Courtesy Hualapai Tribe
Hualapai Tribal Chairwoman Sherry J. Parker-Counts.

Sherry J. Parker-Counts: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Sherry J. Parker-Counts, I'm chairwoman of the Hualapai Tribe.

Where is your tribal community located?

We are from the northwestern part of Arizona. We live on the Grand Canyon and Colorado River.

Where is your tribe originally from?

We roamed about 5 million acres of northwestern Arizona. We traveled in 14 bands of Hualapai

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

The most significant one to me was the tribe's forced relocation, escape, and return to our lands, which we memorialize on April 21 of every year with the La Paz Run. In 1874 the Hualapai were taken into captivity by the U.S. Cavalry and were forced to walk to La Paz, Arizona, near present-day Ehrenburg, which was about 200 miles away from home. During this forced walk many elderly and many children were overtaken by illness and starvation and died along the way. The people were kept in a one-square-mile encampment for a year, after which time the remaining Hualapai ran back home.

They endured this run to ensure Hualapai’s existence today. I am in awe every year as we make the run (I drive every year) and I thank them all for the sacrifice they made for all of us.

How is your tribal government set up?

We have nine Tribal Council members’ positions, which include a chairman and vice-chairman.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Traditionally, it is the elders we would ask for direction, but there is nothing formal at this time.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Elections are held every four years.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

A regular Tribal Council meeting is held within the first 10 days of the month according to our constitution. Special council meetings can be scheduled as needed.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

My responsibilities include overseeing 22 tribal departments, working alongside the vice-chairman. I answer calls from the community. I also attend local, state, and federal meetings as needed. I facilitate all meetings for the Tribal Council and address any emergency issues that may arise.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

I have had a rough life but have managed to come through okay. In my life many experiences have caused me to be an empathetic leader, knowing and living through the usual drinking, partying, and lack of goals for life that come from living on the reservation.

The greatest impact on my life has been from wanting to die to being born again by faith in Jesus Christ and having a reason to live. After my born again experience, I have gone through many changes. The preparation for leadership of serving as pastor of a church for 20 years has really provided the strength to bring hope to the Hualapai.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

I would have to say my foster mother, Ruby. She was a strong woman and instilled values in me along with love and discipline. Though I have not seen her in many years, I remember the way she cared for me and just her ability to help me be confident in myself. There have been many others along the way, but she stands out most in my mind and heart.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

As a matter of fact my father, Mr. Rupert Parker, was a chairman of the tribe back in the 1950s.

Approximately how many members are in the Hualapai Tribe?

About 2,330 at present.

What are the criteria to become a member?

You must to be one-quarter Hualapai to be enrolled.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

About 70 percent of our community speaks the Hualapai language.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

We are the proud owners of the Grand Canyon West, the home of the Skywalk. Since we own 108 miles of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon we have a resort that overlooks these two amazing sites. We recently opened the Diamond Bar Road, which makes getting to our resort a better experience. We have the awesome Skywalk that makes it possible for you to look 4,000 feet down to the floor of the Grand Canyon. Under our business, Grand Canyon Resort Corporation, we manage our Hualapai Lodge on Route 66, the Hualapai River Runners outfitters, and a store and gas station. We are successful in our businesses, and it all goes into providing resources to the Hualapai people.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.

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