Tulalip, Wash. –The vote for the new president was close for a long time, then Quinault Chairwoman Fawn R. Sharp pulled far enough ahead, 421 votes—87 more than opponent Colville Chairman Michael Finley—to become the first woman president of the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians on September 21.
Sharp joins a small group of women who have lead national tribal organizations, a group that includes her friend Susan Masten, who was elected president of the National Congress of American Indians in 1999.
“There was an open door today and we have made history,” Sharp told ATNI delegates. “I believe this is a movement for our generation, and we’ll take our voice throughout the nation.”
Admitting to having goose bumps, Sharp thanked the Creator for putting her on the path of leadership, she called on all Quinault tribal members at the ATNI annual conference held in the Tulalip Resort Casino to come forward and stand with her. She dedicated the moment the grandmothers, the ladies, and the little girls.
More than a decade younger than the now recent past President of ATNI, Brian Cladoosby, who is 52, Sharp and also Finley represent an emerging generation of tribal leaders in the Northwest.
Her run for president of ATNI, which has 57 member tribes in five states, began two weeks ago at a leadership conference at the University of Washington, where a group of elders asked her to run.
“It hadn’t even been a thought of mine,” she said.
Sharp had been very sick for several weeks in the summer, and yet it was time of contemplation and prayer for a Quinault woman who graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, at the amazing age of 19, who went on to graduate from the University of Washington Law School. She received certificates from the National Judicial College at the University of Nevada, and from the International Human Rights Law at Oxford University. Last December 16 she spoke during the White House Tribal Nations Conference.
Today she said the period of sickness and prayer, made her stronger, and ready for the challenge ahead.
“There are 57 tribes in ATNI, and if we put all the citizens from the young ones to the elders, we are many. The work we do is sacred work. Our foundation is strong. I will always hold to you the honor and respect that you have given to me.”
Other ATNI officers were also elected.
Harvey Moses, a member of the Colville Indian Tribe’s business council, was re-elected second vice-president by acclimation.
Taking the podium, he told those assembled, “What can you say?” Then he let out a slight, nervous giggle and rubbed his hands together, and murmured thanks, and gave the podium to Joel T. Moffett, the Nez Perce Tribal Council treasurer, who was also elected by acclimation.
Moffett replaces Sonya Tetnowski, Makah, who did not seek re-election as ATNI secretary.
He said, “I appreciate this honor and faith you placed in me. I’ve been on the council for six years and I’m still young and I’ve got a lot to learn”
And he thanking those who had remembered his late grandfather in earlier speeches, saying, “He always brought me to ATNI as a little kid, and here I am today.”
Moffett emphasized in his acceptance speech the commonalities of the Northwest tribes. He said, “When we go back to D.C. and pressure them, we’re not on the top of the political list. But we’ll keep reminding Obama.”
After Moffett finished speaking, Harvey Moses returned to the microphone and told the crowd, “I’m going to try this again. My father was chairman of the Colville Indian Business Council for 16 years during the termination years. He drug us along to meetings fighting termination. I guess that’s where I get my determination.”
Moses said that experience has left him cautious about the federal government, even in the age of Obama.
“They said, things are going to be different for Native Americans with Obama,” he recalled. “I thought things were really going to change, but he’s only one man and has to battle all those people on the Hill. They don’t much care for Indians, but we have the resources and money to do what we need to do today.”
ATNI’s outgoing President Brian Cladoosby, who has lead the organization in one term to a higher level of policy development and public prominence, called on ATNI member tribes to band together like never before to face the challenges ahead, as one organization serving 57 tribes in five states. He struck a cautionary tone, saying, “We have to stop this rhetoric with some saying ‘the east side wants to take over,’ we have to stop this today.
“We have leadership, we have the board to work for us, and it is a great board to work with,” Cladoosby, the Swinomish Indian Community Tribal Chairman said. “We’re not east side or west side. We are all in leadership for one organization, and I thank God for giving me this opportunity to serve you in this the greatest inter-tribal organization in America.”