Ella Gloria Narcho Rumley

Areas of Achievement: 
Community Building
Social Service

Honored By

Honored by: Desert Diamond Casinos
Date submitted: October 24, 2006
Gift: Engraved Paver, Small

Ella Rumley was born in 1923, to Jose Miguel and Theresa Narcho on the Tohono O'odham Nation, at Fresnal Canyon Village. She began her education in San Miguel at the age of five, where she lived with a Presbyterian minister and teacher. By eighth grade, she was attending the Phoenix Indian School. Following her time at North Phoenix High School she attended community college for two years.

Rumley voluntarily enlisted in the Women's Army Corp (WAC) Corps during World War II. Her grandchildren once asked why she joined the Army, she responded, "Because [I] was offered only menial labor jobs when [I] tried to find work, even though [I] was qualified for better positions" (Allen). During this time, she met and married a soldier, William H. Rumley, on March 1, 1945. The couple moved to Tucson after the war and had one son, Darrell.

Leading by example, Ella Rumley "urged generations of fellow tribe members to be proud and stand up for themselves" (Allen). She boldly stood up to the discrimination she faced in the Army and often recounted her experience on a troop train bound for Maryland. She was "told to leave the car full of white troops" (Hughes). They wanted her to ride in the "colored" car; she refused, arguing with the official that she was not colored. She said she would gladly ride in a car for "Indian" troops, but since there was none, she insisted that she would stay put. A close friend and associate, Alison Hughes, often heard Rumley speak of this incident and said, "Ella knew injustice when it was dished out and she stood up to it her entire life" (Allen).

Most of Rumley's life and work involved the people of her nation. From 1958 to 1968, she worked for the Bureau of Ethnic Research (BER) at the University of Arizona. Their focus in the '60s "required collection of genealogical information from residents on each of the seventy occupied villages" of the Tohono O'odham Nation, "a tribal genealogy of 15,000 individuals [that] was completed, computerized, and periodically updated" (Hackenberg).

Then she worked with the Indian Health Service, from 1966 to 1984, as an Equal Employment Officer. She served as "a role model for many Indian women" (Allen). According to Darrell, "She got them to take professional jobs in the health field--managerial and professional jobs. She left a lot of us feeling proud of our Indian heritage. We're trying to do the best we can for our people, and a lot of that is through her efforts" (Allen).

She was an activist and "tireless campaigner" for equal rights, "who did not hesitate to tell city and county officials that too little attention was paid to the needs and rights of the community's Indians" (Allen) Ella Rumley was "an indispensable link with tribal members and the tribal government in Sells;" and "a resource for guidance toward healthcare, scholarship funds, citizenship papers, social security eligibility, and a range of other community services" (Hackenberg). She was "best-remembered for her endless devotion to the needs of off-reservation members of the Tohono O'odham tribe" and "was a permanent interface between the Native Americans in Tucson and the non-Indian majority," as documented by her founding of the Tucson Indian Center and the Miss Papago Nation Pageant (Hackenberg, Allen).

Her community involvement was legendary. Rumley was named to the Tucson Women's Commission, Chairwoman of the American Indian Association of Tucson, President of the Association for Tohono O'odham Affairs, and board member of the national organization of American Indians United (Allen). Rumley also worked with the Committee for Economic Opportunity, the House of Neighborly Service, and the Pio Decimo Center (Allen).

During her long life, Ella Rumley was a regular participant in gourd dancing. She enjoyed sharing in this Kiowa ceremony with other American Indian veterans. The Gourd Dance honors military veterans, their descendants and other prominent individuals of the Native American community, and is a ceremony that connects Native American peoples in their respect for living and past warriors. Rumley was "often honored at these ceremonies for being one of the last WWII Women's Army Corps veterans from the Tohono O'odham Nation" (Anna Rumley). In 2004, Rumley received her final "honor" when she was given a funeral service with full military honors conducted by Tohono O'odham veterans (Allen).

Alison Hughes touched on the impact of this incredible woman on those around her when she said, "There was and always will be only one Ella Rumley. Her contributions and landmarks. They are historic. They are great and good" (Allen).

Written By: Virginia F. Holmes