Tuesday, January 9, 2007

More Natives Join Washington Legislature

"We love Washington," said Kalyn Free, president of INDN's List, who flew in from Tulsa for the honoring ceremony, held at the longhouse at Evergreen State College. "Washington was one of the states we focused on the most. You are a swing state, and you have proven the Indian vote can make a huge difference. We want more Indian people here to vote and to run for office."

More Natives step into Legislature
By Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times staff reporter

OLYMPIA — Wrapped in Pendleton blankets and honored by neighboring tribes, four members of the state Legislature were recognized Monday night in a ceremony celebrating the largest number of Washington lawmakers ever claiming American Indian or Alaska Native heritage.
The increase parallels national growth, with 64 Native people serving in legislatures in 14 states, up from 50 people last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Oklahoma has by far the most, with 18 Native lawmakers. Alaska and Montana are next with nine each, then New Mexico with six, and Washington with four.

"It's the most ever," said Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

And that's no accident: It's a result of a renaissance of political activism in Indian Country. While Indians are only about 2 percent of the state's population, casino wealth has helped Washington tribes gain clout. Tribes helped oust former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton in 2000, provided important financial help in the recount in Gov. Christine Gregoire's razor-thin victory, and helped boost U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell to re-election. Groups such as NCAI and INDN's List, or Indigenous Democratic Network, have worked to get out the vote in Indian Country, encouraged candidates to run and educated all candidates about Indian issues.

Newly elected lawmakers Don Barlow, an enrolled member of the Ottawa Nation of Oklahoma and Democratic representative from Spokane, and Claudia Kauffman, an enrolled member of the Nez Perce tribe and Democrat from Kent just elected to the Senate, both attended INDN's List's first-ever campaign camp in Washington. They learned how to raise money, knock on doors and run professional campaigns.

The state's other two Indian lawmakers are Reps. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, and Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon. McCoy was first elected in 2002 and Morris in 1996.

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