Mel Tonasket, Andy Joseph, Jr., Ricky Gabriel, Barp Aripa and Geri Gabriel stand with EWU President Mary Callinan and EWU Board of Trustees Chair Jim Murphy at stage at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane, Nov. 24.

SPOKANE—Friends and family of Colville Tribal leader Lucy Covington accepted the honorary posthumous Doctor of Human Letters today, Nov. 24, from Eastern Washington University at Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture.

The date marked Covington’s 105th birthday.

“I accept this degree on behalf of my family,” said Barb Aripa, niece, to the group of approximately 50—including regional state and tribal leaders, EWU officials and family members— gathered in the MAC auditorium. “I accept this on behalf of the people of the Colville Tribes, the tribes she fought for with all her life until the day she died.”

“She fought so hard for everything, for the people. Not only for our tribe, but all the tribes of the United States,” said Aripa.

EWU Board of Trustee Chair Jim Murphy and EWU President Mary Cullinan presented the degree.

Covington is credited for her leadership against the federal government’s attempt to terminate tribes across the country.

Covington served on the Colville Business Council from 1954 to 1979. She was also the first woman elected to chair the National Congress of American Indians.

Both Murphy and Cullinan credited former EWU Board Chair Jo Ann Kaufman for her work bringing attention to Covington’s story.

“Her work happened in such a humble way and had such a huge impact, and yet, when you walk around Eastern Washington there wasn’t anything you could look at and say, ‘here’s the legacy of this woman,’” said Kaufman.

“You truly have an unsung hero. Today, we can truly celebrate the legacy of Dr. Lucy Covington.”

CBC member Mel Tonasket talked of his time with Covington.

"She would say, 'One day, your people’s future is going to depend on what you see, what you recognize and how you respond. So you can’t afford to make a mistake. You can’t afford to make a mistake,'" told Tonasket.

Spokane City Council member John Snyder presented a mayoral proclamation of the Covington’s legacy from Spokane Mayor David Condon, noting Covington had “changed the course of American Indian History through courageous and selfless style of leadership.”

“How appropriate that Lucy Covington is being honored by an institute of higher learning, because we learned so much from Lucy Covington,” said Snyder. “We learned there’s a strong tribal presence of female leaders that will not be ignored. We learned that sovereignty is not optional. We learned that all people deserve the right to self-determination.”

"What I learned from her, and Mel, was you've got to pay attention to the government. They're peacemealing everything. Sometimes you have to run them out of the room to protect what's ours," said Andy Joseph Jr., Colville Business Council, who talked about Covington's ability to strategize.

With the award, university officials officially announced the establishment of the Lucy Covington Center at EWU, intended to honor Covington’s legacy.

“I truly hope the legacy of this new Lucy Covington Center at EWU is a place where leaders of the future can be nurtured,” said Kaufman “A place where they can practice the leadership that will take their tribes far into the future.”

“She would have just cried,” said Aripa, Covington’s niece.

Aripa asked if the new Colville Tribal Government Center display the honorary degree.

Covington passed away Sept. 30, 1982.

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