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Northwest Natives Putting a Stamp on Leadership Opportunities

Several Northwest Native leaders have new positions of influence.

Several Northwest Native leaders have new positions of influence in the fields of environment and youth leadership development, or are seeking election or reelection to legislative and judicial positions in the November 8 general election.

Justin Parker, Makah, is the new executive director of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, an organization of 20 Treaty Tribes who with the State of Washington co-manage the state’s fisheries. He succeeds Michael Grayum, who retires June 30 after nearly 40 years of service to the commission – 11 years as executive director and 28 years as director of NWIFC fisheries services.

The commission, headquartered in Olympia, employs about 70 people. It provides various services related to fisheries management and habitat restoration and, as stated at on its website, provides a forum for Native Nations “to address shared natural resources management issues … and to speak with a unified voice in Washington, D.C.”

Parker, 45, joined the commission in 2000 as administration director and for the past five years served as intergovernmental affairs policy adviser. Before joining the commission, Parker worked as a fisherman and as director of administrative services at the Makah Nation. He is a graduate of Peninsula College.

Parker also serves as vice president of the Salmon Homecoming Alliance Board of Directors and as treasurer of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians/Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors.

“Justin has the experience and knowledge necessary to be a top-notch executive director,” NWIFC chairwoman Lorraine Loomis, Swinomish, said in an announcement of Parker’s appointment. “As a tribal fisherman, he understands our goals to restore the salmon resource and protect tribal treaty-reserved rights.”

Parker said in the announcement, “The NWIFC is a center of excellence in providing natural resources management assistance to our Treaty Tribes, and we will continue that tradition. I am honored to help support the work of our tribes and leaders such as the late Billy Frank Jr.”

Rhonda Whiting, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana, is now the program director at Western Native Voice, a non-partisan organization that promotes Native American youth leadership and participation in the political process on the local, state and federal level. She chaired the organization since 2011.

Whiting represented Montana on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council from 2005-12, and was the first Native American to serve as chair. The council develops and maintains a regional power plan and a fish and wildlife program to balance environmental and energy needs in the Northwest. During the Clinton administration, she served as assistant administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

In politics and government, former Colville Tribes CEO Joseph Pakootas, Democrat, is a candidate for the 5th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2014, he received 87,772 votes to incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ 135,470. Rodgers is running for reelection.

Pakootas, who is also a former Colville Tribes council member and chairman, has an MBA from the University of Washington. He is credited with developing sustainable business enterprises as Colville Tribes’ CEO and directing a $10 million economic turnaround for the Colville Tribes. He also implemented sustainable forest management practices, and led the successful effort to force Canadian mining company Teck Cominco to clean up Lake Roosevelt and the Columbia River watershed.

Several Native Americans are running for election or reelection to state office.

In the 5th Legislative District, Jay Rodne, Republican, is seeking reelection to the state House of Representatives. He is a descendant of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians. He is a lawyer, a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, and Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

In the 40th Legislative District, Jeff Morris, Tsimshian, is unopposed for an 11th term in the state House of Representatives. He is a former speaker pro tem, is widely considered an expert on energy, infrastructure, and technology, and was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Energy as an adviser to the department. Morris co-chairs a national energy task force and is owner of Energy Horizon Corporation. His Samish grandfather, the late Herman “Jinks” Blackinton (1892-1974), served on the Samish Tribal Council.

In the 42nd Legislative District, Sharlaine LeClair, Lummi, is a candidate for the state House of Representatives. Vincent Buys, Republican, is seeking reelection. LaClair is former program director of the Lummi CEDAR Project, which helps young people engage in leadership opportunities and get involved in their community. She missed advancing – by one vote – to the 2015 general election for a position on the Lummi Nation council.

Raquel Montoya-Lewis, Isleta Pueblo/Laguna Pueblo, is unopposed for a full term as a Whatcom County Superior Court judge. Gov. Jay Inslee appointed her to a vacancy on the bench in 2015. She was formerly chief judge for the Nooksack Tribe and Upper Skagit Tribe and associate professor at Western Washington University’s Fairhaven College. She has a J.D. and master’s in social work from the University of Washington and a B.A. from the University of New Mexico, and served on the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice.

Ellen Kalama Clark, Native Hawaiian, is unopposed for a fifth full term as Spokane County Superior Court judge. She was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Gary Locke in 1999 and previously served for six years as a court commissioner, concentrating in family law and dependency hearings. She is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools, University of Hawaii and Gonzaga University.

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