Leverett Senior Passes Away at Home

C. Duane Meat, 24, was a leader in the Native American Community

C. Duane Meat ’05-’07, a leader in the campus Native American community, died Wednesday in his home state of Minnesota, according to Leverett House Master Howard Georgi ’68. He was 24.

The news spread quickly through Harvard’s Native American community yesterday. Meat played drums for the Intertribal Indian Dance Troupe and once served as president of Native American Students at Harvard (NAHC). He had planned to attend powwows during the peak summer season, said NAHC President Leah R. Lussier ’07, and had invited others to join him.

Meat was taking time off this semester to spend it at home.

Under the auspices of the Harvard University Native American Program, some 25 undergraduates and graduates gathered over dinner last night to mourn Meat’s death.

Yesterday, Lussier became the bearer of news that she called “literally tragic.”

In the morning, she got a call from her father, who is a friend of Meat’s extended family. They belong to the same tribe, the Ojibwe.

Lussier’s father told her that Meat had died. “I asked him if he was sure, and he was sure. I cried really hard.”

In the Ojibwe language which she and Meat once spoke to each other, Meat would have been called a “ogichidaa.”

“To us that means he’s a leader, and in a way that will help our people,” Lussier said.

Meat lived with his family on the reservation of the Leech Lake Ojibwe Tribe in Minnesota. An economics concentrator, Meat had planned to return there to aid in the community’s economic development, said Erica A. Scott ’06, another friend and past NAHC president.

When Scott arrived at Harvard as a freshman, Meat—just one year ahead of her—became a mentor and friend. Meat was a role model for youths in the close-knit Native American community centered around Minneapolis, Lussier said.

“Where we come from, for an Indian student to make it this far and to have the same aspirations and goals and the ability and perseverance to do these things—I mean, he could have done anything, anything he wanted to do,” she said. “He could have gone home and become the tribal chairman. He could have done policy work.”

Tomorrow Lussier will dance in Radcliffe Yard for the Harvard Powwow, a celebration of Native American tradition during ArtsFirst weekend. With a swirling shawl, the spinning dancer is meant to look like a butterfly.

“I’m going to dance for Duane, and for our community, and for our pain and grievance, and for his memory.”

Meat would help his friends with tasks ranging from proofreading theses to preparing ethnic foods. One day this semester, Scott was making a type of Native American fried dough called “frybread” for the Black Arts Festival, and desperately needed more hands. “Duane just literally rolled up his sleeves and was like, ‘I’ll help you guys.’”

Last month he stayed in Scott’s room for two weeks. During his visit, Meat arranged his housing in Leverett for this fall, which he hoped would be his final semester before he graduated.

Georgi, his wife and co-master Ann, and Leverett residential dean Catherine Shapiro e-mailed House residents with the news last night.

“Duane always gave a sort of impish grin,” Georgi said in an interview. “And he had that when I saw him a few weeks ago. It was good to see the old Duane.”

Meat graduated in 2001 from the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass. According to the school’s newspaper, the Green and Gray, “Meat has constantly been a high achiever.” In middle school in Minnesota, “he taught himself pre-algebra, as there were no teachers qualified to conduct the course themselves,” the paper wrote in 2001.

“[T]here is no arguing the fact that [Berkshire] has prepared Meat to the fullest, and Harvard awaits him next fall,” the paper said.

—Staff writer April H.N. Yee can be reached at aprilyee@fas.harvard.edu.