Jewell M. Williams, an activist for Native American issues and longtime lobbyist for Native American healthcare, has died. She was 82.
Mrs. Williams, known by many as “Mom” and “Gram,” came to the San Joaquin Valley in 1957 with her husband, David. She died May 29.
“All her friends called her ‘Mom,’ ” said her daughter, Myrna Medicine Horse. “People remember her unconditional love for everybody.”
Those who knew Mrs. Williams remember her solid silver hair and her pride in her people, the Crow Tribe of southeastern Montana. She spoke the Crow language and participated in the Sun Dance ceremonies, intense periods of fasting, praying and dancing that lasted three to four days.
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Mrs. Williams’ daughter said the purpose of the fasting and prayer were to sacrifice personal comfort for those who are sick or facing surgery. Her mother structured her life similarly to the ceremonial sacrifices.
Mrs. Williams was a fierce advocate who volunteered tirelessly for underprivileged people in the Fresno area.
“She was always volunteering,” Medicine Horse said. “She never hesitated to help.”
Her legacy of volunteer work and advocacy had humble beginnings at West Park Elementary School in Fresno, where she worked as a homeroom aide. There, she kick-started a breakfast program that continues today. She also realized many of her students attended school temporarily – until they had to work in the fields with their families.
She was always volunteering. She never hesitated to help.
Myrna Medicine Horse, daughter
As she helped teach her students to read, she learned that many of them did not have access to adequate health care. In 1981, she became involved with Sequoia Community Health Foundation, a 2-year-old clinic dedicated to serving the under-served, after her son became one of its first patients. The foundation later became Clinica Sierra Vista, but retained its mission statement. She served on the board and held various positions from 1981-2008.
Virgie Armenta, executive secretary with Clinica Sierra Vista, had served with Mrs. Williams on the board since 1985. She remembers that Mrs. Williams rarely missed board meetings and voiced her opinions frequently.
“She really cared about the community,” Armenta said. “She was a great participator: If there was something she didn’t agree with, she let us know.”
Mrs. Williams also dedicated herself to serving and working with Native Americans. She and her husband often visited Native American inmates at Avenal State Prison in Kings County. They would talk to inmates and give them homemade food.
She was well known among members of the Mono and Chukchansi tribes. Medicine Horse said her mother fasted with them in their sweat lodges, and they considered her a respected elder.
She was instrumental in bringing the organized powwow to Fresno State, an ongoing tradition of 25 years.
Mrs. Williams’ body will be flown to Crow Agency, Montana for a traditional Crow funeral and burial scheduled for Saturday
Jewell M. Williams
Born: Dec. 15, 1933
Died: May 29, 2016
Occupation: Community activist
Survivors: Daughter Myrna Medicine Horse of Wyola, Montana; sons Gregory and Ryland of Fresno; son Darin of Clovis; and eight grandchildren.
Services: Fresno services were held June 8. Her body will be flown to Crow Agency, Montana for a traditional Crow funeral and burial Saturday.