American Indian Rights Activist Walks On

Agnes Dill, a renowned educator and lifelong proponent of American Indian rights passed away March 17. She was 98.

Edging close to a century of life, Dill filled many of those years working for causes close to her heart. In May 2010, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of New Mexico. In recent years she was recognized as a Santa Fe Living Treasure.

Dill, Isleta/Laguna Pueblo, was born on June 23, 1913 to an Isleta mother and Laguna father. As a child she spent time on both pueblos prior to attending Albuquerque Indian School.

Recognizing the value in a good education at a young age, she went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and art history from New Mexico Highlands University in 1937. She spent the early years of her career teaching at Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools in Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, Dill met and married her Isleta Pueblo husband, Clarence. The couple settled in Vinita, Oklahoma, where they operated a museum and trading post for nearly 20 years. When her husband grew ill from emphysema, the couple returned to their ancestral home on the Isleta Pueblo in 1965.

Clarence passed away five years later. During an interview with Indian Country Today in May 2010, she recalled the difficult task of facing life without her beloved partner.

“He was such a wonderful man and we had a great marriage,” she said.

She never remarried after her husband’s death.

“I guess I am still a Dill, a dill pickle,” she quipped.

She coped with the sadness by returning to work in education as a substitute teacher at Isleta Day School, in addition to delving into tribal affairs.

The 1970s would turn out to be a major turning point in her life, and she went on to promote Native causes on a national platform.

She was a founding member of the North American Indian Women's Association (NAIWA) and served as the president from 1973-75.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford appointed her to the National Advisory Council on Women's Education. She traveled the country to set up job and talent banks to encourage both Native and non-Native women to pursue career paths considered non-traditional at the time, such as in medicine, law and business.

“Anything a man was doing, I tried to get women to do,” she said.

While she continued to work on the national stage, she also found time to promote tribal causes close to home.

Dill served on the board of Indian Pueblo Marketing, Inc., the entity that promotes and funds the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

She served on the National Advisory Committee as a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging; worked on promoting opportunities for Pueblo youth; was past president of the New Mexico chapter of the NAIWA; and former director of the New Mexico Indian Council on Aging.

However, in recent years her vision began to deteriorate from Macular degeneration, an eye disorder that damages the center of the macula, located in the retina. She lost the ability to see fine details, and had to give up driving and reading.

Despite the challenges, Dill continued to find avenues to both serve and socialize. The Chamiza Foundation of Sante Fe appointed her as one of their lifetime directors, and she was an active member of the Council of Elders at the University of New Mexico Geriatric Education Center.

Dill’s cousin Randy Pedro said her “aunt” was part of a dynamic group of sisters – Isadora Sarracino, Romalda Shattuck and Veronica Chapman.

Shattuck passed away March 6.

Pedro described the loss of both aunts within a 10 day period as “devastating.”

“Some might say that it was a blessing to have them in our lives for so long, and that is very true, but that too makes it so hard because one gets so used to them being there all the time,” she said.

Pedro described the four sisters as “inseparable” and fondly recalled overhearing their conversations. She said like typical sisters, they had their share of verbal squabbles. And when it involved family history, she found the sisterly debates both comical and educational.

She felt honored to have traveled with the four matriarchs to different events through the years.

“We've traveled to many events, many of which Agnes was the recipient of an award or a noted speaker,” she said. “I have been truly blessed to be born into a family of strong Indian women to show me that whatever I set my mind to, it can be done.”

Even those who got to know Dill in recent years felt graced by her friendship.

Albuquerque-based physician Anthony Fleg said for the past four years, Dill was a mentor and friend to both he and his wife Shannon.

“She had a way of making you feel that you were her role model, even though you knew it was the other way around,” he said.

In addition to losing her sister last month, Dill was preceded in death by her parents, and brothers August and Joe Shattuck.

She is survived by her sisters Sarracino and Chapman, and brother Paul Shattuck Jr.; nephews Woodrow Shattuck and Johnnie Wardlow; nieces Paula Shattuck and Beatrice Shattuck; and numerous grandnieces, grandnephews and cousins.

Dill was laid to rest next to her husband at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.