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8:04 PM Tue, Oct. 23rd

Yavapai tribe leader joins Arizona Women's Hall of Fame

The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe traces many of its most important milestones back to one leader: its late President Patricia McGee.

So it's no surprise that she soon will be joining her grandmother, the late Chieftess Viola Jimulla, in the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame.

After McGee's mother died at a young age, Jimulla raised McGee and her siblings. McGee spent many hours listening to conversations between her grandmother and local museum founder Sharlot Hall, another Hall of Fame member.

McGee's family will accept her award during a ceremony at the Arizona House of Representatives in Phoenix Monday.

McGee was a fixture in the tribe's leadership for decades. She was president from 1972 to 1988, then again in 1990 to 1994, the year she died. She also served as vice president four years, and was the general manager and secretary-treasurer before that.

"She helped her tribe achieve some economic means to carry out its tribal government and other developmental opportunities," wrote then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in a letter accompanying the Hall of Fame nomination. "She had integrity and self-reliance."

At the time of her death, the Arizona Inter Tribal Council's executive director called her a national leader in smaller American Indian tribes' efforts to maintain their sovereignty.

"If you gave her a job to do, she did it and wanted to do it well," McGee's brother Ted Vaughn recalls.

Time Magazine featured McGee in an article about successful Indian economic development efforts.

She secured a $1.2 million government grant, persuaded the City of Prescott to issue $8.5 million in municipal bonds, then hired Phoenix developer Bill Grace to build the Prescott Resort hotel and conference center in 1988. Grace threw in another $3 million.

In 1992 McGee signed the first Indian gaming compact with the state, so Bucky's Casino could become part of the Prescott Resort.

She leased another part of the reservation to Grace so he could build the Frontier Village Shopping Center.

She also negotiated the tribe's water settlement with the federal government and Prescott.

President Richard Nixon appointed her to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education.

That position helped her successful efforts to bring education programs to the tribe, her sister Darlene Ogo wrote in part of the Hall of Fame nomination package.

Fluent in the Yavapai language, McGee was instrumental in producing the first gathering of Yuman-speaking people in Prescott and the first international meeting of Pai tribes, according to the Hall of Fame nomination submitted by long-time Prescott activist Elisabeth Ruffner, a friend of McGee's.

McGee was half Hualapai, and now her nephew Charlie Vaughn is the president of that tribe.

Under McGee's leadership, the Yavapai Tribe also started a para-archaeology training program for tribal members to help find evidence of the tribe's oral traditions.

Vaughn remembers stepping in to help his sister preserve the Yavapai language when she became ill. When she died, he carried on the legacy.

"I'm trying to stabilize and preserve the culture," Vaughn said. "I'm finding out more about our people through the language."

McGee's niece Linda Ogo also teaches the Yavapai language as the tribe's language arts and media coordinator.

McGee came up with an ingenious idea to train tribal members in the construction industry by hiring them to build tribal homes, Vaughn recalled.

McGee saw economic development as a way for the tribe to reach other goals, such as the preservation of the small tribe's cultural heritage that her grandmother also emphasized.

Perhaps one of the few goals that McGee didn't accomplish was the construction of a cultural center. She talked about it in a local newspaper interview.

"We hope to have a cultural center, a place to go to know where we came from," McGee said, calling it a way to "recapture what we can of the past and bring it into the knowledge of our children."

She envisioned tribal members displaying their traditional artistic talents at the center. She also envisioned an adjacent outdoor amphitheater for dances.

Today, the cultural center and amphitheater of McGee's dreams is under construction next to the tribe's resort at the intersection of highways 69 and 89.

And McGee's nephew, Bobby Ogo, is a member of the tribal council that made her dream a reality.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com