"It was at a 1973 meeting of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians
that I first met a strange, remarkable, elderly woman named Esther Ross. The first impression was truly lasting. Using a walker, she struggled along in the line for the open microphones in the center aisle of the crowded assembly. Reaching the front, she waited to be recognized as the presiding chair called on other speakers at microphones on either side aisle, overlooking her.
I asked my good friend, NCAI
President Mel Tonasket of Colville, why she was being so rudely ignored. He responded, ''You'll see.''
Finally, she was recognized, and went into a long presentation in her ''high, crackly, strident voice,'' as it was described by one biographer, on why her tribe, the tiny Stillaguamish
, should be recognized by the federal government and why the ATNI should support her effort to get the tribe recognized. Short of cutting off the microphone, there was no way the chair could get her to shorten her talk, so she talked on for several minutes.
''She does this every time,'' Tonasket said. ''That's why any chairman dreads seeing her come up to the microphone. I really feel sorry for her. She's working alone with no financial support.'' Then he suggested, ''Why don't you help her?''
I introduced myself to Esther as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians and promised her that I would help her and that, before I left office, her tribe would be recognized. Eyeing me suspiciously, she responded that she had heard that line before, and she'd wait and see if I could deliver on big talk. That was a challenge to me, and it pulled me into her cause.
That was her style."
Get the Story:
Charles Trimble: Unsung heroes: Esther Ross, magnificent pest, victorious
(Indian Country Today 6/6)