THE GIRL FROM ISLETA


“GEORGIA ABEITA OLIVER” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen]

“What color would you call my hair?” I asked her once. “Mouse”, she quickly replied, so I made her a giant wire sculpture of a rat. We found that we could laugh at each other until the tears flowed down our cheeks, and not remember why. She was a girl from a village I never heard of and a culture I only guessed at.

I painted pictures of Indians I had never seen, in landscapes I had never traveled, until she became my daughter’s teacher.

On “Back To School” night I met Georgia Oliver, fifth grade teacher, and as my daughter had told me: “A REAL Indian”, as opposed to what I had painted.

Georgia Abeita, by photography class at University of New Mexico

Georgia and her husband, Emmett Oliver, became extended family over a period of time, and together introduced us to Native America. Georgia Abeita came from Isleta, a small pueblo in New Mexico, and Emmett, a Quinalt, from Washington state. Both became teachers and there are untold numbers of former students who are grateful for having had either as their teacher. Their son, Marvin Oliver, has carried on the teaching profession as Art Professor at the University of Washington, and has become famous as a North Coast artist.

A turning point cor me as an artist came when Georgia invited me to spend time with her at her home in New Mexico. From that time on, I no longer had to look for pictures to copy when painting an Indian.

More important, I found a very special friend.

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R.I.P. OUR FRIEND, EMMETT OLIVER


Emmett

Our dear friend, educator and mentor, Emmett Oliver has completed his long journey at the age of 102. He was the oldest member of the Quinault Nation, and a true hero. The following is a reprint from KING NEWS.

“Oliver was born in South Bend, Washington, and served in World War 11 and the Korean War, before going on to make his mark as a teacher and coach.

“Emmett will be dearly missed. He achieved so much in his life and leaves a legacy that will truly last forever.” Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp said in a release. He was a United States Coast Guard Commander, an educator in and out of the classroom, an equal rights activist and a cultural icon. He was known and loved by thousands of people near and far, and will be remembered as a man who gave of himself throughout his life, always with the objective of helping others foremost in his mind.” she said.

After serving as an educator in the classroom, Oliver continued working to improve tribal education by serving as director of Indian student programs at UCLA and the University of Washington before becoming the supervisor of Indian education for the State of Washington.

In 1989 he established the Paddle to Seattle, an event that taught physical and spiritual discipline, and shared his culture with countless people.

“The fact is that Emmett saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. It is hard to underestimate the great positive impact that the resurgence of the canoe culture has had on American Indians in this country. It has helped somany of our children and adults turn away from drugs and alcohol, and displaced depression and despair with hope and culture-based principles. People are learning their culture again. So many more know their language, their songs, their history. They have pride again, and they are staying in school. Emmett Oliver was a true hero among our people, said Sharp.

Born December 2, 1913, Oliver was a stand-out scholar and athlete at Sherman Institute in California, before studying at Baconne Cllege ( a two-year Indian college) and the University of Redlands.

He and his wife, Georgia, have three children, nine grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.”

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Our family was blessed to have Emmett as our good friend and mentor for the past fifty-six years, even being responsible for our move to the Northwest. They unstintingly shared their home on the Hood Canal with our family and friends.

I am reflecting today on the many lessons that Emmett, and his wife Georgia, taught me. To have the opportunity to learn their separate cultures, and to love them and their extended family, has been a true blessing.

Beginning with our first meeting when Emmett was a high school counselor and coach, and continuing through the next years, my horizons widened as I became aware that under the fun that Emmett brought to every gathering, a very serious educator always resided.

His efforts to understand and help his people have been legion. Some years ago the book “Two Paths” was written about Emmett’s life and was self-published by him. It was distributed free to schools on the Washington State reservations as an inspiration to young students as to what can be achieved with education.

Goodbye Emmett, our memories of you will leave a happy glow within our hearts. You and Georgia introduced me to Indian America for which I am forever grateful.

TWO PATHS


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“You shall walk two paths…yours and that of the White Man. Pick up those things from the White Man’s path that you can use.” Wise words from Sitting Bull.

Stories are the core of Northwest Indian culture and education, and have been for at least 8,00 years. Emmett Oliver’s story is of one Northwest Indian who was poor, dropped out of school, returned, got two college degrees, and revolutionized Indian education in his native state.

Like many American Indians, Emmett Oliver grew up off the reservation. His unique personal experience combines the best of two cultures and has contributed to each. He has truly followed two paths.

“She came more than a thousand miles and a lifetime of years for the event. Her eyes found her youngest son, handsome and proud in his cap and gown.” These are the opening words of the book “Two Paths”, commissioned by Emmett and written by his friend Ben Smith. Emmett paid for the publication of the books and then gave them away to all Indian schools in Washington State, as an example of what successes could be achieved by education.

After a college sports career, someone suggested that Emmett might consider becoming a teacher. What followed was a lifetime of teaching and counseling both high school and college students, and in encouraging children from Northwest Indian communities to pursue their education.

After the second World War, Emmett returned as a Coast Guard Commander. Handsome, dignified and charismatic, he resumed teaching with his wife Georgia. They both came as educators to California, where we became friends more than 55 years ago. They were my introduction to Indian America.

The Danmark
Tall Ship “The Danmark” training ship for Coast Guard during War

In November, 1969, Indian tribes occupied Alcatraz Island and its abandoned Federal prison in San Francisco Bay. One of the leaders of that movement was Emmett Oliver. He was Chair of BANAC (Bay Area Native American Committee.) the organization that spearheaded the takeover which lasted 19 months. The takeover was a reminder to many (including Emmett’s son, Marvin) of their Indian heritage.

photo-richard-oakes

The takeover led to Emmett’s attendance at the National Indian Education Conference in Minneapolis with a large number of prominent Indian educators, where Emmett was encouraged to return to his involvement in Indian education. This led to directing the Indian student programs at UCLA. His mother’s drive for her children to be educated had re-emerged and in that moment his whole life came into focus. He would devote the rest of his life to Indian education.

In the summer of 1970 Emmett joined the Division of Minority Affairs of the University of Washington to head the Indian Student division. His first task was to recruit and counsel Indian students.

At that time, Washington boasted a full-blood Cherokee role model named Sonny Sixkiller, who was their star quarterback. Our daughter was then a student at the University, and a friend of Sonny.

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Sonny Sixkiller at the University of Washington

Working with the BIA offices who handled funding, Emmett invited outstanding Indian students from their high schools on weekends when home games were planned. They toured various Departments in which they expressed interest after which they went to the football game. Emmett said “The plan worked in interesting students to go to college. If not to Washington, then to some other college.”

Emmett’s effectiveness brought him to the attention of the Department of Education for the State of Washington and he was hired as the first Supervisor of Indian Education for the State. This gave him a greater opportunity to work more closely with the Indian communities.

“I believed that parent involvement in education at the elementary and secondary level must be increased, and I knew first hand the peril of dropping out, the limitations of purely vocational training, and the need for solid educational grounding if Indians were ever going to be able to attend college and assume positions of leadership in society.”

The first great “Paddle To Seattle” in 1989 that Emmett conceived and coordinated was the Native American contribution to the Washington State Centennial. It was a celebration of Indian culture, and through the annual canoe races, it has culminated in well over 100 canoes from various Northwest tribes participating each year.

Emmett’s daughter, Marylin has been heavily involved in the races, working tirelessly with participants all over the State. She is currently a Seattle Delegate to the City of Perugia, Italy. Emmett’s son, Marvin, is a Professor of Indian Art at the University of Washington and at the University of Alaska and an artist whose massive sculptures can be seen in many places around the world.

Marvin Oliver
“Spirit of the Future” Public sculpture by Marvin Oliver, in Perugia, Italy.

Orca by Marvin Oliver

“Mystical Journey” at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, 26’Steel and Glass suspended sculpture by Marvin Oliver

Emmett’s is a spirit venture, drawing on the past and enlightening the future. His innermost being believes you cannot teach someone you do not love.

Emmett Oliver
Emmett Oliver at 101, with two of his granddaughters at end of 2014 Paddle to Seattle