- Family members credit her with improving life dramatically on their
rugged, mountainous reservation through the introduction of electricity
and phone service just a few years ago.
Tribal leaders praise her for working
to preserve the heritage of tribes across Southern California, and
scholars praise her tireless efforts to teach others the history
of her people and to record it.
On Saturday, dozens of fans of Katherine
Siva Saubel gathered to honor the 82-year-old Cahuilla Indian woman
as she received the Chancellor's Medal at UC Riverside.
Saubel said she was in shock over the
award and was surprised to learn her admirers had written so many
letters on her behalf to get the medal.
"I'm really rich in family and poor
in money," she said after David Warren, the university's acting
chancellor, hung the medal and its wide ribbon around her neck.
Saubel, chairwoman of the impoverished
Los Coyotes tribe in northern San Diego County, has traveled around
the world teaching about the culture of her people and their ancient
language, Cahuilla. She co-founded the Malki Museum of Indian history
at the Morongo Indian reservation near Banning, founded a press
that has produced extensive scholarly works on tribal culture, and
has testified in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. as an expert on
Indian culture and history.
"She is a unique, one-of-a-kind,
fantastic kind of person," Warren said before giving Saubel
the medal. "I hope (the medal) will draw attention to her work
and the importance of her work being carried on by future generations."
University officials chose to dedicate
an entire day to honoring Saubel after Warren decided to bestow
the medal on her based on letters from multiple faculty members
Indians from across Southern California
traveled to see the tribal elder receive the University of California
system's highest honor, which was awarded to former President Gerald
Ford, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Secretary
of State Colin Powell.
Scholars and speakers with ties to the
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs and the Pechanga
Band of LuiseÄno Indians lectured for three hours about the
need to revitalize Indian heritage, and praised Saubel's contributions
to that end.
An invitation-only lunch, complete with
Indian breads and other traditional foods, took place outdoors as
a musician played a wind instrument before about 200 admirers, including
community members and UCR faculty.
Saubel was elected in December 1997 as
her tribe's leader and has overseen the installation of phone service
and electricity on her reservation thanks to the donations of three
San Diego County tribes.