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Paulette Lewis Walks On

Native American Living Legacy Award winner and Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians officer Paulette Lewis walks on at the age of 55.
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She served as an officer of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians for 16 years, was honored with a Native American Living Legacy Award, helped create a nonprofit that funds leukemia research, and was the first female journeyperson sprinkler fitter in San Diego County.

Paulette Agnes Lewis stepped down in December 2000 as an officer of the Viejas Band. She had helped the tribe when resources were scarce, before gaming gave the tribe a needed economic lift. She was an officer when Viejas Casino first opened in 1991, a destination that has since been voted Best Local Casino 11 years in a row by the San Diego Best Contest.

“Ms. Lewis spent nearly two decades committed to improving the quality of life on the reservation,” states a biography of Lewis on the Women’s International Center (WIC) website. WIC honored her with a Native American Living Legacy Award. “Many of her accomplishments have had broad-sweeping impacts for tribal members.”

The biography notes how she was instrumental in developing fire and emergency services, creating a health care program for tribal members and strengthening tribal autonomy.

“She fostered major improvements to the infrastructure of the tribe to ensure clean drinking water and proper disposal of wastewater,” states the biography. “She also played a key role in helping protect the environment through the creek restoration project.”

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All her work wasn’t just for the tribe though. When her daughter, Jennifer, became fatally ill with leukemia, she helped create Jennifer’s Circle of Life, a nonprofit that raises funds for leukemia research, testing of Native Americans for transplant matches and provides financial support for those suffering from the disease.

Lewis sought a non-traditional and challenging career before working for the tribe; she was indentured as a sprinkler fitter apprentice in the mid-1980s, which later led to her becoming the first female journeyperson sprinkler fitter in the county. This experience in the building industry ended up helping her later in life when she took over responsibility for the construction of new homes on the Viejas Reservation.

With so many accomplishments, many were sad when she, at 55 years old, walked on July 28.

“She was a nurturing and generous woman who was full of life and loved by all,” states her obituary.

A number of friends who will miss her signed her online guestbook, one said: “We will always appreciate the genuine love and compassion you have demonstrated in your words and actions. You are such an inspirational woman to sooo many people. We love and miss you and wish you peace on your spiritual journey.”

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