henry was preceded in death by his parents Henry and Agnes Smith; his sisters, Selma, Doris and Myrtle; and his brothers, Teddy, Bobby, Eddie and Bill. He is survived by his brothers Donny, Lawrence, Tom, and John Smith, as well as three stepchildren, Catherine Grainger and Stephen Winterer of Spokane, WA; Wendy Skolfield of Topanga Canyon, CA; and Michele Stork of Miranda, CA, his informally adopted daughter; and numerous grandchildren.

Henry and Mimi at table holding hands: They LOVED to party! This was either in Las Vegas or their favorite restaurant in Woodland Hills, Yellow Fingers. (1990).
Visitation began at 5 p.m., Thursday, August 4th, and Tribal Funeral Rites were held at 10 a.m. Friday, August 5th, at New Post Community Center with Jerry Smith officiating. Those unable to attend will mourn deeply. Burial was in New Post Cemetery.
Honorary casket bearers were Andy Bennet, James Gadicke, Gaiashkibos, Jim Smith Sr., Jim Smith Jr., Lawrence Smith, Robert Smith, Robert Trepania, and Steven Winterer. Casket bearers were Cyrus Farrell, Jim Garvey, Josh Kingfisher, Donald Morrow, Dusin Morrow, Mark Thayer & Tony Thayer.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Canyon Sages at To plant Memorial Trees in memory of Henry Smith Jr., please visit:
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September 2, 2022

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