Wawa Calac Chaw, “Keep From the Water,” was a writer, artist, and lecturer on Indian and feminist matters. She was born on December 25, 1888 at Valley Center in the Tule River area of California.
She was a member of the Rincon division of the Luiseno tribe, and was taken at infancy to protect her health by Dr. Cornelius Duggan and his sister Mary Duggan, both of New York, and raised as their own child.
Wawa Chaw was something of a child prodigy; her early artistic talent showed itself in medical and scientific sketches she did of early radium and cancer experiments during the work of Pierred and Marie Curie. An ardent activist in behalf of Indian and feminist causes, she gave a talk while still in her teens at a meeting at the Astor Hotel sponsored by Carrie Chapman Catt.
Never at a loss for expression, Wa-Wa-Chaw painted huge canvases in oil, many of which were portraits of people important at the time, or subjects involving social problems which deeply concerned her. She was a co-worker and fund raiser for Dr. Carlos Montezuma and his Wassaja project; as his close friend, she planned many of his campaigns and spoke out for the needs represented.
During her life, Wa-Wa-Chaw came in contact with many White intellectuals and leaders of the day, including Sir Oliver Lodge, Arthur Conan Doyle. These people had a profound influence upon her work, as she did upon them.
Wawachaw was a colorful person-outspoken, yet with a childlike quality which endeared her to all who knew her. She was vain about her art work, yet modest about herself and her accomplishments in the social field. She wrote for many publications of the day up until the time of her death. She sold her paintings in the sidewalk shows in Greenwich Village, but was even more interested in “selling” her message of equality for Indian women.
Wawa Calac Chaw married Manuel Carmonia-Nunez, the Puerto Rican “son of the last Spanish Lieutenant,” a businessman and organizer for the Cigar Workers’ Union. From then on, she went by the name of Benita Nunez.
They had at least one child, who died in infancy. Wa-Wa-Chaw was well known throughout the Indian community and a familiar figure on the lecture platform in the first quarter of the 20th century.
Wawa Calac Chaw died in New York City on May 12, 1972 at the age of 83.