Arizona American Indian Excellence in Leadership names Ethel Branch Woman of the Year
Barbara Poley receives lifetime achievement award in advocating for Hopi people
PHOENIX — Ethel Branch (Diné) was named Woman of the Year during the 2021 Arizona American Indian Excellence in Leadership Awards after co-founding the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund last March.
Barbara Poley (Laguna and Hopi) also received a lifetime achievement award for her advocacy work for the Hopi people.
The awards celebrate individuals and organizations in Arizona who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to Native American communities.
Branch, who is a former Navajo Nation attorney general and Flagstaff lawyer, helped start the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund to bring food and personal protective equipment (PPE) to elders, especially those raising grandchildren, struggling families, people with health issues and single parents on both reservations.
Branch said that the need on both the Navajo Nation and Hopi reservation was dire because of lack of access to food (there are only 13 grocery stores on the Navajo Nation and one grocery store on Hopi), lack of running water and electricity in many homes.
During the presentation of the award, a highlight was that the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund had provided and collected over $10 million in direct relief to over 500,000 Navajo and Hopi tribal members.
Branch said she was honored to receive the award.
“I’m just so happy that the work of our team is being recognized,” she said. “That’s really what this is. It’s an award for our team and the leadership that everybody displayed, whether it was the folks at the organizing level or the many, many leaders on the ground.”
Branch said the distribution sites ensure food, water and PPE is carefully packaged, sanitized and distributed in a “loving” way to their relatives.
“I’m just so honored and blessed to have been a part of this,” Branch said. “I’m blessed to have an amazing team of leaders and I’m really hopeful for the future and our communities that the leadership that was forged in this experience, is going to continue to bring good things to our people and our communities. I’m very excited about that.”
Barbara Poley receives the Phyllis J. Bigpond Lifetime Achievement award
The presenter for the awards said Poley is an advocate for building capacity that creates leaders and has dedicated her efforts within the Hopi Tribe.
Poley credits her grandfather and father for inspiring her. She learned Hopi from her grandfather, who also taught her about the land and fields, which are crucial to the Hopi way of life. Her grandmother also blessed her with the appreciation and love of the kitchen. She guides her work through Hopi beliefs and teachings.
Poley worked at Native Americans for Community Action (NACA) in Flagstaff as an Adult Education teacher, created a successful economic enterprise with the Coconino Forest Park Service Department for an artist market place, which continues today, 30 years later. Poley then moved home to Hopi and managed a plaza named after her great grandfather, a gift shop at the Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa.
She served the Hopi Tribal chairman as staff assistant and worked as the first female executive director of the Hopi Foundation, until she retired in 2012.
Poley has been active in growing programs for KUYI, Hopi Radio, Hopi Substance Abuse Prevention Center and a highlight for her was developing the Hopi Leadership Program buidling local capacity with 57 graduates. She was active in the Hopi Endowment Fund, which is now celebrates its 20th year of existence.
Poley is a director of the Arizona Community Foundation where she has led efforts to create a Native American initative.
Poley said she was extremely honored to receive the Phyllis J. Bigpond Lifetime Achievement Award because she knew and worked with Bigpond.
“I have faced many challenges on my way here but each one strengthened me to make me the person I am today,” she said.
“I feel my mentor and friend Phyllis with me tonight as I reflect on the many conversations and actions for the development of urban Indian centers... we became advocates and provided a voice for our Native communities across our state. Thank you to the many people I met on my journey. Each helped me reach a stage where I can proudly accept this award as a mark of all our accomplishments.”
Poley said her journey also taught her a truth summed up by Kevin Hall in his book, “Aspire.”
“Your gifts are not about you. Your leadership is not about you. Your purpose is not about you. A life of significance is about serving those in need with your gifts, your leadership, your purpose,” Poley said.
More information, or to hear full list of recipients and speeches, is available on Facebook at Phoenix Indian Center.