Joseph G Jorgensen, groundbreaking anthropologist and crusader for social and environmental justice for the American Indian


  Salt Lake City Tribune and Los Angeles Times March 9, 2008:

Joseph G. Jorgensen died suddenly on March 5th, 2008 at 6 pm from incidence of a stroke.  The son of J. Norman and Clela Bailey Jorgensen, Joe was born in Salt Lake City on April 15th, 1934.  He attended South High and the University of Utah.  It was great to be a Cub and a Pi Kap.  Joe worked on the Ute reservation cattle ranch and as a roustabout. His experience in eastern Utah shaped his professional career. Joe earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from Indiana University and held professorships at the universities of Oregon, Michigan and California Irvine between 1963 and 2000.  He focused his research on America’s Indians and Eskimos, past and present, publishing several books and more than 125 articles and monographs in science journals and series.  Joseph was revered internationally in the field of Anthropology not only for his scholarship, but also for his ethics.  His Sun Dance Religion, a classic in the sociology of religion, focused on the meaning of the Sun Dance ritual among the Utes and Shoshone and won the C Wright Mills award.  His monumental Western Indians, a formal comparative analysis of 172 Indian tribes on over 400 variables stands alone as the only study of its kind for any people.  He did extensive pro bono work for Indian tribes and Eskimos and he was a crusader for the ethical treatment of native people by anthropologists. His work will be cited by scholars for generations to come and he will be remembered as a principled, caring and courageous colleague, teacher and friend. 

Joe was a Guggenheim Fellow, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the recipient of many grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health, gave endowed and guest lectures at over 30 universities around the world, presented dozens of papers at professional meetings, directed 40 Ph.D. dissertations, served on editorial boards or several science journals, served on the Executive Board of the Human Relations Area Files (Yale) for twenty years, took several turns in the barrel as chairman and dean (director) of departments and programs, and was a Yankee fan.  Joe was married to Katherine Will for 27 years.  His talented and solicitous children, Brigham Will (Newport Beach) and Sarah Katherine (New York City) brought great joy to his life.  He loved being with them, whether fly fishing, listening to jazz, or trying to force them to listen to his beloved opera.  In 1997 Joe married Joyce Miller, the woman with whom, as a high school student, he hiked to Timpanogas Cave for the first (and last) time.

Upon retirement from the University of California Joe and Joyce built a log house overlooking the South Fork of the Snake River where they enjoyed life together entertaining family and friends, avoiding moose, watching eagles catch more fish than Joe, and grousing about the tunneling activities of the resident voles. Joe worked as a consultant and continued to write in retirement.  He re-connected with a world of friends while occasionally irritating those who were the closest with liberal political missives.  Joe moved back to Salt Lake in 2000.  The ultimate sentimentalist, Joe loved his old haunt and the new and old friends who sought him out for stimulating conversation over coffee or lunch.  Always the conversationalist, Joe was a sharp wit with a keen sense of humor, knowledgeable in about every subject. Joe was embraced and greatly loved by Joyce’s family and friends in Utah.  Joe lived a rich, athletic and active life up to the onset of the stroke.  Joe was preceded in death by his parents and two of his brothers, Robert N. and Craig B.  He is survived by his wife, Joyce, his children, his brother David G. (Portola Valley), his sisters-in law, a host of uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, and cousins, and Joyce’s family.

In lieu of flowers, if you wish, you may donate to the Native American College Fund or to the charity of your choice.




Joseph G. Jorgensen


Professor Emeritus

School of Social Sciences


PH.D., Indiana University, 1964



John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, Landsdowne Lecture, Rufus Wood Leigh Diamond Jubilee Lecture, F. O. Butler Lecture, M. Crawford Distinguished Lecture, Ford Lectures of Brazilian Anthropological Association, a C. Wright Mills Book Award for Sun Dance Religion




Comparative North American Indian and Eskimo Language, Culture, and Environment; Political Economy of Native American Affairs; Religious Movements; Consequences to Rural Populations from Large Industrial Projects and other Economic Developments.



Beginning in 1961, I have conducted primary field research among three Ute and two Shoshone societies, Southern Paiutes, Crows, Navajos, Sobobans, urban communities in southern California, and among Eskimo Aleut, Athapaskan and non-Native communities in coastal Alaskan and Canadian villages. I also have conducted comparative secondary research on world-wide, western North American, and single language family samples. In the period 1970-80 I was the principal nvestigator in an analysis of the relations among language, culture, and environment of 172 Indian societies (at first European contact). Between 1987-94 I was the principal investigator on a multimethod, multidata set, longitudinal research project. The research culminated in the creation of two social indicator systems–one based on a questionnaire and the other on a protocol–intended to monitor consequences to 44 Alaskan villages from outer continental shelf oil-related activities and other social, economic and environmental factors.


Salish Language and Culture: A Statistical Analysis of Internal Relations, History and Evolution. Language Science Monographs 3. Research Center for Language Sciences. The Hague and Bloomington: Indiana University and Mouton (1969).

The Sun Dance Religion: Power for the Powerless Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1972).

Western Indians. Comparative Environments, Languages, and Cultures of 172 Indian Tribes in Western North America. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Co. (1980).

Oil Age Eskimos. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press (1990).

“Ethnicity, Not Culture?” Obfuscating Social Science in the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Case.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 19 (4): 1-124 (1995)

Also, numerous articles and compilations.



“There is nothing of interest in the post modernists. All drivel.”

“It’s not the gray hair that makes a man old, nor the far away look in his eye I am told. But when the mind makes a contract the body can’t fill, you are over the hill man, over the hill”

“ Knit one, pearl two, B-Y- yoo hoo!!” (using knitting terms to make fun of BYU fans)

The last question I asked him, in the hospital before he died: ”The Duke or Basie?” answer: “The Count”

“Sarah, show some Norsk pride, after all, 10,000 Swedes ran through the weeds chased by one Norwegian.”

Sung while making pancakes:

—“ How are things in Guacamora?”

—“Is you is or is you ain’t my baby”

—“Open the door, Richard”

— “I love you honey, but your feets too big”

[FROM AN EMAIL]“Every time I see Dempsey in the ring, I think about my dad (younger than Dempsey, friend of Dempsey, and a boxer who obviously emulated Dempsey).  My dad, a boxer and boxing instructor for years, taught his four sons to keep our chins in our left shoulder and our hands high with our elbows near the rib cage–right and left.  So he taught us defense first and offense second. Yet my dad held his hands low, weaved and bobbed, and threw vicious punches to the body then up to the head (all four brothers hit the deck at least once when taking liberties in the ring with him).”

“Show me your left hook”

“You can’t get a good espresso in this town. I  am down to 6 espressos a day “

on trends in intellectual discourse:

“Sarah, the idiocy of Social Text…. [was] an important contributor to the superciliousness and third rate literary criticism that has made such inroads in anthropology, history, and literary criticism. The double-talk of post modernism and deconstructionism dropped a notch lower as they spread through academic disciplines.- Dad”

“It’s one thing to write about something, attach yourself to pseudo “post-marxist” thought and claim affiliations when  you’ve inherited money and are safe in a university. But it’s quite different to grab a gun and fight for your land. And I can tell you, the later has nothing to do with theory.”


In Conclusion:

“Did I ever tell you about the man who starved to death with a sandwich in each hand?”