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Yavapai Prescott elder to receive 6th Annual Spirit of the Heard Award

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PHOENIX – Ted Vaughn, Yavapai, an elder of the Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe and a Prescott resident, has been chosen as the recipient of the 6th Annual Spirit of the Heard Award. The ceremony will be held Oct. 2 at 9 a.m. in the Steele Auditorium at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

During the ceremony, Vaughn will be presented with a Pendleton blanket, a plaque and a turquoise necklace, and he will also be honored in a special photo exhibit at the west entrance to the Steele Auditorium.

Each year, the Heard Museum’s Board of Trustees American Indian Advisory Committee honors an individual who has demonstrated personal excellence either individually or as a community leader.

“The Heard Museum is honored to recognize the lifetime achievements of Mr. Ted Vaughn and his grassroots efforts to preserve Yavapai language and culture,” said Heard Museum Director Frank Goodyear Jr. “Mr. Vaughn truly merits this prestigious award.”

“Mr. Vaughn was chosen, in part, because he has dedicated his life to preserving the language and culture of his tribe,” said Wayne Mitchell, Mandan//Hidatsa/Arikara, chairman of the Heard’s American Indian Advisory Committee. “He is dedicated to continuing the important task of advocating for and practicing the Yavapai language and culture, and to ensuring that the next generation continues this vital work. He is truly a role model for Indian communities and an example to others that American Indian traditions enrich all of society.”

For more than 16 years, Vaughn has been a grassroots leader in the effort of retaining and growing Yavapai language fluency. Vaughn is one of the leading grassroots indigenous language teachers in the United States. He taught Yavapai from a building that was his grandparents’ home and his childhood home, which he renovated using his own money. He charged nothing for this service. Vaughn has also conducted and is continuing to conduct language research. He accomplished this with virtually no tribal resources, instead using his own resources.

Even during his first career, Vaughn was an advocate for tribal peoples. He worked for the IHS driving patients back and forth from Peach Springs to Phoenix, and he regularly put in 12-hour days. “There must be an easier way of doing this,” he thought. So he took flying lessons and earned a commercial pilot’s license as well as a helicopter pilot’s license with the goal of saving the agency money by saving labor costs. Today, IHS regularly utilizes air transportation to quickly transport patients from remote tribal communities to specialty care in urban areas.

Vaughn also set up the radiology department at the Peach Springs clinic using surplus Army equipment, and learned to run the machines. This saved patients a two-hour drive to and from Kingman.

He was one of the first participants in the ongoing project to develop a standardized written format for Yavapai words in a phonetic format. He works with elders, language experts and academics equally in his quest to ensure the survival of Yavapai fluency.

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Vaughn is a longtime participant and co-founder of the Yuman Language Summit, which brings together tribal members, academics and interested members of the public in a yearly conference that discusses best practices in preserving the Yuman language and its offshoots. The Yuman language branch includes the Yavapai, Hualapai, Havasupai, Pai Pai, Ipai, Tipai, Kumeyaay, Cocopah, Quechan and Mohave languages and tribes.

Vaughn resisted computers for years until he attended one of the American Indian Language Development Institutes at the University of Arizona in Tucson; after he learned the capabilities of computer power, he purchased one and has been educating himself ever since.

“It’s a tool that can be adapted by any tribe in stabilizing and preserving their language,” he said. “If we are to preserve the language, it needs to be documented, and the computer is the way to do that.” He has even developed an interactive computer software program as a Yavapai language education aid.

Vaughn recently initiated a Yavapai Language Summit, where elders, staff anthropologists, cultural resource managers and other people meet monthly to discuss how best to preserve Yavapai language fluency within the three Yavapai tribes in Arizona. The summits are also the setting for recording elders’ thoughts, stories and personal histories in Yavapai for future use by tribal members.

He’s also involved in an initiative to identify all places visited and/or inhabited by Yavapais in pre-contact times. This initiative will enable the Yavapai tribes to ensure that their interests will be considered when artifacts or burials are discovered as people move further out into the open deserts.

He is also one of the founders of the Pai Youth Camp, which led to the Yuman Language Summits, founded as part of a language coalition and the Gathering of the Pais, an annual cultural weekend gathering of the Pai tribes.

Vaughn is the grandson of Chieftess Viola Jimulla, the first female leader of the Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe and her husband Chief Sam Jimulla, and the brother of the late Yavapai Prescott Tribal President Patricia McGee. McGee was also a co-founder of the Yuman Language Summits, of which Vaughn took charge after she fell into poor health. Both ladies were inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame. In fact, Jimulla raised Vaughn, McGee and their other siblings after their mother passed away. Many in the Arizona American Indian community believe this family history has given Vaughn the strength and moral courage to tackle the issues of language and cultural preservation. The legacy lives on in his son Charles Vaughn, Hualapai/Yavapai, who formerly served as chairman of the Hualapai Tribe.

Ted Vaughn has been a keynote speaker at Native language conferences across the nation, including the Conference on Stabilizing Indigenous Languages in Louisville, Ky., and the Yuman Language Summits, and he is a regular speaker at Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott.

The Spirit of the Heard award ceremony also serves as one of the official kick-off events for the 2009 Native American Recognition Days, held each year in the Phoenix metropolitan area to celebrate Native life and culture.

This event is free and open to the public. For more details, call (602) 252-8840.