Farewell To Two Who Shaped Native Culture
Thirty years ago Arizona State University professors told Arthur to “go home” because older Native American women couldn’t cope with the rigors of law school. Arthur who had children and a husband ignored that advice.
Not only did she earn a law degree, she shaped federal Indian law and became the Navajo Nation’s first woman attorney. Last year, she was appointed the chief justice of the Navajo Nation.
She was the first Navajo woman to graduate from ASU Law School in 1974. She earned her BA degree from New Mexico State University in 1965.
When she was appointed attorney general in 1983, she expanded her own staff within the tribe’s Justice Department rather than hiring high-priced outside layers as her predecessors had done.
She and her staff stood up to a giant uranium mining company over a tax dispute in 1985. At issue was whether the tribe had the power to tax businesses that operated on reservations. They won the case and Native governments were allowed to tax reservations businesses.
“Winning that case could have given her the ticket to a law firm anywhere in the country,” said John Echohawk, executive director of the Native Rights Fund in Boulder, Colorado,” but she chose to return to the Navajo nation. Her commitment to help the tribe was very strong.”
Arthur was 62 when she died on November 27th of pancreatic cancer at the Fort Defiance Indian Health Service Hospital.
In October, Swanson’s painting “Women of the Dineh” formed a huge banner that hung outside the Phoenix Art Museum, promoting the Cowboy Artists of American 39th annual exhibit.
“It was one of the last paintings he ever created”, said Steve Todd, chairman of the 2004 CAA exhibition. “He never got to see it but it was a fitting tribute. He painted and produced a magnificent show and every piece sold.”
Swanson, a Carefree resident, had contracted multiple myeloma – cancer of the blood plasma cells and died of pneumonia on December 17th. He was 67.
He was recognized and renowned for depictions of various cultures. But It was the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo cultures that he captured in his very special way.
“He respected his subjects, the Navajo people, and they trusted him,” Todd acknowledged. ‘He painted them honestly and proudly.”
Members of a Navajo family he had painted attended his memorial service in northeast Phoenix and followed the casket into the church covering it with a traditional chief’s blanket.
Arthur will long be remembered for shaping federal Indian law and Swanson for his dramatic light and jewel-like colors which conveyed a deep, spiritual interpretation of Native lives.
This article has been edited for length and content from two December 2004 stories in The Arizona Republic bylined Betty Reid and Dolores Tropiano.
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