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Etter's tenure as curator leaves legacy for Labriola Center to build upon

August 01, 2006

When Patricia Etter was appointed curator of the Labriola National American Indian Data Center on Jan. 1, 1993, the center had not yet been officially dedicated, books weren't catalogued and the file cabinets were crammed with ephemera.

Eventually, all the boxes and stacks of books and material got indexed and catalogued, and today, the Labriola Center is “a whole library on its own,' says Etter, who retired June 30.

Etter recently reminisced on her tenure, the variety of gifts that have come from unexpected sources – and the growth of the center, which was endowed by Frank and Mary Labriola.

“A donor from West Virginia just gave us a series of woodcuts called the ‘Coyote Cycle,' based on an outdoor play performed at Padua Hills, Calif., which was appraised at $13,000,” Etter said. “The play, which we also have in book form, is based on Winnebago legends.

“An elderly gentleman living in a retirement home, also in West Virginia, who is 90 and learned to surf the Web, wrote us and asked if we would like to have his collection of 40 Franklin Mint medals, which feature seals from the 40 U.S. tribes, and accompanying history books. I said, ‘Sure!' His children sent us the medals and books, which a student later used for a thesis.”

Another interesting gift came recently from Charlotte Miller, a California resident who had served in the Red Cross and volunteered to help during a drought and blizzard on the Navajo Reservation, from 1946-1953.

“She wrote letters home to her family, and now we have all the letters,” Etter says. “It's an interesting little collection.”

Also among the holdings in the Labriola Center are the papers of Peterson Zah, former president of the Navajo Nation and now adviser to ASU President Michael Crow on American Indian affairs; and Kevin Gover, undersecretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs under President Bill Clinton.

As the holdings at Labriola have increased, so has the number of visitors.

“The first year, 500 people came in and out,” Etter says. “That number has quadrupled.”

ASU Sneaker Tours occasionally visit the Labriola Center , and Etter has entertained such diverse groups as Red Hat Ladies and the judges for the Miss Arizona pageant.

The center makes a special effort to reach out to Native American students at ASU, Etter says. The center's workers help them with their research on such high-interest topics as sovereignty, economic development, gaming, stereotypes, the boarding school experience and environmental issues on reservations.

“Last semester, we had 1,477 Native American students enrolled at ASU,” she says. “There's a push to get more from across the United States . We try to be very friendly and encourage the students to come in and study.”

Etter, who has a bachelor's degree in anthropology from California State University-Long Beach and a master's in library sciences from the University of Arizona , plans to devote time to her own writing, now that she doesn't have to be at the Labriola helm anymore.

Her special area of study is overland journeys, and she has written two books on this topic. She currently is editing the journal of William R. Goulding, who traveled the difficult “southern route” from New York to Yuma from March-September 1849.

Etter also has written several book chapters and numerous journal articles. She also regularly reviews books, and is one of the featured reviewers for “Southwest Books of the Year.”

Besides writing, Etter plans to be active in the ASU Emeritus College , and she is a member of the University Club board of directors. Next year, she will serve as “Sheriff” of Westerners International Scottsdale Corral, an organization of Western-history buffs.

Seems she has her retirement cut out for her.