A man who for generations has stood for freedom and the dignity of his people is gone. Native American veteran and community leader Tony Reyna died in the early morning hours of Sunday Dec. 4 at age 100, according to his daughter Diane Reyna.
He passed away in his sleep at his home at Taos Pueblo, where he was with family. "All was peaceful and all is well," Diane Reyna said.
Funeral services took place Monday morning, Dec. 5, at San Geronimo Church in the plaza at Taos Pueblo. He was buried afterward at the Taos Pueblo Cemetery accompanied by full military honors.
Tony Reyna is probably best known as one of the last remaining survivors of the Bataan Death March during World War II. Upon his return from the war, he continued to serve his tribe and family, as well as the greater Taos community, as a leader and source of wisdom and insight.
Family and friends gave a birthday breakfast for their beloved patriarch last Jan. 31 at his home and shop. It preceded Reyna’s actual birthday, which was Feb. 1, the date on which the New Mexico Legislature honored him with a memorial, naming it “Tony Reyna Day.” The proclamation was authored by state Sen. Carlos Cisneros.
The Reyna family also celebrated their patriarch's centennial last June 11 at his Taos Pueblo home. The event was also on the date of his daughter Marie's birthday. Marie Reyna is director of the Oo-oonah Art Center, which is also soliciting donations for its upkeep. The "100 Years at Taos Pueblo" event included music and dancing by dance groups such as the Danza Azteca and Los Comanches.
Reyna was also honored during 2015 Veterans Day ceremonies at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. “I served my country,” Reyna said in a media report. “I served my people. I’m still serving. I’m available anytime they ask me!”
Reyna is a survivor of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines, after which he endured three and one-half years of brutal captivity during World War II. His captivity ended in 1945 when he and other prisoners of war were liberated by Allied forces. He is the last of 11 men alive from Taos Pueblo who were captured at Bataan.
“Mr. Reyna has spent his entire life serving his Pueblo and his country,” said Travis Suazo (Laguna/Taos/Acoma), Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s director of museum and cultural engagement, in a prepared statement. “Only through the sacrifices of men like him are we are able to protect and maintain our Pueblo beliefs and core value.”
After his return to home, he established Tony Reyna’s Indian Shop in 1950, which has remained open continuously to this day. Reyna was a respected community leader even before he served two terms as his tribe’s governor, as well as in various other offices in tribal government. For the town of Taos, he served as a police commissioner and as a museum board member. He was a lifetime member of the Taos Pueblo tribal council.
During the birthday breakfast, Reyna presided over a table filled with food, cards and birthday decorations. After “Happy Birthday” was sung, two little boys helped him blow out the candles on a cake specially decorated with a photograph of Reyna wearing a favorite Pendleton blanket. Then, he and newly named Taos Pueblo War Chief Richard Archuleta sang several round dance songs, which Archuleta said he has helped preserve from days past.
Reyna was recipient of the seventh annual Spirit of the Heard Award in 2010 at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz. During the ceremony, Reyna was presented with traditional gifts and a cash award, and his photograph was installed with other recipients of the award at the west entrance to the mueseum’s Steele Auditorium, according to a report in Native Times.
Each year, the Heard Museum’s Board of Trustees honors an individual who has demonstrated personal excellence either individually or as a community leader. The Spirit of the Heard Award reinforces the mission of the museum, which is to educate the public about the heritage and living arts and cultures of Native peoples.
Dr. Letitia Chambers, director of the Heard Museum, said in the report, “Tony Reyna’s life has been one of service and commitment to his people.” His effort to preserve the culture of Taos Pueblo were instrumental in Blue Lake being returned to the tribe. Reyna was elected governor of Taos Pueblo twice. In 1992, the United Nations’ UNESCO agency named Taos Pueblo as a World Heritage site.”
Wayne Mitchell, Mandan/Dakota, chairman of the Heard’s American Indian Advisory Committee added, “Tony Reyna was chosen for a variety of reasons, but primarily because he dedicated his life to the betterment of Indian people and, in particular, to helping preserve the culture, resources and traditions of his tribe.”
Reyna’s four children have also followed in his footsteps; all four are adults of accomplishment. In addition to Diane and Phillip, John Anthony has worked as a teacher, and daughter Marie is director of the Oo-oonah Art Center at Taos Pueblo. His wife, Annie Cata Reyna, passed away in 1993. He was the last of his immediate family.
In a 2013 article for Indian Country Today, Reyna said, “I served in the Army, I served the state of New Mexico, and I served the city of Taos, but the most important of all was serving my people as governor," he said. "It was hard work over the years, but I made a lot of friends … I have a little great-grandson here that is the joy of my life. I'm 97 now, and intend to make 100."