Thelma Thomas Oberly (Ayat-Tohtinmine), 78, died Wednesday morning, March 28, 2018, at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash. A memorial service was held Monday at Trenary Funeral Chapel in Kooskia with Rev. Dr. Mary Jane Miles and Elder Maple Stuivenga officiating. A funeral was held Tuesday at the Second Indian Presbyterian Church in Kamiah with Rev. Dr. Cecil Corbett officiating. He was assisted by Elder Jeannie Wheeler Strong.
Thelma was born in Kamiah on Aug. 24, 1939 to Edna (Emontsaekonmai) Homer and Moses Thomas. As an infant she was given her Indian name Ayat-Tohtinmine “respected highly by her people.” She was a descendant of A-pus-wahhykt, the elder Chief Lookingglass. Thelma was a full blood, enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe.
She graduated from Kamiah High School in 1957. She graduated from Haskell Institute in May 1959. She attended Bacone Junior College from 1959 to 1962 and completed coursework for an Associate’s Degree. Thelma attended Lewis-Clark State College and earned credits towards a communications degree.
She married Acey Oberly Jr. in 1961 at Broken Arrow, Okla.
She was a member of the Second Presbyterian Church in Kamiah. She was a member of the Talmaks Camp Meeting Board of Directors for 35 years and served as the Board’s Secretary for 27 years. She was a member of the North American Indian Women’s Association (NAIWA) and served as the National Historian in the 1970s. She also served as a Nez Perce Tribe General Council Secretary in the 1960s.
She was a member of the Lookingglass descendants’ pow wow committee, commemorating the centennial of the 1877 war with the first Lookingglass Pow wow in 1977. Thelma was fluent in the Nez Perce language. She gained a fluency in the Nimiipuu dialect when she helped to interpret for her great-grandmother, Fannie Bailey Hayes.
Thelma enjoyed travel, photography, and playing the piano at the various church events. While in college, she had the opportunity to perform with the Bacone Choir. Thelma also enjoyed horseback riding. She was proud to have served as part of the Chief Joseph Rodeo “Warrior Princess” court in her youth.
Thelma held various jobs throughout her career. She worked as a clerk typist for the Nez Perce Tribe and Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 1960s. She was also employed as an Assistant Bookkeeper for the Yakama Nation Area Agency on Aging for five years. In 2011, she retired from the Nez Perce Tribe’s Judicial Services Department where she served as a court clerk for 27 years. She won Employee of the Year for the Nez Perce Tribe in 1988.
Survivors include her husband, Acey Oberly Jr.; three daughters, Jorja Oberly Valandra and husband Howard of Eagan, Minn.; Yvonne Oberly of Olympia, Wash., and Sonya Oberly of Lewiston; and a grandson, Cato Acey Valandra of Eagan, Minn.
A sister, Beverly Thomas, and two brothers, Melvin and Gordon Thomas, preceded her in death.
Burial will be at the First Indian Presbyterian Church Tribal Cemetery in East Kamiah.