Visit the Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort on January 31 and you might chat about issues of regional importance with a city council member from one of the nation’s largest cities, or the mayor of the 20th largest city in Washington. Or you might gain insight on some heavy issues from two candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives or five candidates for state legislatures in three states.
This is, however, no candidates’ forum. These current or future public officials are among the Native American leaders invited to attend a reception preceding the winter convention of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.
The reception, 6-8 p.m., will be hosted by the Native American Caucus of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee. Among the public officials that have been invited, according to caucus Chairwoman Julie Johnson, Lummi:
— Seattle City Council member Debora Juarez, Blackfeet.
— Bellingham City Council member Roxanne Murphy, Nooksack.
— Whatcom County Treasurer Steve Oliver, Lummi.
— Seattle School Board member Scott Pinkham, Nez Perce.
— Ferndale City Council member Teresa Taylor, Lummi.
Native Americans running for office in the Northwest in 2016, according to Johnson:
— Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, Mandan Hidatsa, candidate for U.S. House of Representatives from Montana.
— Former Colville Tribes Chairman Joe Pakootas, candidate for 5th District U.S. House of Representatives.
— State Sen. John McCoy, Tulalip Tribes, candidate for reelection to 38th District state Senate.
— State Rep. Jeff Morris, Tsimshian, candidate for reelection to 40th District state House.
— Sauk-Suiattle Tribal Council member Ronda Metcalf, candidate for 39th District state House.
— Mayor Chris Roberts, Choctaw, candidate for reelection to the Shoreline City Council.
— Idaho state Rep. Paulette Jordan, Colville and Coeur d’ Alene, candidate for reelection to her state’s House of Representatives.
— Tawna Sanchez, Shoshone-Bannock, Ute and Carrizo, candidate for 43rd District Oregon state House of Representatives.
Other Native Americans serving in elective office (besides those serving in tribal government) in Washington state include:
— Sally Brown, Squaxin Island, Shelton School Board.
— Greg Colfax, Makah, Cape Flattery School District.
— Tyson Johnston, Quinault, Taholah School District.
— Ed Johnstone, Quinault, Taholah School District.
— Tracey (Markishstum) Rascon, Makah, Cape Flattery School District.
— Bessie Simpson, Colville, Inchelium School District.
(The lone Republican among Native Americans in the legislature is state Rep. Jay Rodne, who identifies as being of Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa ancestry).
The growing number of Native Americans being elected to positions outside of tribal government reflects the barriers being brought down by Native nations’ regional economic development presence and strong voice on issues of common interest to all peoples, such as education, the environment, health and social justice. And candidates are bringing some serious credentials to their campaigns: For example, Seattle City Council member Juarez is a former Superior Court judge who led the state Office of Indian Affairs under two governors. Congressional candidate Pakootas was chairman of the Colville Tribes when his government led the removal of heavy metals from the Columbia River and Lake Roosevelt, and he is credited with leading Colville’s business enterprises to profits in four years.“
When you look at employment in Washington state, the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington are, combined, the fourth-largest employer in the state,” Johnson said. “We’ve been donating to non-Indians for years. We need to support our own people for public office too. I want our people to be in those chairs.”
She added, “The Native American Caucus became active in 2008 with five members and we are working hard to involve our 29 tribes and all Indian organizations in the State Democratic Party.”
The venue for the caucus reception is an example of Native Nations��� successful economic development planning and stewardship. Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort, overlooking Agate Passage between the Kitsap Peninsula and Bainbridge Island, doubled its number of hotel rooms and added convention space in a multimillion-dollar expansion. It’s not just about gaming here; the resort is a showcase of art by noted Coast Salish artists, features numerous restaurants, entertainment venues and a spa, and shuttles visitors to the nearby Suquamish Museum and the Suquamish-owned White Horse Golf Club.
Port Madison Enterprises, the economic development arm of the Suquamish Tribe, is the second-largest private-sector employer in Kitsap County, according to the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance. The Suquamish Tribe is the eighth-largest public-sector employer in the county. (By the way, the Suquamish Tribe’s chairman, Leonard Forsman, is an Obama appointee to the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Port Madison Enterprises’ general counsel, Rion Ramirez, Chippewa/Yaqui, is an Obama appointee to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.)
The caucus reception will be followed February 1-4 by the winter convention of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, or ATNI, a gathering of leaders of 57 Native nations from southeast Alaska, Washington, Idaho, western Montana, Oregon, and Northern California. ATNI’s president is Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation.
ATNI was founded in 1953. According to its website, the organization develops and pursues regional strategies “for the development, protection and advancement of the interests of member tribes and their people in the areas represented by ATNI committees which include: cultural affairs, economic development, human and social services, natural resources and environment, tribal governance, and ad hoc task forces.”