Frances Wilbur Stillman
Honored on the Native American Women's Arch by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe.
Frances Wilbur Stillman
Malika Chopek (Ground Squirrel Gathering)
April 3, 1910 Ì± September 30, 1994
Mrs. Frances Wilbur Stillman was the first elected Chairwoman of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. She was born on the Fort Mojave Reservation in 1910 and passed in 1994. She served on the Fort Mojave Tribal Council as Vice-Chairwoman from 1951 through 1956. In 1957 the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe adopted a constitution approved by the Secretary of the Interior, and Mrs. Stillman was the first elected Chairwoman of the Fort Mojave Tribal Council. She was re-elected in 1963.
Mrs. Stillman was raised by her grandparents when her mother died soon after her birth. At the age of six years old she was taken from her grandparents and forced to attend the Fort Mojave boarding school in Mohave Valley, AZ. She often spoke of the harsh treatment the children received, being forced to adopt a military lifestyle, and punishments received for speaking their native language, which was all that they knew. This was a bitter time in her life, forcibly taken from her family because of the federal government's policy of assimilation.
After the Fort Mojave boarding school she continued her education at the Sherman Institute in Riverside, CA. During the summers she worked in the city in family homes tending to children that were not much younger than her. Because of an eye infection she suffered while at Sherman she spent an extra year in the school infirmary. She suffered many months and was only healed when she returned home and a traditional medicine man performed a ceremony on her, curing the infection. Because of the long time she spent in the infirmary she was able to go beyond her class in her education.
When she returned home she lived with her aunt and uncle. Her uncle wanted her to attend the local high school. She was reluctant but he insisted. She was the first Fort Mojave Tribal member to graduate from high school in Needles, CA. And that almost didn't happen. She was called into the principal's office and was told she did not meet all of the requirements to graduate as she was lacking the necessary credit for speaking a foreign language. He asked if she spoke French, Spanish, or German. She said she did not speak any of those languages. He told her he was sorry but she would not be able to graduate with her class. Stunned she turned to leave suddenly she turned back and said: Yes! I do speak a foreign language, English. English is not my native tongue, I learned to speak English. Well, he was certainly surprised by her answer but after thinking it over he told her she was eligible to graduate.
After high school she married Mr. Lute Stillman and had five children which were some of the reasons she did not want to go into politics. But the elders wanted her to take the position, stating that she knew a little of the white man's world and her own Tribal traditions and culture. They also assured her they would assist her with the raising of her family. She took the position and was a dedicated and determined advocate for her people, traveling to Washington, DC, many times on her husband's railroad pass, with very little money and then walking to the meetings in order to inform them of the need for housing, jobs, and services for her people. She began her leadership role assisting her people at the time of the 1940 devastating flood of the reservation due to the dams, when they lost everything - homes, livestock and farms. Later, she worked hard to obtain and protect the tribe's water rights in Los Angeles Courts and in Washington, DC.
In 1965 as Tribal Chairwoman she assisted Dr. Lorraine Sherer, a UCLA Professor, as local coordinator and chief consultant in writing the history of the Mojave people. The first book was 'The Clan System of the Fort Mojave Indians,' and a second book, based on her life story, is called 'Bitterness Road.'
She was a living example of someone who worked hard to aspire and achieve her goals. She never smoked or drank alcohol, she didn't even like to take aspirin. She counseled often on loving all people and taking care of family. She said 'our greatest gift is life, with a good strong mind you can do anything, everything is possible, you can succeed, if you have the belief and faith.'