PESHAWBESTOWN — Ruth Bussey remembers huddling around the kitchen table late at night with Ardith "Dodie" Harris and coming up with job descriptions for newly created positions in the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
"She said, ‘We have to get this job done, so let's do it.’ That was our marching order," Bussey said. "We sat at the kitchen table and worked until those job descriptions got done."
Harris was a tribal leader who looked around and saw a lot of work to be done in the tribal community. She played a pivotal role in gaining federal recognition for the band and establishing infrastructure in the community. She was the first person to hold the position of Tribal Chair and thus far the only woman to serve in that role. She also held a variety of other leadership positions.
Harris died Aug. 1 at age 67. A memorial service will take place on Thursday.
Harris grew up in Peshawbestown and later moved to Chicago, where she graduated from the Allied Business College in the 1970s. At the time the city was a hub for Native Americans, said Tom Shomin, Tribal Council treasurer.
"She saw then how these other tribes, through federal recognition, had housing and so she knew the desperate conditions here and that became what I feel was her life mission: to bring housing and our community back to a good standard," Shomin said.
Harris moved back to northwest Michigan and participated in many conversations about gaining federal recognition for the tribe.
Phyllis Wanageshik knew Harris growing up and was a lifelong friend. Harris was always intelligent and inquisitive, and asked other Native Americans in Chicago about their living conditions back home.
Wanageshik said the other tribes must have seemed successful to Harris, who grew up in a community that didn't have indoor plumbing and other infrastructure.
She said once Harris came home and talked about her goals, she was met with support.
"Once she explained to people why she wanted to do things, I think they were pretty understanding and maybe she gave them a glimmer of hope for something better for us," Wanageshik said.
Harris was one of several tribal members who drove to Washington, D.C. to ask for federal recognition, which was granted in 1980. That recognition gave the band access to federal money and allowed them to form a government, create programs, and install infrastructure.
JoAnne Cook, Tribal Council vice chair, was still a child in the 1970s, but she remembers Harris and other adults talking about federal recognition.
Harris was viewed as a mentor by community members. She had a good sense of humor and was articulate and level-headed, Cook said.
"As kids, we could always go visit with her and talk to her, but you also knew that she was a leader of the community," Cook said.
A memorial service will be open to the public and will take place at the Leelanau Sands Casino in Peshawbestown on Thursday at 1 p.m. Doors open at noon.
The event will be preceded by a pipe ceremony at the Eyaawing Museum in Peshawbestown at 8 a.m.