You Can't Eat Dirt: Leading the First All-Women Tribal Council and How We Changed Palm Springs
By Viola J. Ortner & Diana C. du Pont
Fan Palm Research Project | 264 pp | $75.00
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Discussion »
The Agua Caliente Cahuilla Tribe, based in Palm Springs, California, is one of the most progressive and successful American Indian tribes in Indian country. It did not become successful without the sheer hard work and determination of its leadership.
One such leader, Viola Olinger Ortner, who served as chair and vice chair of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Tribal Council during the 1950s, has co-authored a tremendous book in order to share her story on how she helped to shape the Tribe into what it is today.
The book title, "You Can't Eat Dirt: Leading America's First All-Women Tribal Council and How We Changed Palm Springs," tells a lot about the content the large book.
"You Can't Eat Dirt" is part autobiography, part history, filled with historic photographs and documents that will allows the reader to fully appreciate how Ms. Ortner had to overcome obstacles, such as rejection, which is familiar to many American Indians, to success, which not all American Indians ever get to experience.
It is obvious Ms. Ortner believed on transparency early in her life. She kept and now shares letters from dignitaries; copies of legislation and rare newspaper clippings, which history buffs will find fascinating.
Viola Olinger Ortner with Congressman Saund and
Mayor Frank Bogert of Palm Springs in late 1950s
The title, "You Can't Eat Dirt," gives away part of the secret of the success of the Tribe. The Tribe was rich in land, some of the most prime real estate in Palm Springs.
“In spite of having all that land, our people were desperately poor. You can't eat dirt! So during our first year in office, we established a clear mandate to better manage the land,”
writes Ms. Ortner.
Ms. Ortner served as vice chair and chair of the Tribe from 1952 to early 1959. During the 1950s, she was also an executive officer of the California Indians Congress and the National Congress of American Indians. From 1973 to 1980, she served as both a member and chairman of the Palm Springs Planning Commission. In 1980, she was elected to the City Council of Palm Springs, the only Agua Caliente Cahuilla to serve in that city's government.
Now the most senior tribal elder of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, she enjoys friends and family while continuing to call Palm Springs her home.
Diana C. du Pont co-authored "You Can't Eat Dirt." She is an accomplished writer and curator. A specialist in modern and contemporary art, she began her career as a photography curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. During fifteen years at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, her latest curatorial appointment, she brought international recognition to the institution for its Latin American art collections and exhibitions. Her books include "Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted;" "Risking the Abstract: Mexican Modernism and the Art of Gunther Gerzso;" and "Florence Henri: Artist-Photographer of the Avant Garde." She is currently at work on her forthcoming book, "Another Kind of Motherhood."
Ross O. Swimmer, the former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, who also served as assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs during the late 1980s, writes the foreword to "You Can't Eat Dirt."
The book is a treasure that will inspire American Indians to overcome obstacles through persistence and transparency.
posted July 14, 2012 8:50 am edt