When Lynn “Nay” Valbuena was just 20, a young mother with two toddlers, she was appointed housing commissioner for the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians. Today, she is a Native star.
Driven, passionate, and committed not only to her people but to other American Indian communities, she is serving her second consecutive term as vice chairwoman of the San Manuel Band. A delegate to the National Congress of American Indians for 21 years, Valbuena is into her 16th year as chairwoman of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations. She also regularly volunteers her free time, serving on the board of trustees for both the Autry National Center, an intercultural history center in Los Angeles, and for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
Her work has not gone unnoticed. The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development will be presenting her with the American Indian Leadership Award on February 28 at RES 2012 for her “outstanding leadership in support of American Indian businesses and economic development endeavors in tribal communities,” according to a NCAIED press release.
“I am always very humbled to be recognized because I know it’s not just me—it’s all of us in Indian country,” Valbuena said. It is critical, she feels, for tribal nations to achieve respectable levels of social, political, economic and governmental self-sufficiency. The best way to accomplish that, she said, is through “tribal leaders who all work together.”
Valbuena’s determination, is due in large part to her past. As a child, her mother told her to never forget who she was or where she came from: “I remember how it was before we had anything—eating corn flakes with water because we had no milk. Outhouses with no toilet paper, but a big thick Yellow Pages phone book. There is still a lot to be done in Indian country, but I am happy to see where we are at today.”