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Man's fabrications rankle local Indians

Clifford 'Two Smokes' Coiner retracts tales of Vietnam heroism he told the Mail Tribune for a story last month

Following an uproar in the local American Indian community, a Phoenix man has apologized for claiming that he was a Marine officer, a prisoner of war in Vietnam and was decorated for heroism.

Clifford Two Smokes Coiner recanted his story after being asked to come before the Warrior Society, a local organization of American Indian military veterans based in Grants Pass. Coiner confessed that his statements regarding his military service, printed in the Aug. 30 edition of the Mail Tribune, were a pack of lies that came from living in a fantasy world.

Nick Hall, executive director of Southern Oregon Indian Center in Grants Pass, said Coiner's misrepresentations of his military record were offensive to Indian veterans, who could not find his name on any POW or Marine veteran Web sites and requested he publicly straighten out the record.

Rather than being a decorated Marine Corps officer and POW, Coiner now admits he only served two years as an enlisted man in the Navy just before the Vietnam War.

I've insulted and hurt a lot of people with these stupid ego fantasies, Coiner said. It was a fantasy I made up seven years ago when my daughters found me on the Internet. We were apart 31 years and I wanted to impress them so they wouldn't think I was a bum.

— The Warrior Society, which operates within Southern Oregon Indian Center, asked Coiner to publicly apologize for misstatements made at the Pottsville pow-wow, where his wedding ' the occasion for the newspaper story ' took place. He delivered a brief apology, Hall said. Coiner said his wife supported me through this ordeal over the fabrications.

While the Aug. 30 story focused on Coiner's wedding, it also made reference to his alleged military experience, describing him as a highly decorated Vietnam combat veteran and a martial arts instructor who spent 19 months in a POW camp. He said he had retired from the Marine Corps in 1984 as a lieutenant colonel.

Hall and other local American Indians said Coiner's published statements also stereotyped or misrepresented Indian custom, dress and ceremony and offended many in the local American Indian community.

Just about everything he said was fabricated, said Hall, and my phone was ringing off the wall with calls from Native Americans and veterans.

In particular, Hall said, Indian regalia, such as the sacred eagle feather bonnet, sacred shirt and scalp locks worn by Coiner, are earned and worn only by designated people, with the consent of elders.

The Warrior Society takes care of the people and tries to protect our elders, using traditional ways to deal with the situation, said Hall.

This is a real problem in the Native American community, said Jerry Aaronson of the Choctaw tribe. People go around and claim certain status or position when they have never been designated such by the tribes they claim to come from.

He apologized and did what was right, said Warrior Society and Shasta tribe member Jim Prevatt. We don't hold any animosity. If you misrepresent yourself as a leader or Sundancer, you answer to the Creator for everything you do. You have to do things in a good way and treat people as you want to be treated.

Hall and other American Indian veterans of the Warrior Society met with Coiner and heard his apology.

Diane Shadley, a Navajo-Comanche, said American Indians are happy to have non-Indians come to pow-wows and appreciate Indian ways but it's a sad thing that they sometimes get out of hand and dance or dress inappropriately.

What this all brought up was that this man should not have been looked to as a leader, said Shadley. Anytime you say you are a leader or pipe carrier or you charge money (for ceremonies or healings), you're not respected. A pipe-carrier or leader doesn't have to say that's what he is, because the people know.

Coiner said he once performed weddings in an Indian manner, but said a few years ago the Lakota tribe asked him to stop because bad things were coming from people not of full blood doing sacred ceremonies. He said he has not done ceremonies since.

Local American Indians also disputed Coiner's claim to have done the Lakota Sundance ceremony at age 12. However, Coiner maintains that he is half Lakota and dragged a buffalo skull attached by rope to a peg skewering one of his shoulders for two hours, but outside the Sundance circle. That method is one of several that is part of the Lakota Sundance ritual.

I am so, so sorry, Coiner said. I've made my peace with everyone and from now on I'll try to be as honest and truthful as I can be.

John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org