They Met in the Desert
Joseph Benitez, a Chemehuevi tribal member born on February 2, 1935, was brought by his family while still an infant to live on the Cabazon Reservation near Indio, California. In a February 10, 1963, election, he became Spokesman for the Cabazons, succeeding Remeijo Callaway. In an unidentified newspaper clipping kept in Cabazon files, Benitez described growing up on the reservation:
Life was pretty primitive in those days. There wasn't much on the reservation except sagebrush and rabbits. We didn't even have electricity until the 1950s. Housing was limited to makeshift quarters. . . . There was no running water. Just sagebrush and rabbits. . . . We walked two miles to school every day, even in the summer heat, and thought nothing about it. . . . A highlight of our lives was the monthly trip to [the nearby] Torres-Martinez Reservation where the Indian Agency handed out rations for our food allotment. We always could count on a good meal after that.
Like Native Americans all across America, Benitez benefited from the opportunities produced by Johnson's Great Society. Using his training (he earned his associates degree in business administration and later completed a Dale Carnegie course) and his position as Tribal Chairman, he became Project Director of Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health Inc. The organization operated a medical and dental clinic serving Indians in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. He was, among other activities, a member of the Health Care for California Indians Panel of the California State Health Department, Chairman of California Rural Indian Health Board Inc., and a member and Secretary-Treasurer of the National Indian Health Board.
According to a report sent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the 42-year-old Benitez was re-elected Chairman of the Cabazons on May 14, 1977, along with