Roxanne Murphy started her term as a Bellingham City Council member by building bridges in Washington state.
She started her oath of office January 6 with, “I, Roxanne J. Murphy, member 1224 of the Nooksack Indian Tribe, do solemnly swear …,” underscoring her identity as a Nooksack person and as the first Native American elected to the Bellingham City Council.
Then, in her opening remarks, she talked about family and values – with the community as the family, and the shared values being those that can make the family stronger.
“I moved to Bellingham originally to create stronger connections with my culture and my tribe, and what an amazing family I found there,” she said after taking the oath of office. “And now I’m so incredibly humbled to have a family with the entire city of Bellingham … This is such an amazing family to me. I appreciate the support from every section of this Bellingham family and I will stand by this family and stand up for every value that I can to represent everything that you believe in and we can fight to create the best community possible.”
With a population of 82,234, Bellingham is the 12th largest city in Washington. Council members are considered part-time, and are paid $22,000 a year.
Murphy, 38, was overwhelmingly elected November 5, with 73.94 percent to 26.06 percent of the vote. She garnered endorsements from The Bellingham Herald, the Lummi Nation Council, and numerous organizations and Bellingham council members.
Lummi Nation treasurer Darrell Hillaire said Murphy was elected based on abilities and shared values, and that’s progress – voters saw her not as an American Indian candidate, but a candidate who happens to be American Indian. Elliott Smith, a conference administrator at Western Washington University, said Murphy is progressive and brings a “fresh young voice” to the council.
Murphy wants to protect Lake Whatcom, the city’s drinking water source, from pollution, and raise public awareness of how human activity impacts the lake (she’s been appointed to the Lake Whatcom Natural Resources Council, as well as the Whatcom Transportation Authority and the Whatcom Council of Governments).
She supports redevelopment of the former Georgia Pacific paper mill site on Bellingham’s waterfront into a mix of commercial, maritime, residential and open space uses. She’s opposed to the construction of a coal terminal at Cherry Point, a culturally and environmentally sensitive area and spawning area for an endangered herring population.
Other priorities: Improving public safety and protecting recreational amenities. She also wants to encourage more American Indians and women to run for local office.
Natives taking local offices in January include: Matt Jolibois, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, fourth term on the Fircrest City Council; Duane Johnson, Colville, first term on the Coulee Dam City Council; and Chris Roberts, Choctaw, second term on the Shoreline City Council. Cindy Webster-Martinson, Suquamish, joined the North Kitsap School Board in Poulsbo, west of Seattle, and is the first Native elected to that board.
Steve Oliver, Lummi, has served as Whatcom County treasurer since 2012; he’s a former Ferndale City Council member. Randy Scott, Tsimshian/Gitxsan, has served as mayor pro tem of Ocean Shores since 2012.
Murphy is an avid cyclist, hiker and skier. She has degrees in communications and public administration, and is assistant administrator of the Nooksack Tribe.
Previously, she lived in Tacoma, where she worked as communications specialist for the city. As a resident, she was active on the neighborhood level and ran unsuccessfully for the City Council. She was named Best City of Tacoma employee in 2008 by the Tacoma Weekly, and was profiled in the Tacoma Business Examiner’s 2008 “40 Under 40.″
After moving to Bellingham two years ago, she worked with her neighbors to improve public safety in their neighborhood. Neighbors began reporting crime and suspicious activity, cleaned up the street, and pushed the city to pick up abandoned vehicles.
“I'd love to bring this public safety focus to the entire Bellingham community,” she wrote during her campaign.