Tessie Williams, Tribal Lifeways Demonstrator, Elder Docent, turned 80 on December 14th. She has long been a leader and representative of culture and tradition for Tamástslikt and the Tribes. She was one of the original tribal employees at the dawn of tribal sovereignty in the 1960’s. She and her colleague, Elizabeth ‘Smitty’ Jones, were the first Community Health Representatives of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. They were among the very first Indian women to take paying jobs outside the home. Because of the dire straits of tribal economies in those days, eminent tribal women were selected for those very entry-level jobs that grew to be community developers, “health-raisers,” and uppity women. Their boss, Bruce Campbell, asked them what kind of training they wanted, and they asked for a class in public speaking. Míshitakway—forevermore, they became spokespersons for their patients, advocates for the people. It was quite a radical concept that Indians would navigate the health care system for other Indians. They built relationships throughout the community and erased obstacles to care for their patients. Tessie became a trainer herself, instructing newly hired Community Health Representatives from all over the nation at the Tucson-area training facility.
Today Mrs. Williams still has passion and compassion, but she has simmered down. She has shared many traditional stories at Tamástslikt. She still makes appearances to talk to children about the rites of passage and the traditional foods. She has always had concern for the young and tells them “Kwálisimnam naknuwi tanam imíim wáwnakshash,” always take care of your body.