You Can't Eat Dirt


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In 1952, a wife, mother, and small-business owner living in Downey, California, unexpectedly found herself vice chairman of the Tribal Council for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Within two years, she was chairman of this disadvantaged band in Palm Springs, California, leading the first all-women tribal council in the United States and setting into motion a sequence of events that would alter the destinies and fortunes of her tribe and, ultimately, Native Americans across the nation. You Can't Eat Dirt tells the remarkable story of Vyola J. Ortner and her historic political tenure.

Part autobiography, part biography, the book explains how she led the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in its struggle for political independence and economic development, waging a campaign to maximize the potential of its sole asset - land. Committed to progressive change, Ortner maneuvered through local, state and federal arenas, creating new business opportunities that forever benefited the Agua Caliente and enabled all tribes in the US to shape their own economic futures.

This is the chronicle of a woman's singular journey and of a tribe at the crossroads of history. It includes her first-hand account as a tribal and civic leader, set in a lavishly illustrated volume of photographs and rare documents. It is supplemented with a critical and historical essay on her political work by Diana C. du Pont. A comprehensive chronology offers both a record of Ortner's public life and a selected timeline of important events in Native America. In addition to being an engaging biography of an extraordinary woman, this book is an essential addition to women's studies, the history of Palm Springs, Native American studies, the Agua Caliente Cahuilla, tribal law, and US-Indian relations.

Author: Vyola J. Ortner and Diana C. Du Pont
Publisher: Fan Palm Research Project
Hardcover 262 pages
© 2012

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