Submitted by Russ Tallchief
The Osage Nation, family, and friends mourn the loss of Alexander (Alex) Tallchief Skibine, member of the Buffalo Clan of the Grayhorse District, and longtime member of the Board of Directors of the Osage Nation Foundation. Alex passed away of glioblastoma on February 4, 2023.
Alex served on the Osage Nation Foundation Board of Directors since its inception in 2009 and was its first Chairperson. Current chair of the foundation, Monte Boulanger, remembers Alex having a steady hand in leadership during the early days of the foundation. “His mentorship was very valuable to the other board members,” Boulanger said. “He had a booming voice at times, but was also quiet, inquisitive, and always careful to represent the best interests of the nation. He always tried to find a way to help as many people as he could.”
In academia, Alex was the S.J. Quinney Endowed Professor of Law at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law where he spent his entire academic career beginning in 1989. Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear met Alex while in law school and frequently worked with him throughout their respective careers.
“Alex Tallchief Skibine was a leading scholar of Native American law and all of Indian Country will miss his expertise,” Standing Bear said. “The Osage Nation was blessed to have him as part of our new government and blessed by his work with the Osage Nation Foundation.”
Alex and his twin brother, George Tallchief Skibine, were born in France in 1952 while his parents, Marjorie Tallchief and George Skibine, Sr., were performing with the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, formerly the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Marjorie was the sister of Osage prima ballerina Maria Tallchief, whose daughter, Elise Paschen, remembers Alex tearfully. “I loved my cousin, Alex, like a brother. How fortunate I was to have grown up with such a brilliant, kind and generous-hearted man. His joie de vivre touched us all. He will be extremely missed by his family, friends, colleagues and students.”
As children, Alex and George toured with their parents until Marjorie and “Youra,” as Skibine, Sr. was known, landed roles as danseurs etoiles at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1958. For the next four years, the couple commuted daily from their home located outside of Paris to the spectacular Opera Garnier, an immense opera house completed in 1875, where Alex recalled playing in the theater seats with his brother during rehearsals.
In 1964, when the twins were 14, Marjorie and Youra were invited to move to New York to direct the Harkness Ballet. At Harkness, Alex developed an interest in taking ballet classes. “Youra said, ‘If you start dancing then you have to study for at least a year’,” Marjorie said during an interview with her great-nephew Russ Tallchief. “So they studied at the School of American Ballet for a year, but then stopped. If they would have wanted to go on, then they could have danced professionally. They were physical, but they started dancing late.”
When the family settled in New York, Alex enrolled in school at the Lyceé Francais where the students only spoke French. As a result, he and his brother had to learn English “in the streets,” as they said, and both went on to law school.
After receiving his B.A. in Political Science and French Literature from Tufts University, Alex earned his J.D. at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Alex began practicing as an attorney at the Institute for the Development of Indian Law, then served as regional representative for the commissioner of Indian Affairs and as deputy counsel for Indian Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Elizabeth Kronk Warner, Dean of the University of Utah School of Law remembered Alex as “a towering figure in the field of Indian Law.” She shared in a public statement, “When he entered legal academia, very few people taught or produced scholarship in Indian Law—and fewer still were Native themselves. Alex was among an early group of Native legal scholars whose trailblazing efforts were pivotal in establishing the field and teaching it in law school. He went on to produce a prolific body of work in Indian Law, earning a wide reputation as one of the field’s leading scholars.” Alex is survived by his wife, Jackie Stahl Skibine, his children, Sasha and Nathalie Skibine, his twin brother, George Skibine, and his cousin, Elise Paschen.