Riley, Mary Velasquez (1908–1987)

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Riley, Mary Velasquez (1908–1987)

First female Apache tribal council leader. Born in 1908; died in 1987.

Born in 1908, Mary Velasquez Riley was raised in Arizona on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, and in 1958 became the first woman elected to the tribal council. She remained in a leadership role for the next 20 years, promoting economic development and independence. Her concern for the destiny of her tribe spurred her to lobby Congress for support of the tribe's efforts to maintain its self-respect and heritage. As a result, the Apaches developed the Sunrise Ski Resort and the Fort Apache Timber Company. Both enterprises were wholly owned and operated by the tribe, and because of Riley's shrewd sense of business management both also became multimillion-dollar entities. The tribe acknowledged her tremendous contribution by naming the Mary V. Riley Tribal Educational Center in Whiteriver, Arizona, in her honor. She died in 1987.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland