Skip to main content

Respected Samish chairman retires

ANACORTES, Wash. -- Samish Indian Nation Chairman Ken Hansen has retired
after 35 years of working to preserve -- and in many cases, restore -- the
rights of the Samish people.

Hansen, 53, resigned Oct. 15, citing health reasons. He was succeeded by
Tom Wooten, who had been vice chairman. The transition was quiet; Hansen's
resignation was not known by the general public until a Feb. 8 story in the
Anacortes American newspaper.

Hansen led the Samish in its long but successful effort to regain federal
recognition after a clerical error in 1969 omitted the Samish from the roll
of recognized tribes. Under his leadership, his
nation-without-a-reservation purchased land that has been placed into
trust, bought a resort and an adjacent ceremonial site, and acquired Samish
artifacts and documents long stored at the University of Washington.

One of those artifacts, repatriated in June, was a 150-year-old house post
that belonged to a longhouse in the last Samish village of Gwanqane'la, on
nearby Guemes Island. It had been stored for 60 years at the Burke Museum.

Also under his leadership, the Samish Indian Nation founded the Center for
the Study of Coast Salish Environments, which is restoring salmon streams
in the San Juan Islands, within Samish's historical territory.

The work -- particularly the court battles to restore Samish's rights under
the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott -- took its toll on his health.

"The price for this hasn't just been paid by the Samish people or tribe,
but also my family," he was quoted as saying in the article. "It's fair to
say that my overall health has deteriorated over the last four years and I
can no longer carry out my duties as chairman."

Hansen's grandfather served as Samish chairman in the 1930s and his mother,
Mary Hansen, also worked on behalf of the Samish nation. The younger Hansen
was elected to the tribal council at age 18 and over the next 35 years
worked in various capacities for the nation -- as a staff member, council
member, treasurer and chairman.

Hansen also served as a consultant to the Quileute Indian Nation and, in
1975, was appointed by the U.S. Senate to the American Indian Policy Review

Scroll to Continue

Read More

The Anacortes American praised Hansen in an editorial, calling him a "role
model we can all look up to."

"For decades, the Samish have suffered at the hands of government -- the
federal government. Hansen spent most of his life righting a wrong ...
Hansen has fought the good fight, respectful but a formidable foe."

The battle continues. While the Samish regained federal recognition, the
tribe is still in court trying to regain treaty rights such as fishing.

"Ken is a man who has always worked to make things right for his tribe,"
Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell told Indian Country Today. "He's a good man
and an honest man. His word is as good as gold."

Maxwell and Hansen worked together to develop an interlocal agreement in
which Samish pays fees in lieu of property taxes on non-trust property it
owns within the city limits in exchange for police and fire protection
services on those properties.

"I'm proud of that agreement and I know Ken is, too," Maxwell said.

Samish, which has 900 enrolled members, owns a three-building campus on
Commercial Avenue, where its administrative offices are headquartered. It
owns and operates a Head Start preschool and an elders' nutrition program.
It also owns 62 acres at Weaverling Spit, which includes the resort and
adjacent ceremonial site, and 11 acres at Ship Harbor.

The tribe owns property outside the city limits, on Lake Campbell, which is
trust property. Samish will build homes for tribal members there.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at