Vine Deloria Jr., author of the scathing best-seller "Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto" and an influential historian and spokesman...

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Vine Deloria Jr., author of the scathing best-seller “Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto” and an influential historian and spokesman for American Indian rights, has died. He was 72.

Mr. Deloria, who taught at the University of Colorado from 1990 to 2000, died Sunday in Denver of complications from an aortic aneurysm, his family said. He lived in nearby Golden, Colo.

“Vine was a great leader and writer, probably the most influential American Indian of the past century — one of the most influential Americans, period,” said Charles Wilkinson of the University of Colorado School of Law and an expert on Indian law.

Mr. Deloria wrote more than 20 books, but it was his first in 1969, “Custer Died for Your Sins,” that brought him to the nation’s attention.

In 2002, Wilkinson called it “perhaps the single most influential book ever written on Indian affairs” and described it as “at once fiery and humorous, uplifting and sharply critical.”

J.A. Phillips, in reviewing the book for Best Sellers shortly after it was published, wrote that Mr. Deloria “blasts the political, social, and religious forces that perpetuate the … stereotyping of his people.”

The author’s disdain for Gen. George Armstrong Custer never wavered.

“Soldiers were nothing to him, except tools,” Mr. Deloria told the Los Angeles Times in 1996, describing Custer as a psychopath. “The soldiers were not defending civilization. They were crushing another society.”

Publication of the powerful “Custer” book followed Mr. Deloria’s 1964-67 tenure as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. His leadership in lobbying Congress and setting forth American Indian rights issues in speeches and op-ed and other articles during the 1960s is widely credited with forcing a turning point in Indian policy.

Among Mr. Deloria’s other books were “We Talk, You Listen” in 1970, “God is Red” in 1973 and “Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties” in 1974, about events leading up to the confrontation between American Indian activists and federal authorities at Wounded Knee the previous year. As an expert on Indian treaties, Mr. Deloria was a key witness for the defense in the Wounded Knee trial in St. Paul, Minn.

Born a Yankton Sioux in Martin, S.D., near the Pine Ridge Reservation, Mr. Deloria was the son of an Episcopalian minister and earned a master’s degree in theology from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.

At the time of his death, Mr. Deloria had been working on a book about Indian medicine men.

Mr. Deloria served in the Marine Corps in the mid-1950s and then earned a bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University, his theology degree and then a law degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He taught at the University of Arizona from 1978 until 1990, when he joined the Colorado faculty, teaching in its departments of history, political science, law, ethnic studies and religious studies.

Mr. Deloria is survived by his wife of 47 years, Barbara; two sons, Philip and Daniel; a daughter, Jeanne; a brother, Philip; a sister, Barbara Sanchez, and seven grandchildren.