Saginaw Chippewa Elder Mel "Chief B.R." Smith

md1by Scott Csernyik
Managing Editor
Tribal Observer, Sept. 16, 2002

At-Large Saginaw Chippewa Elder Mel “Chief B.R.” Smith had a lifelong dream of going to Alaska to pan for gold. The 62-year-old Ferndale resident recently accompanied his wife, Esther, and 21 other Elders to the “Land of the Midnight Sun” for a 13-day trip.

But after six days on the journey, Mel became sick and eventually died on August 26 at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Wash. “Years ago, when our children were young, he tried to talk me into selling everything and living off the land in Alaska,” explained Esther. “Of course we didn’t do that. But this trip made him so happy. He had always wanted to pan for gold and found almost $10 worth.”Both the Smiths were wheelchair bound during the trip. Esther, who suffers from a pinched nerve that limited her walking, had her doctor give her a shot so she could go on the adventure. “We never would’ve made it if it wasn’t for our good friends,” she added. “Everybody was so helpful.”

Esther said that the scenery was “fantastic” and Mel got a big kick out of seeing a mother moose and her calf. She also said they saw an eagle.

Another site the two marveled at was witnessing the Hubbard Glacier.”We had seen a lady at the airport with a big package and he asked her if she was a mountain climber,” explained Esther. “She said she had a camera in there and she was going to shoot videotape of the Hubbard Glacier. He thought it was interesting and couldn’t wait to see it for himself. He did do the things he wanted to do while we were in Alaska.”

Esther said her husband was “very. very. very proud to be Native American” and was also a “great public relations person.”

“He loved talking to everybody, regardless of nationality, religion, or color,” she added. “That’s just the way he was. He had compassion for people. He could tell when they were hurting and was there to lend a shoulder to lean on or to help in any way.”

Mel also had a wonderful sense of humor. His nickname, Chief B. R., stood for “broken rubber.”
“That’s the reason I’m here,” she said her husband used to say. “There was not a day that went by that he didn’t make me laugh.”

On a past Saginaw Chippewa bus trip to St. Ignace, Mel’s Indian humor shined.

“He bought his sister a headdress and wore it standing outside the bus,” Esther explained. These white ladies came by and wanted to take his picture, so he held up his one hand and let them.”

Esther called Mel a wonderful husband and father.

“He passed on his ways of being respectful of other people,” she added. “He enjoyed getting per cap and helped everyone with it from his children to various charities. I’m a very fortunate woman to be married to someone like that.”

Melvil Deloss Smith
May 12, 1940- Aug 26, 2002

Melvil Deloss Smith, 62, passed away Aug. 26 at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. Funeral services were held at Spaulding & Curtin in Ferndale with an Indian ceremony being performed by Steve Pego on September 12.

Melvil was born on May 12, 1940. He was a life-long resident of Ferndale (Michigan). Melvil was a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of MIchigan and of the Roofers local #149. He was also known to others as Chief or Smitty.

Melvil is survived by his wife, Esther Sanchez Smith; daughter, Angel (Jeff) Bolen of Ferndale; twin daughters, Marlene Smith of Royal Oak and Margo Smith of Waterford; brother, Richard (Pauline) Smith; sister, Shirley (Leonard) Powell; grandchildren, Melinda Tindall and Corey Smith along with many nieces; nephews; grand nieces and grand nephews.

Melvil is preceded in death by his brother Hilon and sister Beverly.