Thursday, October 28

Colleen Echohawk aspires to be Seattle’s first indigenous mayor: “We have to find ways to change” | Seattle

Colleen Echohawk, a Native American woman and a key advocate in Seattle’s homeless crisis, is running for mayor of the Pacific Northwest city and lays the groundwork for her to elect her first Native American mayor.

Echohawk, a registered member of the Pawnee Nation’s Kithehaki gang and a member of the Upper Athabascan town of Mentasta Lake, is a progressive Democrat, but one, he said, “with strong roots in pragmatism.”

His career success would be truly distinctive. It would mean that the city that more than 150 years ago approved an ordinance expelling the native community, would be led by an indigenous woman.

As the founder of the Coalition to End Indigenous Urban Homelessness, she said she launched her campaign after acknowledging over the summer that the city needed to do much more to help its homeless population amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The status quo has failed a lot of people in this city and we have to find ways to change, we need a new face in the city hall and a prudent person who can make decisive visionary decisions because this is truly a once in a generation opportunity,” he said. Echohawk, speaking to The Guardian from his campaign headquarters in the basement of his home.

Echohawk is not Coast Salish, but has lived in Seattle for 24 years. And before announcing his candidacy, he said that he called the leaders of some of the tribes in the region – the Muckleshoot Indian tribe, the Suquamish tribe and the Tulalip tribes – to let them know that he was considering a candidacy.

“This is their territory and I will continue to lift them up in every way possible,” said Echohawk, who also founded the Chief Seattle Club, a nonprofit organization aimed at supporting the city’s Native American and Alaska Native residents through food, housing assistance and healthcare.

Echohawk is one of the few people who has announced his candidacy after Jenny Durkan, the mayor of Seattle, revealed that she would not seek a second term. But others are expected to join the race before the May submission deadline.

A camp for the homeless in Seattle on December 16, 2020.
A camp for the homeless in Seattle on December 16, 2020. Photograph: Steve Ringman / AP

Addressing homelessness, which has been at crisis levels in Seattle for years, will be a key focus for Echohawk. He said he will seek to improve affordable housing and permanent supportive housing. But he also hopes to employ more innovative ideas, while bringing together people of color, some of whom have been driven out of the city due to high prices, to help develop alternative affordable housing solutions.

The city’s police system is another important issue for Echohawk. At a time of nationwide reckoning over police violence and as some in the local community are calling for police department funding to be eliminated entirely, she said she is ready to begin reinventing law enforcement in Seattle. .

He explained that he has seen some great officers in the city. But he added: “I have also seen some who have been completely brutal to some of my relatives who are homeless. That means we have to have responsibility, a real responsibility. “

A renovation would likely involve withdrawing some agency funding and establishing a public safety department full of mental health workers and neighborhood liaisons who could address homeless and mental health issues. It would also mean taking law enforcement out of the reach of homeless camps.

“Does a person who is experiencing homelessness already have so much trauma and pain and then all of a sudden they are expected to interact and try to get services from a uniformed police officer? It’s just not effective, ”he said.

Echohawk would also like to create an elder leadership group that, if elected, she could meet every two weeks in an effort to get feedback on her ideas.

“That is the traditional value that I will contribute and that other mayors may not contribute because they have taught me to value and listen to the elderly and listen to their wisdom,” he said.

Echohawk’s own ancestors have been on his mind long since he made the decision to race. She is a descendant of the Pawnee people, who saw their numbers violently and dramatically reduced in the face of white expansion in the 19th century.

“They suffered and worked so hard so that I could be doing this job that I am now,” he said. “And I hope they are really proud of me. I feel like they are proud of me. I feel them with me. “

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