Remembering Sunshine, murdered Lakota woman special spirit
By Brenda Norrell
TUCSON -- At the end of a scorching day, with a gentle breeze at sunset, the people of Tucson came from every walk of life to a downtown park to honor a special soul that touched the lives of so many in her life and death.
Lillian Ruth Wright, known as Sunshine, was Lakota Sioux from Rosebud, South Dakota. Wright, 69, was found on the morning of June 12, lying in a pool of blood beneath the stars where she chose to sleep in downtown Tucson.
Rosebud Sioux tribal member Connie Laven and Sunshine's sister Sylvia Konop remembered Sunshine and thanked those who came to El Presidio Park to honor her.
Laven asked the crowd to imagine an Indian boarding school, with people carrying wajapi and fry bread, with beautiful star quilts and speaking words of respect. She asked those gathered to imagine Sunshine's friends shaking hands with the family and crying as they vowed never to forget her.
"We bury our dead very well," Laven said.
Attorney Robert Lundquist, who allowed Sunshine to sleep outside his law office and use the electricity and water hose, also welcomed her as a housesitter in his home during summers. Tearfully, Lundquist remembered this Lakota soul who gave him so much.
Bearing a basket of organic vegetables from his garden as an offering for those who came and were in need of food, Lundquist spoke of the gifts that Sunshine gave him.
"She was a gift to humanity, as we all can be," Lundquist told the crowd of several hundred friends, attorneys, community members and people who make their homes on the streets of Tucson.
Lundquist said his journey to meet Sunshine began in college. After he read, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," he said he no longer thought like a white man. Then, he read, "Black Elk Speaks."
Lundquist said all Native American people call themselves "human beings," in their own languages, because that is what people truly are. "I was destined to meet Sunshine because I finally saw that."
"When Sunshine came to our house, she blessed us with her spirit." With Sunshine, the family watched "Dances with Wolves." She pointed out her Lakota relatives and the parts of the film that were right and those that were "baloney."
Lundquist said for Native Americans, there is no word for religion, because their lives are their religions. "Sunshine taught that to all of us." She was kind, witty and intelligent.
Sunshine taught Lundquist to speak Lakota words; he called out those words in her honor. She gave him a new name, "Warrior.
"By God, I'm going to live up to it."
As the wind grew stronger and stirred the drums and feathers at the memorial, Lundquist said, "We can't see you, but we can feel you.
"Her spirit is here."
In his hand, Lundquist held sweetgrass, a gift she always gave him. He remembered how she would housesit for the family in summers, loving the animals and tending the garden. She would stay on for a couple of weeks when they returned. But ultimately, she missed sleeping beneath the stars. She missed her friends, and always offered cash or an extra sleeping bag to those in need on the streets.
Sister Rebecca Theresa said Sunshine had dreams like everyone else, but life had come along and interrupted those. Sunshine had been a nurse in Vietnam.
"Nobody went through Nam and came out the same.
"She had to live with it."
Theresa memorialized Sunshine with the lyrics, "Look what they've done to my song, ma.”
Laura Ward, a city of Tucson employee befriended her, here in El Presidio Park where Sunshine spent her days. Ward bought Sunshine a CD of warrior drum songs, because those were Sunshine's favorites. When she realized Sunshine had no way to listen to them, she bought a little stereo for her. Ward temporarily delayed giving it to her, for fear that owning it would make her a target.
"She never got to hear this song, but maybe she can hear it now," Ward said with tears, as the Grandmother's Prayer sounded out and floated from the park.
Ward said stories of Sunshine will be collected and placed in a book, a collection of handwritten stories, to be shared here, in El Presidio Park, during Friday markets.
At the memorial, Preyin' Eagle, Native American drummers from Phoenix, joined Elliott Gover & Sons, Pumpkin Vine of the Pawnee Tribe and Tony Redhouse to offer drum, flute and musical tributes to Sunshine.
Sunshine will be buried in Tucson. Tucson police have not released the details of her murder or the names of any suspects. Sunshine's Chihuahua, Wichica (Little Girl), was put up for adoption by the Pima Animal Care Center and more than 50 people volunteered to adopt the dog.
Most of those attending the memorial were surprised by the large crowd. Still, they were happy to live in a community where people take time to care.
Others paused and wondered how many times they had passed Sunshine on the street and failed to say hello, or to even see her.
During the memorial, Pastor Rolly Loomis of the United Methodist Church, spoke of her humor and how she loved and cared for everyone.
"She would often give money to those in need."
Loomis said the things that matter to most of us, the material things, didn't matter to her. "She lived it for us."
Sunshine's friends said she could see inside one's soul.
Loomis said Sunshine saw the authentic self within each person. Although she stayed at times inside, she always returned outdoors.
"She always returned to her home under the stars," Loomis said.
"Sunshine died on holy ground."
Story and photos may be republished at no charge, please contact Brenda Norrell for reprint permission: firstname.lastname@example.org
A letter to Tucson, from Sunshine's nephew
"Sunshine" was my aunt; her sister is my Mom. My mother is the only sibling left.
I write to you in great appreciation for the outpouring of support the city of Tucson has given to my aunt.
Although she was homeless, that was her spirit - living outdoors, where she could touch life itself.
I want to thank Robert Lundquist for the great kindness he gave her over the years, and I want to thank all her friends for being part of her life.
I would like the people to know she was always a strong-spirited person with a heart as big as any.
Tucson has been her home for most of her life, and the people are very kind, with no prejudice.
With the Lord's help, we will learn to deal with this loss, as many other families have.
My greatest appreciation to the people who knew her, loved her and cared for her. She will always live in our minds and hearts.
LEROY J. KONOP, Rapid City, S.D.
She is now a star of her own ... surely. I will never again look at the twinkling sky above without thinking of Sunshine.I also will never understand why such horrible things can happen to such beautiful people. Does evil just hate beauty so much? I lost a brilliant star myself to unexplained violence many years ago, and still grieve vividly.I am old now and take some solace that maybe soon I will finally understand the ways of life, and death, and hopefully justice.Peace to all.
July 20, 2007