I’ve been retired for 3 years and volunteering with the Lummi Cedar Project of which I just retired after 18 years as their Chairwoman. It’s a 501c3 organization. It’s not part of the Lummi Business Council. The organization focuses on youth leadership development. 20-25 kids participate in our Summer Leadership Program. Two of the original youth are now running the program. Our Executive Director, Shasta, was a member and has since completed her Masters Degree and is now running the program. The other, Misty Oldham is completing her four year degree….
When and how did you get involved with the AIWSL?
1961 – 1967. I was their President for one year in 1966.
I first read about the Indian Center through a local newspaper advertisement and
thought, “That’s good”. But, I didn’t do more than that. I was in a family with alcohol problems and working at Boeing. I was depressed. Then, I saw in the paper that they were having beading classes. I took that opportunity to attend. When I showed up, I found this wonderful group of Indian Women present. Once I got involved they asked me to be the Secretary, which kept me really busy.
While I was doing that, I was learning about community service and how people from all parts of life can contribute. Then a friend introduced me to the12 step program and they gave me the tools necessary to make my life better and tools to help other people too.
Who were your AIWSL mentors? Can you tell us about them and what they taught you?
Pearl Warren was my main mentor. Pearl seemed to have a way of reaching out to
individuals. She could get in touch with them and see how they were feeling. She had the power to do things in isolation. That allowed us to protect people’s privacy.
Working at Boeing, I felt lost and kind of strange. Because there were 65,000 people
working and I wasn’t around many Indians. I stayed at Boeing for 12 years, volunteering at the AIWSL for the last 6 years. Pearl became my friend and confident, I was able to tell her how I felt, cut off from my early connections with Lummi People. I just wanted to move back home. While I was in Seattle, Pearl and the Indian Center gave me a comfort zone.
She gave me the opportunity to develop youth programs. It seems to me that a lot of those young women who were volunteering are now very productive people serving a lot of needs in Indian Country. Examples include, Julie Johnson, Teresa Hanway, Jackie
Hanson. Joan LaFrance. Joan for example went to Harvard and now evaluates Education Programs at tribal schools.
There was Dorothy Hall. She was from Clallam. Dorothy was Pearl’s assistant. She was very gentle, polite, considerate, refined and organized. Her and Pearl were well matched. Pearl was the big thinker and Dorothy was the organizer.
People like them were willing to work together and share. They nurtured one another well. The AIWSL was developed so that the individual could make good choices. I don’t remember criticism. I don’t remember put downs. It just didn’t seem like it was there. Conversely, at Boeing it was a dog eat dog atmosphere – it was not as comforting as I felt at the Indian Center.
As I ascended at the AIWSL, however, others felt that they were passed up. I learned that when you’re advancing you need to be considerate of how that will make others feel. That is a chore at Lummi. I learned that if you can do well for yourself and not be mean to other people in the process, you can eventually earn their trust.
Ella Aquino. She was part Lummi and part Yakima. She raised a large family in Seattle and gave a lot of volunteer time. She was a little tiny woman and full of energy. Being Lummi, she identified with me very fast. After I left, she continued running NW Indian News. She made a video tape called the something Princess. She left that with her grandchildren. She was a very futuristic elder. Early on, she learned how to use the computer to do the newspaper. She taught me pride and the importance of being a lady, being respected and representing your people in a good way by being honest. I can see her in my mind and I just remember how ethical and honorable she was. Being Lummi she gave me a wonderful sense of pride.
Adeline Garcia. I didn’t get as close to her, because she was very involved in her
Alaskan organization and I didn’t know anything about that. But Adeline was always so kind and welcoming to me. Even the last time I saw her. She still had that warmth and she reached out to me with her hand. She was very gracious and a wonderful role model.
I notice that you use the term Indian Center instead of AIWSL. Can you tell me
The AIWSL ran the Indian Center.
Being in the city and feeling so cut off from my people, and going to public school, you couldn’t get anything about Indian People. You had one place to go, the Indian Center. Pearl set it up so that each tribe was recognized for the good that we did. She did it so that everyone was treated equally. She believed that all tribes needed to be treated with respect. And we wanted to pass that on to young people so that they carried on that pride individually and they could respect people from other tribes.
The AIWSL tried to help people get jobs, find a place to stay, a get some dignity. All they asked in return is that people showed respect for the Indian Center. Don’t come here drunk or disorderly. And the people were respectful. I don’t’ remember anyone acting inappropriately. I remember that Pearl directed me to deliver baskets for Christmas with a guy from skid row. At first I had this dread, but he surprised me. He combed his hair and made himself presentable. He was gentle, polite and that was Pearl’s work. She knew how to move people in a good way. I loved that. It was the perfect social program.
So many people are down and out. The Indian Center gave me a place to go and even though I had stuff, I was in despair. But then I looked at this guy who had nothing and his problems were likely worse than mine. He came in the door and found a place that would help. I was so down and out, I felt suicidal. But when I came to the Indian Center, I didn’t feel that way.
You know the Dalai Lama? He talks about compassion and that’s the part I really can relate to. You have to demonstrate compassion. In our old culture, once you’ve invited someone in, you offer them respect, nourishment and culture. That’s the way it was at the Indian Center. If we can continue to carry that culture any place way go, we’re spreading our culture. That’s what the SIC meant to me.