This tribal leader transformed a California city. At 95, she has no regrets
Vyola Ortner, 95, has strong opinions and few regrets. She’s petite and spry, with cat-eye glasses and thinning auburn hair combed into a clip behind her head. Recently, at her Palm Springs home, she wore a lime-green jacket over an equally bright blouse. The shade matched almost exactly the color on her kitchen walls.
Ortner is the oldest living member of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, an indigenous Southern California tribe with more than 450 members. She chaired the tribal council during the turbulent 1950s, making regular trips to Washington, D.C. to secure the right for members to rent out the land they owned for as long as 99 years.