Marie Zackuse, Tulalip Tribes’ First Chairwoman, Takes Helm During Challenging Time

Marie Zackuse was elected as the first chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors, at a time that is quite challenging for the Native community.

Marie Zackuse took office on April 1 as chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors.

She’s at the helm at a challenging time.

Tulalip Tribes is considering authorizing cannabis retail sale on its lands, a venture that would meet Zackuse’s goal of continued economic diversification but seems to conflict with her past priorities of prevention and intervention programs for youth.

Tulalip Tribes is also suing the State of Washington and Snohomish County over the latter’s taxation of business transactions on Indian land, namely the Tulalip municipality of Quil Ceda Village.


And the community is still healing from the October 24, 2014 shooting in which a Tulalip Tribes teen killed four classmates and injured another before fatally shooting himself. The teen and two of the victims were cousins; the murder-suicide divided some formerly tight-knit extended families, and the victims’ families are suing the teen’s father, who owned the gun used in the shooting, and the school district.

And so, at the start of her first meeting as chairwoman, Zackuse did what she does regularly: She prayed, leading the board in seeking the Lord’s guidance before they got down to business.

Zackuse was elected chairwoman at the general council meeting on March 18. She succeeded Melvin R. Sheldon Jr., who remains on the board.

Zackuse is the first elected chairwoman since the tribes’ first board was elected in 1936, Tulalip Tribes public affairs officer Francesca Hillery said. And, according to board member Theresa Sheldon, the seven-member board of directors has a female majority for the first time.

In addition to Zackuse and Theresa Sheldon, other board members are Vice Chairwoman Teri Gobin, Bonnie Juneau, Jared Parks, Les Parks and Mel Sheldon.

“I am honored our membership elected me chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes,” Zackuse told ICMN. “I look forward to working with my fellow board members to strengthen our sovereignty by defending our treaty rights, improving services to our membership, and focusing on the health and wellness of our community.

“One of our priority issues for the coming year is to honor the women and their contributions to our community. We want to highlight the role of our grandmothers and to also encourage and support our young women and youth.

“Improving the quality of life for our membership is another priority. We have joined local partners to engage our community in the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition's LiveHealthy2020 initiative, which will focus on improving access and information to nutrition and exercise. Protecting the health of our land and waters will remain a top priority, as will job creation and economic diversification.

“We have many challenges facing our tribal nations in the current political landscape and we need to work together to protect the gains our tribal nations have made over the years.”

Theresa Sheldon told ICMN what the shift in balance on the board means.

“Historically, we have always been a people of matriarchal leadership,” she said. “Our women have always held high levels of leadership in our tribe, even when they did not have so-called titles … It's taken us some time to regain this balance within our tribe and it's exciting to be part of this Tulalip Board of Directors with the majority being women.

“I'm hopeful that this will be the shift we need in our community so we can focus on the educational needs of our children, mental health, protecting our women and children and living in balance with our environment and our cultural way of life. I'm so thankful for our ancestors and our elders who laid down our foundation of teachings for us to follow and embrace.”

‘Keep pushing forward’

Marie Zackuse has served on the board since 1990, with one short break, and in 2004 became the first female vice chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes.

She served as president of the Village Council of Quil Ceda; and as delegate to the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board. Other service, according to her official bio: member of the Marysville School District Indian Education Parent Committee, chairwoman of the Tulalip Pharmacy Board, and active involvement in the Early Learning Advisory Council established by the state Legislature. She was actively involved in efforts “to develop [public school] curriculum that includes Tribal experiences, to work on narrowing the achievement gap, and to increase understanding of tribal history, culture, and government.”


Women have long been in leadership in and outside of tribal government. Among them: Edith J. Parks (1903-1982) was the first woman elected to the Tulalip Tribes’ Board of Directors (1937). She served as board secretary and certified the Tulalip Tribes’ amended constitution of 1948. Her grandson and great-grandson are members of the board. Harriett Shelton Williams Dover (1904-1991) served as a Tulalip Tribes board member (1938-1951), as Tribal Court judge, and as postmaster. Wendy Fryberg served on the Marysville School Board, which includes Tulalip and Marysville, from 2010-13.

Contrast that with the national front. The prospect of electing a woman president went from likely to Sisyphean in November, with Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by 2.8 million but losing the electoral vote. Of 50 U.S. states, only five have female governors. The ratio of men and women in the U.S. Congress is roughly 80/20.

Theresa Sheldon said she hopes young women will be inspired by what’s taking place at Tulalip – a female chair and female-majority board leading an indigenous nation that is an economic powerhouse in the region and a loud voice for the environment, human rights and sovereignty.

She wants young women—Tulalip’s future leaders—to know “that they are highly capable and can push through any barrier that blocks them from reaching their success,” Sheldon said. “Sexism is alive but that doesn't mean you can't fight through it. Keep pushing forward and keep aiming for your dreams and goals. Don't give up. Life is not simple or a straight line, it's more up and down and sometimes even backwards, but we are brilliant and caring people who are capable of true greatness when we put our mind and spirit to a goal.”