Honoring Our Tribal Elders: Shoalwater Bay Tribal Elder Elizabeth Shipman, 1940.
Elizabeth “Libby” Shipman
by Misty Ellingburg
Birth place: Tahola, WA.
Interesting Fact: Was Tribal Chairperson around 1985-86
Favorite Color: A combination of red and orange.
Pets: Three dogs and five cats.
Wisdom for the Children: “Stick together and care for one another. Get a good education, come back here, and do good.”
Elizabeth “Libby” Shipman was born in 1940, thirty-odd years before the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe was federally recognized. The reservation back then wasn’t a reservation at all, just five little houses and a few families living in “Georgetown,” as the reservation is called. Libby had eleven siblings, and sometimes her three cousins lived with her family, too, making the blue house near the modern Casino quite cozy. “We ate good,” Libby went on to say, explaining that her father was an excellent hunter.
The children went to school in Westport, where racism was rampant and unchecked. Because of this, they were often called “dirty Indians.” Libby and her siblings were tough as nails, though, and didn’t go down without a fight.
“We deliberately made friends with some of the girls who would make fun of us,” Libby told me, laughing a little bit in advance as she savored the story, “and we invited them to this good little swimming hole on the bay. But when the tide came in, we swam away and left them out there hollering, because they couldn’t swim.”
I laughed. “So mean!” I said. “I love it!”
Libby laughed as well. “Well, my dad heard them screaming and went out and got them in his boat. We didn’t even get in trouble,” she reminisced, “Because our dad thought it was kind of funny. Those girls didn’t go swimming with us again, though!”
“Well, who could blame them?” I said, still laughing.
When Libby was twelve, things changed. “The Welfare people came and picked us up. Back then, they’d do that for any reason. I stayed in a foster home with a pastor and his wife, but I didn’t like it there.”
Libby ran away in the middle of the night, all the way from Raymond to Aberdeen in search of her mother, Rachel Whitish. She couldn’t find Rachel, but she did find her sister, Lorraine, and stayed with her awhile.
Then, the Welfare people found Libby again, and sent her off to a Catholic boarding school in Seattle called Home of the Good Shepherd.
“I actually liked it there,” Libby said. “The classes were fun, and there were all kinds of people there, so no prejudice. My sister Verna was there, too. Got there about six months before I did.”
Libby stayed at the boarding school until she was thirteen. Following that, she spent her teenage years in Tahola with her father. Eventually, she was married, and moved to Kansas with her husband. She stayed there until 1971, when she made her homecoming back to Washington State.
Libby became Tribal Chairperson between the years of 1985-1986. She has always been passionate about the Tribe’s future, and she used her voice to speak for Native American people. Everything Libby did as Chairperson was to better the Tribe for future generations.
Libby also participated in a Heritage Committee, learning how to speak Chinook Jargon. Eventually, being Chairperson became hard on Libby’s health, and she stepped down. Libby has never stopped fighting for Native rights, though. She still uses her voice to speak on behalf of our people. Libby firmly believes that Indian Tribes exist to better the lives of Native people. When jobs are available on the reservation, Libby believes that Tribal members should be hired whenever possible.
“I’ve always been something of a loner,” Libby said, nodding her head not in resignation but in acceptance, “because I speak my mind.”
Libby Shipman believes that the children are the future of our Tribe, and supports Shoalwater Bay children in their endeavors to get good educations. She is a wonderful example to tribal members, a strong and powerful woman who is often seen at General Council meetings advocating for justice, or participating in ceremonies such as eagle feather giveaways. We can all look up to Libby Shipman as a woman of strength and virtue who has cared for our Tribe since she was a child making her home on this sacred land.