During a ceremony on April 13 at the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, the university’s Department of Women’s Studies recognized 28 women from eight of the 22 Arizona Indian tribes to be inducted into the Women’s Plaza of Honor, which honors the lives and accomplishments of inspirational women who have enriched the lives of others in Arizona and throughout the world.
Eight of the honorees were from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. To receive this honor, the Community selected the late Alfretta Antone, the late Dorothy Lewis, Merna Lewis, Alice Manuel, the late Hilda Manuel, the late Violet Perkins, Audrey Santo and the late Wenima Washington, based on their leadership, contributions and preservation of culture.
Honorees and their families traveled to Tucson to celebrate at the Women’s Plaza of Honor Arch Dedication. The Women’s Plaza of Honor was originally envisioned by Dr. Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy, now a retired professor from the University of Arizona. The Women’s Plaza of Honor includes a series of arches, benches, tiles and walkways honoring Arizona women from all walks of life and is the result of the commitment and hard work of many groups of women since the early 1990s.
Not only were the honorees and their families recognized, but on an engraving that reads: The “Women of the O’odham Piipaash,” will forever be engraved on the Women’s Plaza of Honor Arch.”
Dr. Miranda Joseph, interim head of the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies, said, “The names of honorees are inscribed throughout the plaza on handmade tiles, on benches and, as with our honorees today, on arches. The Women’s Plaza of Honor transformed what was once just an alley between buildings into a beautiful garden walkway in the heart of the campus. [It’s] not only a physical monument, [but] the plaza is also a public history project [in which] each honoree’s life story is included in an online database on a kiosk [in the garden walkway]. Seven hundred women have been honored in the Plaza.
Some of those honorees led public lives and others’ impact was primarily [caring] for loved ones.”
Added Dr. Joseph, “The plaza not only recognizes past achievements, it also enables future achievements. While the initial fundraising paid for the construction of this beautiful space, the funds raised through this project now primarily contribute to an endowment that supports graduate students who are pursuing degrees in creating new knowledge in gender and women’s studies.”
Dr. Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, acknowledged fellow leaders of Indian Country, thanked the honorees, and said, “This is a proud moment as we take time to acknowledge the lives and accomplishments of Native women who have had tremendous positive impacts on our communities, as well as the state of Arizona and throughout the United States. Throughout the history of our tribes and of Arizona, Native American women have been among our strongest leaders, finest artists and most dedicated citizens, yet all too often their achievements have gone without the recognition they deserve. The Native American Women of Arizona Arch is a step toward correcting that imbalance and honoring some of the women who have done so much for our communities.”
Several speakers continued to talk about the honorees. LuAnn Leonard of the Arizona Board of Regents shared some encouraging words for future Native American women leaders. “We all know that as our Native students pursue their degrees, the road is long; it’s challenging and it can be lonely. It’s my hope that our students, particularly our girls, will visit the plaza … and feel here the embrace of their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunties and their sisters and gain comfort, inspiration, strength and courage to carry on with their dream of pursuing higher education.”
Honoree Audrey Santo, known for her traditional basketry demonstrations, shared the first thing that came to her mind when she received the letter in the mail stating that she was being honored at the Women’s Plaza of Honor. “[The] things I did was out of the kindness of my heart, our Community, and when we wrapped and took care of the remains [of our ancestors].” Santo said she didn’t expect it to be written in stone.
Santo spoke of her heartfelt excitement at seeing the ones who were gone still honored in the ceremony. She said, “Dorothy, Hilda [and] Wenima, I think about them and kind of laugh, because there was always something they said that made me laugh,” as she remembered their good times with tears. “I feel sad that they’re not here, but I am lucky to have known them.”
Santo wants to thank the Community for honoring her and the ones who are gone. “I am proud of the ones that aren’t with us, and I am sure the families feel proud [too].”
Another honoree, former SRPMIC Vice-President Merna Lewis, said, “It made me feel good [because] I am a part of this [dedication ceremony]. It was truly an honor.”
Lewis thanked her family for their support and understanding when she was gone from home during her terms as vice-president of the Community. She also thanked the Community, and said she will try to always be a good member and in good standing with the Community.
All honorees received a certificate of recognition and a single red rose. For the honorees from the Community who have passed, a family member accepted the certificate and rose on their behalf.
The daughters and son of the late Dorothy Lewis—Annette Lewis-Ramirez, Glenda Lopez and Marc Lewis—enjoyed the trip to Tucson, which was provided by the SRPMIC Council. “It was special today, because our family was together and we got to go [to Tucson],” said Lopez. Her sister Lewis-Ramirez also said she had a good time.
Throughout the day, Lopez and Lewis-Ramirez reminisced about the good times and how their mother contributed a lot to the O’odham culture, her family and Community.
Kelly Washington, the grandson of the late Wenima Washington, said, “It seems like so many people these days go through life trying to gain for themselves as much as possible. I think the truly great people, such as those recognized at the University of Arizona’s Women’s Plaza of Honor, are more concerned with giving to others in some regard. When I received my grandmother’s certificate of recognition, I reflected on how humbly she lived her life, never trying to seek reward or attention, yet she had a great and positive impact on those who knew her. The world would be a better place if we all strived to do the same.”