At first, the name Geneal Anderson doesn't sound like the name of a Native American activist and a tribal chairwoman. But as with so many things Native American, appearances can be very deceiving.
Anderson, 51, passed away on Feb. 7, leaving a void in the ranks of Paiute leadership.
At the same time, she left an indelible legacy.
On Feb. 11 — the night before Anderson's funeral — the Paiute tribe held an all-night "sing" in her honor. Everyone brought a memento. Photos were passed around and people spoke in somber tones of her ability to inspire and direct. Several times during the night she was remembered as a wonderful role model.
In truth, Anderson's gift for leadership was matched only by her gift for diplomacy. A graduate of Brigham Young University, a former LDS missionary and a devout Christian, Anderson could empathize with many points of view and resolve many conflicts because she knew tension firsthand. Her efforts to become an integrated person gave her insights into integration on a larger scale.
As the Paiute chairwoman for 13 years, Anderson served on regional health boards, economic boards and the Governor's Board for the Division of Indian Affairs. She was a champion of cultural development and tribal tradition. She urged her tribe onto center stage at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies where, clad in canary yellow, her tribe made a striking impression.
Anderson's grandest moments, however, came during her work to re-establish the Paiutes as a tribe and re-establish their native lands. In 1954, the U.S. government disbanded the Paiute tribe in a bold effort to force them to assimilate into mainstream culture. The social experiment failed miserably. Finally, on April 3, 1980 — with the help of Sen. Orrin Hatch — Anderson and other tribal members were able to re-group and assume control of territory in five Utah counties.
Now, April 3 is known as "Restoration Day." Paiute elections are held on that day and a celebration is held. It is, in a sense, Paiute Independence Day. And calling Geneal Anderson the "George Washington" doesn't require much of a stretch.
Already her memory is being revered and her path is being followed. Her years as a mentor are paying off. In fact, come April 3, 2003, honoring Geneal Anderson will surely be high on the list of Paiute "things to do today."