With Helping and Healing Hands
By RHONDA BIGOVICH, TRT Contributing Writer
Rebecca ‘Becky’ Dean Ferris always had a way about her. Her laugh is catchy. This bright- eyed Indian woman is old school; always helping people not for who they are or what she would get in return, but simply because they needed help.
Ferris helps in the kitchen at Hoopa dance camps. She worked in the residential home in Hoopa, and helped to keep families together on the Hoopa Valley Indian reservation. Becky has always been helpful, wherever she was.
“I was born near the Mexican border,” she said, “In Calexico, California.”
Her family returned to Hoopa when she was five years old. She’s spent the majority of her life in the Hoopa Valley, and isn’t a stranger to reservation life.
“I wasn’t perfect,” she laughs. “My favorite times were in my early 20s.”
She is fun, loves to laugh, and has a way with people. She smiles thinking back at fond memories of the people she found friendships with in the retirement home. The old folk’s home that is what people in Hoopa called it.
“I was working at the ‘old folk’s home’,” said Ferris.
She said the golden years of her work history were at the retirement home in Hoopa. It was a busy place; always full.
She developed strong relations with the elders. They could count on her for many of their needs, and she enjoyed interacting with them.
“We had a wedding ceremony there,” Ferris said. “It was awesome; that older couple stayed together after that too.”
People came mostly from Hoopa, but there were others from the surrounding communities.
Once she mentioned to the group, “my love life sucks!”, and to her surprise the men and women started singing Indian love songs to her all at once; different songs from all over the room.
She smiles when she shares this memory of them wanting her to be happy.
“I remember when they brought the brush dances back down below the Hoopa Airport,” Ferris said. “I asked the folks if they wanted to go to the Brush Dance, and they all said ‘yes’.”
“Dale Risling let me borrow the senior van so nobody got left out,” Ferris said. “One said, ‘I was here when they had the last dances many years ago, and now I’m here for the first one. It’s good’.”
Thinking back, she said she remembered the elders she cared for were as happy as could be at the news and told her, “It’s about damn time.”
Ferris comes from a Hoopa dance family – a family who prepares the summertime brush dance ceremonies. She remembers her “Uncle Lonny” Colegrove telling her she needed to get down there and help her mother and aunt in the kitchen.
Eventually Ferris left her job in the old folk’s home and moved on. She married and moved to Orleans. She and her husband had three beautiful daughters.
Five years later, she came back to the Hoopa valley, and started seeking a new start.
It didn’t take long. She was asked to work for the Hoopa Indian Child Welfare Services (ICW).
It started off as simple work; as a social worker, Ferris made trips to homes in the community, and was well accepted by the people she worked for.
She made strong connections with the people she worked for; they trusted her and that trust allowed her to help solve problems quicker. Sometimes she just helped with small tasks like cleaning for elders, and they gave her advice on different things.
“We were on the road a lot.” Ferris said.
The job grew into something bigger than what Ferris ever thought it would.
Ferris and her coworker, Marion Mooney, were the Thelma and Louise of Hoopa; going to different places teaching judges about how the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICW) worked, and helping to keep the children of Hoopa on the reservation, and try to keep them out of trouble.
Ferris was still busy at home in between the trips out of town advocating for ICW.
She started taking foster children to her home because there were not enough care homes available.
Eventually, around 50 children passed through her home, and she still has people calling her aunty or mom to this day.
In the 1980s methamphetamine and alcohol was becoming a major epidemic, and it was imperative to keep the kids close to their families, culture and traditions.
Ferris said she did her best to keep them grounded on the reservation, rather than let children slip through the cracks of the system, and she witnessed a lot of positive turnarounds.
“Spending time with the kids was the best part,” Ferris said.
Ferris worked over 13 years at ICW, writing letters of personal reference, going to court dates for children caught up in the judicial system, and saving several kids from bad or worse outcomes.
When Ferris believes in a cause she was a force to reckon with, and people didn’t have to be related, or well-known friends, or even acquaintances, to have her in their corner.
Ferris retired, but the work that she did for the elders and the youth of the Hoopa Valley is still remembered.
She is still helping people today by answering phones at K’ima:w Medical Center, and she’s the moral fiber of her family, with 14 grandchildren that adore her and would rather be in her front yard than anywhere else.
She said her prayers were answered. She has three beautiful daughters who mean the world to her, and she found the man of her dreams, Gary Jordan.
They’re coming up on their 14th anniversary, and she said he’s a real man; one who takes care of everyone, and the one she needed in her life. They make a good pair.
“Those love songs must have worked,” she said with a laugh.