Annie Dodge Wauneka
(1910 - 1997)
Tse níjikíní -- Honey-Combed Rock (Cliff Dwelling) People Clan

Annie Dodge Wauneka, daughter of Henry Chee Dodge, became known for the improvements she got through political channels and through her radio program in the unsanitary home environment that the Navajos were accustom to, which caused Tuberculosis, Infant Deaths, and Alcoholism, among her people. She also advocated improvements in education and the general health of the Navajo. She was honored with many awards, probably the most remembered being the Presidential Medal of Freedom Medal she got from U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963.

Annie Dodge Wauneka was one of the highly respected and influential members of the Navajo Tribe from the 1950s to the 1980s. She is the daughter of Henry Chee Dodge, the last Chief of the Navajos, and the Tribal Council’s first Navajo Tribal Chairman, serving in that office at different times a total of more than eight years.

Mrs. Wauneka has carried forward the ideals and accomplishments of her father, whom she greatly admired and whom trained her well. As a member of the Tribal Council since 1951, and as an extremely successful worker in her chosen fields, she has received numerous high honors and awards while working for and earning the love of her people.

Representing the Klagetoh area of District Seventeen, she and her husband, George, lived in a comfortable home built of sandstone next door to the school at Klagetoh, about fifteen miles directly south of Ganado. A tall, solidly built woman of impressive carriage and mien, she was respected wherever she when, whether it be to a local chapter house, to the tribal headquarters at Window Rock, to a meeting at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff or to a conference in Washington, D.C.

Annie was born in 1910 in the Sawmill area of the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. As soon as she could walk and run about actively, she did what most of the little Navajo girls on the Reservation did, she helped to herd her father’s sheep until it was time to start her schooling.

During those early years she learned a deep love and appreciation for Mother Nature and for all living things, as well as for the Rain Gods upon whom those things were dependent for moisture. The sheep and goats were her favorite animals but she also liked her father’s horses. Henry Chee Dodge owned large numbers of sheep, goats, cattle and horses.

She began her education at the age of eight when she was enrolled at the Bureau of Indian Affairs Boarding School at Fort Defiance, Arizona. She was the youngest of four Dodge children, two boys and two girls, Thomas, Ben Mary, and Annie. The others, at the time, were attending school off the reservation.

The little girl had some sad and trying experiences during her first years in school. The terrible flu epidemic of World War I killed hundreds of Navajos, and the Fort Defiance school was hit very hard. Some pupils went home and never returned. Annie contacted the disease, but mildly, and she remained at the school.

There, with death rates high, the only nurse was Mrs. Domatilda Showalter, and most of her helpers were seriously ill. In the midst of the trouble and turmoil, Mrs. Showalter taught Annie, a pupil in the first grade, to clean and service the kerosene lanterns every morning so that they could be lighted at night and placed in the halls and rooms of the hospital.

Mrs. Wauneka said, “Even though I was just a little girl, I did what I could to help in those terrible days.” And she added, “I’ll never forget that experience. It remains very clear in my memory, even today.”

During those early years, after the cold, hard winters passed and the warm spring weather came, Annie usually had to leave school to help with the lambing. She returned just before the terms ended, which caused the child to miss many weeks of learning.

To complicate even further Annie’s early efforts at education, an epidemic of Trachoma (contagious granular infection of the eyelids) struck the Fort Defiance school the year she was in the fourth grade. Those who had not been exposed, including Annie, were sent to the St. Michaels Catholic Mission, about ten miles away, until it was safe for them to return. The school then was made, she had said, into an official Trachoma treatment center.

A year later, after she had completed the fifth grade, her father sent Annie to join two older children who were attending the Albuquerque Indian School. Henry Chee Dodge wanted them to be together, knowing that the others would take care of the child.

Misfortune, or perhaps adventure, followed her. The train carrying Navajo children from Gallup, New Mexico, stopped at Laguna, New Mexico, to pick up Pueblo Indian children. It was Annie’s first train ride. While the train waited for the Pueblos to get on, another train, which was running late, rammed into the rear of the children’s train. The boys and girls, most of them badly shaken, were taken off and told to wait under nearby trees. No one was killed or seriously injured. Darkness fell, and Annie, thinking that the world was indeed a strange and sad place, sat close to the piled-up luggage all night with nothing to eat. Finally, as dawn came, the tracks were cleared and another train took the children to Albuquerque.

When spring arrived that year, Annie, now far away from home, was not called upon to take care of the lambs. But she often thought about them and wished that she could have helped.

This big school, run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in a large city, was very different from what she had known at Fort Defiance. The difference was especially true of the children. She soon learned that there were other American Indian tribes which she had not even known of. She had thought that she would meet only Navajo children, but wherever she went, not only did she find other kinds of American Indians, she learned that the different tribes could not speak nor understand each other’s language. Each American Indian child had to speak English in order to talk together and to get along in school.

Annie made friends quickly, her closest chums throughout her years in Albuquerque being Pueblo girls. Annie also learned English easily. She also tried various athletic activities including basketball, but the only one in which she really succeeded was tennis.

In 1923, when Annie was thirteen years old, her father was selected as the first Navajo Tribal Chairman of the newly organized Navajo Tribal Council. In fulfilling the duties of that new office, Henry Chee Dodge was very active from the beginning. Early in his term, he took other Navajo leaders with him and visited the Albuquerque Indian School. With Annie in the audience, they talked to the students, stressing the need for education ad how it would help the Indians. The little daughter listened to her father very carefully, and since then, she has been a strong champion of education and its special importance to the Navajos.

Annie continued in school until 1928. Then, completion of the eleventh grade ended her formal schooling. She did not graduate from school, but that did not end her education. She always had a great desire to learn, and her education had continued through out her life. Much of it came from her father, Navajo Tribal Chairman Henry Chee Dodge.

Back home, the eighteen year old young lady picked up the chores that she had left when she went to Albuquerque. Mostly, she tended the livestock, spending much of her time herding the sheep and goats. She says, “That is why I was called the family herder.”

Her father had two big ranches, one at Sonsela, near Crystal, New Mexico, and the other at Tanner Springs, Arizona, south of Klagetoh.

In October 1929, Annie was married to George Wauneka. The next year Chee Dodge relocated the young couple from Sonela to the Tanner Springs ranch where he had his cattle. So Annie and her husband took on the job of being her father’s “cattlemen”. In was another new environment for her, this time, as she says, “with no mountains”. She had to make new friendships with the Navajos in that area. In addition, she and George had to meet the problems of being ranchers.

Chee Dodge served from 1923 to 1928 as Chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council, when it consisted of twelve members and was known as the Business Council, and again from 1944 to 1947,when he died in office on January 7, 1947. Annie, working closely with him, learned much from her father. She also began to understand the poverty and other problems of her people, especially, in those early years, she witnessed the bitterness caused by the Stock Reduction Program of the 1930s. She later though of it as “the most delicate and most disastrous situation that the Navajo leaders and people have faced since the Long Walk and virtual imprisonment at Bosque Redondo (Fort Sumner) in New Mexico.”

Annie often heard her father discuss and argue the reasons for and against the Stock Reduction Program, always “wisely and intelligently and always on behalf of his people”. She attended many meetings where the Chairman made speeches about the Navajos’ problems and about possible solutions. She noticed that his talks often began with comments about the hardships endured during the captivity and that he almost always referred to suffering and poverty caused by the Navajos lack of education. She noticed also, that he tried his best to tell the people that education was, and is, the key to their future.

While accompanying her father she was shy at first. But, he was determined and insistent that she too should be a voice for the Navajos, and soon she was doing a good job. Henry Chee Dodge told her to respect her elders and the memory of the old Navajos who had gone before them. He said, “If it were not for them and their bravery and fortitude, you would not be here.”

He told her that she should not be afraid to interpret for the people when they were in contact with non-Navajos. He was very strict with her, insisting that she help her people by thinking harder about the exact meanings of words and expressions so that she could give true and correct translations to non-Navajos and to Navajos.

She watched her father’s leadership, and she studied his methods of interpreting for the Navajo Tribal Council. She knew that he had been one of the first official Interpreters between the Anglos and the Navajos, and she saw how his deep understanding was paying off in his work with the council and in efforts by him and other leaders to solve tribal problems.

Annie often would attend council sessions with her father Henry Chee Dodge. Afterward, at home, they would carefully discuss the proceedings that had taken place and the arguments that had been made.

Gradually she learned to understand how one works for an idea. She learned about politics. Her father trusted her in her work with the people and in the way she and her husband managed the livestock and property at Tanner Springs. Her behavior and sound common sense encouraged him to give her more responsibilities in all of their projects and endeavors.

Annie always had been close to her father, but during his years as Chairman she became even closer, especially during the final days of his illness. One of his last pieces of advice to Annie and the other three children was: “Do not let my straight rope fall to the ground. If you discover it dropping, quickly one of you pick it up and hold it aloft and straight.”

At first, the statement puzzled Annie, but soon she interpreted it to mean simple: “Do not allow my ideals and leadership to suffer or fall to the ground.”

Since her father’s passing in 1947, Mrs. Wauneka has done her best to follow his example and his wishes; and she decided how she could handle the rope so that, as she had said, it “will remain straight away from the ground”. Over the years she has learned that one failure, or even a half-dozen failures, should not be the end of trying. She knew that everyone must try again. And she had the spirit to do just that.

Shortly after her father, Henry Chee Dodge died, Annie geared herself to work for the Chapter, to help at Chapter meetings and to act as Interpreter when needed. Soon she was elected Secretary and Interpreter for the Chapter, one of her tasks being to interpret for her people in the hospitals. Rapidly she proved her leadership abilities. Then early in 1951, only four years after her father’s death, she was elected to the Navajo Tribal Council, winning over two men. She took her seat that year.

Mrs. Wauneka was the first woman member of the Navajo Tribal Council, representing in District Seventeen, the Klagetoh and Wide Ruins precincts.

She and her husband by this time were the sole owners of the Dodge estate at Tanner Springs; they were considered wealthy Ranchers. In the election in the fall of 1954 they both, husband and wife, were candidates for the seat on the Navajo Tribal Council. The wife won, and Annie had served ever since. She had served from 1954 until her death in the 1980s, serving over seven terms and over twenty-nineteen years.

Most women are naturally concerned with home and health, and Mrs. Wauneka had a strong interest in these phases of life. Appropriately, in 1951, very soon after taking office, she was appointed as Chairman of the Tribal Council’s Health and Welfare Committee. Immediately she became more active than ever in her work for the Navajos.

Then in 1956, the Surgeon General of the United States organized the Advisory Committee on Indian Health. He invited Mrs. Wauneka to become a member.

For many years Tuberculosis had been an ever-increasing menace to the health of the Navajo people. Statistics showed that deaths from that infectious disease were becoming more and more common. It is no wonder, therefore, that Annie concentrated her intelligence and her energies in fighting it.

If she was called a crusader, it originally was because of her determined battle against Tuberculosis. She became known throughout the length and breadth of the United States for her work.

The Western Tuberculosis Association held its annual conference in Las Vegas in September 1962, and this Navajo wife and mother was the guest of honor. A plaque was presented to her in recognition of her efforts to free her people from the illness.

She was not content to rest, however, after being so honored. She felt that her job had only begun. She went out among the people and observed and asked questions and sought solutions. She kept a check on persons who supposedly had been cured.

She found many cases when Navajos were no longer infected with Tuberculosis. She also found that those people had returned home to the same living conditions. She reasoned that the conditions, among them, poor nutrition and lack of adequate sanitation, contributed heavily to contracting and maintaining the disease.

She taught and encouraged better health habits. She advised the people to improve their home conditions. Only by doing those things, she explained, could they expect to stay well. Then she set about getting money through the Navajo Tribal Council to make home improvements.

Little change could be expected immediately. But she hoped that she could convince the patients and the Tribe in general that dirt floors should be a thing of the past. She made it plain that sanitation could be improved by building toilets a sensible distance from the hogans. Also, she taught that improvement of the water supply was necessary to good health and that, whenever possible, the people should have running water in their homes.

Annie knew, because she had done it herself, that most Navajo families had, and still have to, haul their water a mile, or much farther, in large metal drums. She knew that the water was not always of the best quality and that impurities may worsen it before it is used. Annie knew that it would be difficult to improve the situation because of the scarcity of water sources. This was true in spite of the fact that much of the illness of her people could be traced to the water supply.

The water problem became one of her main concerns in the Navajo Tribal Council's activites as well as in her campaigning. Yet one important step soon was gained, the President of the United States signed a bill that authorized the U.S. Public Health Service to construct, improve and extend sanitary facilities for the American Indians.

Later, money was provided from tribal funds for Navajo families which wanted to follow the “off-the-dirt-floor” health provision.

As a result of this and other recent legislation and financial help, many new Anglo-American styled homes were built on the reservation. They were neat, compact, rectangular, one-story concrete-brick or wooden houses, usually with bright roofs and concrete or wooden floors. Small outhouses are noticeable at proper distances from the homes. Frequently, a hogan would stand nearby, sometimes occupied by one or more elderly members of the kinship group who preferred to live there, and sometimes used for ceremonial purposes. Many Navajos do not want to forget their past.

The health campaigns pressed by Mrs. Wauneka had produced results. Not in most of the past hundred years had there been as much improvement in general health conditions of the Navajo Tribe as had occurred within the 60s and 70s according to a former Director of Field Services for the Navajos.

Among the honors that had been bestowed to Mrs. Wauneka are the following:

In 1958, she was selected by the Arizona Women’s Press Club as Arizona Woman of Achievement for the year. For her accomplishments she also received the Josephine B. Hughes Memorial Award for promoting the health and welfare of her people and of the country as a whole.

Another award that year, citing her for meritorious service to others, was given by the All-Arizona All-Indian Basketball organization.

In September 1959, she was presented the Annual Indian Achievement Award, a handsome silver medal. It was given at the yearly meeting of the Indian Council Fire, a national organization with headquarters in Chicago.

Dr. James R. Shaw, when he was Chief of the U.S. Public Health Service, Division of Indian Health, praised Mrs. Wauneka as the nation's most outstanding Indian in the field of Indian health. He said, “No one individual has done more than Mrs. Wauneka to foster a wider understanding of health among the Indian people. No one has encouraged them more to take an active part in the health services”.

Reports in the 1960s by the U.S. Public Health Service indicated that the death rate of Navajo infants had decline more than twenty-five per cent in recent years, and the rate of tuberculosis infection had declined by thirty-five per cent. The life span of Navajos had increased also, according to Mrs. Wauneka.

In 1960, a new seventy-five bed hospital was dedicated at Shiprock, New Mexico, and Annie was an honored guest at the ceremony. Other hospitals had been completed or were planned, and the Navajo people found it a little more convenient to be treated in hospitals for most ailments. They were taking advantage of the facilities, and of Annie Wauneka’s advice.

For about two years in 1960-61 the Navajo Councilwoman had a radio program, in Navajo, that reached out to the radio listening but non-reading Navajos. She was not afraid to express her opinions, no matter how unpopular they might be or what her public thought. She discussed health matters, she advised mothers and she campaigned for a sensible approach to the problem of alcohol and the American Indian.

She brought her listeners stories of the many automobile accidents caused by heavy drinking, by both American Indians and Anglos. She told of the hundreds of arrests in towns bordering the Navajo Reservation. She pointed out the poverty and suffering in some Navajo families caused by the drinking habits of the fathers, and sometimes of the mothers as well. She emphasized that money was going to reservation border liquor dealers and to city courts when it should have been spent in improving home conditions and making them more pleasant.

Among her other activities, Mrs. Wauneka long argued in favor of better cooperation between Medicine Men and the U.S. Public Health Service Physicians. She talked with the Navajo Medicine Men about lifesaving modern medicines and methods. She talked with the Anglo-American Doctors, themselves interested in the health of the Navajos. Both sides listened and took advantage of what they had learned. In turn, many physicians listened seriously to Annie’s plea that they understand and appreciate the significance of the Navajo Medicine Men in the lives of the Navajos.

The infant death rate was another matter that caused her great concern. Many babies, who apparently were healthy at birth, died within a short time of Diarrhea and Dysentery. This was particularly true when births occurred in the hogans. The babies’ chances of living were much greater when they were born in hospitals where instructions were given for later care.

Another problem was the lack of proper clothing for the newborn infants. According to Annie, the custom long had been to delay getting clothes for a child until after it was born. This as far as she knows was just a tradition. Often however, a baby merely was wrapped in a strip of blanket and it was likely to contract Pneumonia.

Mrs. Wauneka knew that the mothers were deeply concerned but that they did not know what to do. Then she decided to try to get money for “layettes” through the Navajo Tribal Council. Her plan permitted mothers to go to the hospitals to deliver their babies, knowing that there would be clothes for the little ones before they went home. Her plan was adopted.

Only a woman of good health and abundant energy could stand up under the load that Mrs. Wauneka had carried. Her numerous activities have included service on the New Mexico Governor’s Committee on the Aging, to which she was appointed in 1960, as well as on various health committees to which she has devoted much of her time and continued to do so. In addition, scarcely a week had passed that she was not a speaker at some meeting.

She went to Alaska in 1960 on a combined business and pleasure trip. The business was an Advisory Committee meeting on Indian health problems. It was her first trip so far away from home. She was an old timer, however, when it came to journeys to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

She was one of a group of forty-five Navajos who went to Washington, D.C. in 1961. They testified for the Navajo Tribe on a claim against the government stating positively before the Indian Claims Commission that the government had wrongfully taken several million acres of land from them between 1848 and 1868.

Several of the Indians in the group were more than eighty years old. Some never had been off the Navajo Reservation. It was a journey of excitement and exploration to them. To Annie though, it was just another trip. She had made many such visits to Washington on behalf of her Navajo people. Often she asks for appropriations of money. She has made powerful speeches in efforts to convince Senators, Congressmen, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, that every penny requested is needed urgently.

Three of her pet projects had developed successfully because of her hard work. They were, continued appropriations for infant layettes, home improvements and eye-ear-dental care.

Despite her busy schedule, Wauneka decided to continue her education by attending the University of Arizona, from which she earned a Bachelor's Degree in Public Health. Her alma mater later awarded her an Honorary Doctorate in recognition of her tireless efforts to improve the health and well-being of her people.

And Mrs. Wauneka continued to work for her people, and the joy of her work and her successes had been a satisfactory reward. But one honor and reward topped all others. It was the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. President John F. Kennedy sent her the news by telegram in the fall of 1963, and presentation was made by President Lyndon B. Johnson on December 6, after President Kennedy’s assasination. She was the first Indian of the southwest to be so honored.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom Award is the highest civil honor presented to individuals in peacetime. Only men and women who have made outstanding contributions to the security of the nation, to world peace or to cultural endeavor are considered.

Annie’s interest in the education of her people was second only to her concern for their health. She use to tell her audiences that education was the key to the Navajos’ future. She explained that their success in this ever-changing world would depend on the kind and amount of education they get. And she pointed out that the road would not be easy.

She understood the problems of a Navajo child's first days at an Indian Boarding School. She went through the experiences herself, away from the closeness and protection of her parents. She did not, however, have the language barrier that troubled so many Navajo children.

She was convinced that the full cooperation of the parent was necessary for the children’s happiness and welfare in an Indian Boarding School. She had also argued in favor of a education school system that will enable the pupils to remain close to their parents and to permit the parents to have a close connections with the schools. The parents and the school staffs are responsible, she said, for helping the children adjust to their new environment.

Her interest and labors in behalf of the education of Navajo children had been of immense value, as was shown by the plaque she received at a meeting of the Northwest District Educational Association. Engraved on the plaque it reads: “We honor Mrs. Wauneka, our friend in education.”

On one occasion, when she spoke to the faculty of the Chinle, Arizona, public schools, she said:

In 1969, she was a Grandmother six times and in her late fifties, yet at the time, she could exchange her strenuous program for a quiet existence. She had an extremely active life and had reared nine children (four girls and five boys).

At that time, her most important task was working with other members of the Advisory Committee of the Navajo Tribal Council. The principal business of the Committee was to review and recommend to the Navajo Tribal Council, matters that should be brought up in the Council Meetings. The Committee also acted independently of the Council in certain matters, so that the best interest of the Navajo Tribe may be served.

As an example of the high regard in which she was held, when the Subcommittee on Indian Education of the U.S. Senate held public hearings at Flagstaff, Arizona, on April 6, 1968, Mrs. Wauneka appeared as an unscheduled witness at the specific request of former Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Chairman.

When Senator Kennedy asked her what she though was the single biggest problem in Indian Education, she spoke in her frank, to-the-point manner. She said that she felt that the Bureau of Indian Affairs prevented Indians from becoming sufficiently involved in their own education and that the bureau kept schools from being Indian community centers. Further, she expressed the opinion that the Civil Service protected officials of the B.I.A. do not serve the best interests of the tribal members.

She also condemned the B.I.A. for not allowing the Indian people an adequate voice in the location of schools. The schools on the reservations are built “to keep Congress happy”, she told the committee.

Mrs. Wauneka added that a demonstration school on the reservation, such as the one located at Rough Rock, was a step in the right direction. But she said that the terms of the funding and existence of such schools should be lengthened.

When Mrs. Wauneka walked onto a stage, stately, poised, completely in command of herself, she captivated her audience. At first glance the people saw a picture of beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry and a colorful costume of plush and satin, topped by a face of rare intelligence. The impression deepens to one of respect and admiration as she began to speak. She left no doubt about her feelings. She loved her people and was truly dedicated to the task of helping them become the leaders she knew they would be.

Wauneka continued to provide advice to the tribal council and much-needed information to her people until her death on November 10, 1997, at the age of eighty-seven. Calling her "one of the great Navajo leaders," Navajo President Albert A. Hale summed up the enormous influence she and her work had had on the tribe in her obituary in the Navajo Hopi Observer:

That was Annie Dodge Wauneka!

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