Louise Yellowman - An invaluable lesson in humility
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - After an unprecedented 27 years as Coconino County District 5 Supervisor, Louise Yellowman announced earlier this month that she would not be seeking re-election at the end of her term, which began on Jan. 1, 1980.
During her unparalleled career on the Board of Supervisors, Yellowman was a tried and true advocate for Native Americans and served as their voice on important issues not only in Coconino County, but also in Washington, D.C. She fought on behalf of people who were often not able to fight for themselves, and despite formidable opposition on a number of issues, Yellowman would stand by her ideals. During these trying times, she often looked to her upbringing for guidance.
"Being a Diné woman, I have always looked to the guidance and teaching of White Shell and Changing Woman," she stated. "In my life journey, from early age to adult, I have applied the standards and expectations set by White Shell woman and taught to me by my grandmother. I have applied the Diné philosophies that emphasize living a holistic life, of being in harmony and balance."
Many of the people that she has crossed paths with before wholeheartedly agree. Sararesa Begay Hopkins, a journalist originally from Page states, "Mrs. Yellowman is a pioneering spirit. She has the confidence and the courage to be the first [female and first Navajo] ... supervisor. She made history for all of us here in Navajo, Hopi, San Juan Paiute [lands] and in contemporary Native American political history. She gave us Navajos ... viable representation despite [the] non-Indians who 'opposed' her for superficial reasons. She is like a rock, and whoever replaces her has a [great] legacy to fulfill."
Despite such accolades, Yellowman herself remains humble, and her philosophy is simple.
"In working with you I tried to bring positive things to our communities. It was within me to serve you and the whole County. All this time I have worked to build partnerships with people, county managers and staff. Even today we still trying to do that and will until my office ends. But now we also have to think about the future, to continue growing," she said.
Dana Russell, executive director of Native Americans for Community Action comments, "In my brief experience knowing and working with Supervisor Yellowman, it is evident that her interest and accomplishments have been for the benefit of her constituency in Coconino County. It is not often that rural, reservation constituents are so well represented. Due to her knowledge of the system and by establishing a strong community base of support, she was able to work effectively with the Native and non-Native influences that characterized the county district she represented. As a Navajo, she represented her people well and we are all proud. Her 28 years of service is not only commendable but is possibly unequaled in county politics."
When asked about her favorite accomplishment, Yellowman named the solid waste transfer station.
"The transfer station in Tuba City has been the best thing for this area and in keeping trash off our beautiful streets and I expect that this will continue," she said.
She added that the Rare Metals clean up along with the recently completed park in Tuba City, which now bears her name, were critical accomplishments.
Yellowman is very proud of her many other accomplishments.
"In working with my fellow Board members, the people I represent in District 5, county staff and all the residents of Coconino County, I have always tried to bring positive things to our communities. It was within me to serve and I have worked to build partnerships and develop agreements that benefit everyone," she said.
Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly agrees.
"I have known Supervisor Yellowman for many years and she has always shown devotion to her people. She always speaks strongly for both Native American and Coconino County constituents. I respect her for upholding government-to-government relationships. Through her work with the National Association of Counties (NACO), she accomplished much, such as ... working with tribes and several county commissioners to uphold tribal sovereignty."
Never one to be outdone, singer/songwriter and motivational speaker James Bilagody from Tuba City commented, "Some folks say that Louise Yellowman is long-winded. They would be correct. However, it can [also] be said that what Louise has to say is something very important and she delivers her message [bilingually across multiple levels. She was] always concerned that the audience received [her] message." He added, "If you get Louise Yellowman's commitment on a project, you [could] take that commitment to the bank. There are very few public servants and politicians I can say that about. Louise cares about folks in Coconino County. She cares about Coconino County itself. Louise Yellowman, for me, will always be 'the' Coconino County Supervisor, of Arizona, of the USA."
Christine Soliz, project director for the National Endowment for the Humanities Imaginative Paths Grant states, "The Navajo Nation owes much to Louise Yellowman for her strong support of education. She has positively affected the future of education in the Navajo Nation and the future of many children in the Tuba City area and her county district as Supervisor on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors. I hope that she can continue to contribute to the education of the Navajo Nation."
Yellowman also recalled her first true lesson in politics. When asked by Annie Wauneka Dodge what she had to contribute, Yellowman could not answer.
She remembered, "When I first began political life, I asked [Annie,] 'What does it take to be a good leader? What are you made of?' she asked. I did not know how to answer her. [Then she] said, "You are Diné. All this quality that we built for you, that's who you are. We prepared you, we wove you with these good qualities, and you are this woman. That's who you are. And then you went to school and then you went to college ... you brought us back the good parts of the white culture, the thinking and smartness, and now you never forgot us and came back to us and helped us."
Indeed, it is this conglomerate of values, upbringing and unwavering humility that has made Louise Yellowman into the person she was destined to be, for now and always.