Bullock – Eliza Wily/AP; Inslee – Courtesy Inslee’s office
Democratic Governors Steve Bullock (Montana), left, and Jay Inslee (Washington) have some big shoes to fill from predecessors when it comes to government-to-government relations.

Previous NW Governors Set the Bar High for Successors

Richard Walker
February 15, 2013


Two Northwest governors took office in January, following predecessors who built strong relationships with their state’s First Peoples and ensured there was indigenous representation in their administrations.

Into their second months in office, governors Democrats Steve Bullock of Montana and Jay Inslee of Washington seem to be trying to ensure their states’ first residents have a place at the table.


In his State of the State address January 30, Bullock called for full funding for Indian Country Economic Development, insisting that the funding “become permanent, so year-after-year American Indians don’t have to come, hat-in-hand, asking for these job-creating funds.” He told the Legislature, “[I]f you’re serious about job creation for all Montanans, restore full funding for Indian Country Economic Development and make that funding permanent.

Montana had a total population of 989,415 in the 2010 Census, of which 62,555 were American Indian/Alaska Native – 6.32 percent of the state’s population. Another 668 people were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

Native appointments by the second week of February:

Andrew Huff, Chippewa Cree, was named chief legal counsel to Bullock and Lt. Gov. John Walsh. Huff was formerly assistant attorney general, working closely with then-attorney general Bullock on campaign finance reform, and on Indian Law and water law. Huff is a graduate of the University of Colorado School of Law and Harvard University.

Stacey Otterstrom, a citizen of the Little Shell Tribe, was named boards and appointments adviser to Bullock and Walsh. She was special projects manager to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and most recently was political director of the Montana Democratic Party. She has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Montana and a bachelor’s degree from Montana State University.

“Andy and Stacey are solid leaders and trusted advisers who will serve Montana well,” Bullock said in an announcement of the appointments. “I’m glad to have them joining the great team we’re putting together ...”

Bullock named Jason Smith, Salish Kootenai, director of the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs. The director is selected from suggestions made by leaders of Montana’s Tribal nations.

Smith was state-tribal economic development program manager at the state Department of Commerce. He formerly worked at the Native American Development Corporation in Billings, for the Montana Democratic Party, and as executive assistant to the chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. He graduated from Salish Kootenai College in 2006 with a bachelor of arts in business and entrepreneurship.

Bullock appointed Pat Smith, Assiniboine, to the four-state Northwest Power & Conservation Council. Smith succeeds Rhonda Whiting, a citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, who had been appointed in 2004 by Bullock’s predecessor, Brian Schweitzer. Whiting, whose term ended when Schweitzer left office upon reaching his term limit, was the first Native person to chair the four-state council.

Smith is a Missoula attorney who specializes in state-tribal agreements, economic development, natural resource law, and water rights. He served as attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and, most recently, as a member of the Montana Redistricting Commission. He has a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from University of Montana and a law degree from the University of Montana Law School.

“I am honored to serve as a member of the council,” Smith said in an announcement from the governor’s office. “The actions of the council have real implications for a broad cross section of Montanans – ranging from electric co-op ratepayers worried about rates and anglers concerned about bull trout, to Indian tribes seeking to protect their treaty rights. I’ve spent much of my career bringing diverse interests together and look forward to the challenge.”

Bullock said Smith will be a consensus builder on the council, which is expected to participate in renegotiation of the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty in 2014. The treaty is an agreement on the development and operation of dams in the upper Columbia River basin for energy and flood control in both countries.

“He has made a career of working with others to balance a wide range of competing interests and I believe he will ensure that Montana’s needs are recognized and respected [on the council],” Bullock said.

In addition, of 153 state boards and commissions, several have Native members or are required to have Native representation. Among them: Burial Preservation, Community Service, Crime Control, Economic Development, Humanities, Noxious Weeds, Pardons and Parole, Public Safety Officer Standards and Training, Research and Commercialization Technology, State Emergency Response, Tourism, Trauma Care, and Veterans Affairs.

In his two terms as governor, Schweitzer appointed more than 250 indigenous people to boards, councils, commissions and offices. In addition, he named Henry “Hank” Real Bird, Crow Nation, as the state’s Poet Laureate. Some of Schweitzer’s appointments were nationwide firsts, ICTMN’s Mark Trahant reported in an earlier story.

Schweitzer set a “high bar” in ensuring Native representation in government, Whiting said. “It’s important that Native people have a place at the table, because Native people know best about those issues [affecting Indian country].”

Dale Fenner, Blackfeet/Cree, said that during the Schweitzer administration, the flags of Montana’s First Nations were displayed in the governor’s suite of offices. Fenner, who was a field organizer in efforts to register and turn out a record number of Native voters in Montana in 2012, said he’s glad to see those flags are still there.

Bullock doesn’t have to match Schweitzer’s record of Native appointments, said Fenner, whose mother, Rhonda Monroe Fenner, is administrative assistant in the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs. “Each position should go to the best person, but it’s important that there be diversity. Is Bullock off to a good start? I would say yes.”

Washington had a total population of 6.7 million in the 2010 Census, of which 103,869 were American Indian/Alaska Native – 1.5 percent of the population. Another 40,475 people were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.


Christine Gregoire retired January 16 after eight years as governor. During her tenure, she signed laws or policies enabling tribal law enforcement officers to be certified by the state academy, encouraging schools to teach Native culture and history, ensuring state construction projects avoid impacts to cultural resources, and establishing a process by which tribes can assume jurisdiction over such matters as adoptions, juvenile delinquency, mental illness, truancy, and motor vehicles on tribal land.

She appointed Craig Bill, Swinomish, director of the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs; and Marty Loesch, former director of inter-governmental affairs for the Swinomish Tribe, her chief of staff. She was present when the wrecking ball made its first blow to the Elwha Dam, was a puller in a Swinomish canoe in the last leg of the 2011 Canoe Journey and, last summer, attended an annual meeting of state and tribal leaders at the Suquamish Tribe’s House of Awakened Culture.

Inslee is a Democrat and former U.S. congressman from Kitsap County who served as vice chairman of the Congressional Native American Caucus in 2001-02.

After his election as governor, he appointed Jamestown S’Klallam Chairman Ron Allen to his transition committee. As of the second week of February, he was keeping Bill at the helm of the Office of Indian Affairs.

Inslee appointed Lourdes (Alfie) Alvarado-Ramos, Boricua, to head the state Department of Veterans Affairs; she was formerly the deputy director.

She served 22 years on active duty in the U.S. Army, and retired as command sergeant major of Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis. According to her bio, her military awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Order of Military Medical Merit, Expert Field Medical Badge, and Meritorious Service Medals.

She has an undergraduate degree from New York University, and graduated from executive management programs at Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government and the University of Washington.

In Inslee’s first year, 312 individual board and commission positions will be up for appointment. Like Montana, several have Native members or are required to have Native representation. For example, Tammy Cooper-Woodrich, a vocational rehabilitation counselor and former Nooksack Tribal Council member, is a member of the governor-appointed Washington State Traumatic Brain Injury Council.

From the beginning of his term to February 28, some 54 board and commission positions will come up for appointment by Inslee. Among the issues those appointees will work on: affordable housing, forest practices, homelessness and health care. Inslee will also appoint a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.