In the 1990s, JoAnn helped win federal recognition for sacred sites of the  Nez Perce. Above with U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR) and Keith Red  Thunder, son of Joe Red Thunder, prominent tribal leader. (Kauffman family collection)
Kauffman family collection
In the 1990s, JoAnn helped win federal recognition for sacred sites of the Nez Perce. Above with U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR) and Keith Red Thunder, son of Joe Red Thunder, prominent tribal leader.

Courageous Nez Perce Entrepreneur JoAnn Kauffman Profiled in Legacy Washington


JoAnn Kauffman, a prominent Nez Perce tribe member, overcame a difficult childhood and poverty to become a nationally recognized advocate for Indian health and justice. In 1990, she founded Kauffman & Associates, Inc., based on Capitol Hill and in Spokane, Washington.

RELATED: Kauffman & Associates, Inc., Celebrates & Reflects on 25 Years of Influence

This week, Secretary of State Kim Wyman features Kauffman's inspiring story in her Legacy Washington program special series, "Who are we?" The profile "Roots & Resilience" is written by Legacy Washington Director Trova Heffernan.

Inspired by the women in her family, JoAnn began a long career in Native activism at an early age. Says Ramona Bennett, a Puyallup Indian: “None of us would have accomplished anything without the women who came before us. These women were wearing feathers when a lot of Indians were saying they were Italian.” (Kauffman family)

"JoAnn Kauffman is an inspiring example of a courageous woman from the Pacific Northwest," Wyman said. "She survived a childhood most of us can’t fathom and has worked tirelessly since for the next generation."

As a child, Kauffman shuttled between life as an urban Indian in Seattle housing projects and the Nez Perce Reservation and the small remote town of Kamiah, Idaho. Often left alone by their parents, JoAnn and her siblings raised themselves. Sometimes they lived in homes with no electricity. She and her siblings walked six blocks to a gas station to haul clean water home in a bucket. With no food for lunch, she sometimes carried an empty sack to school.

Kauffman has overcome obstacles to accomplish much in her life, including:

• Helping clear the way for the Chief Leschi Center in Seattle;
• Winning federal recognition for national historic sites of the Nez Perce;
• Founding the National Association of Native American Children of Alcoholics;
• Laying a framework to prevent suicide, violence and bullying in Indian Country’s most vulnerable places; and
• Founding Kauffman & Associates, Inc., an advocacy group with offices in Spokane and Washington, D.C.

Kauffman is part of an accomplished family. One sister, Hattie, became the first Native American television correspondent. Another sister, Claudia, was the first Native American elected to the Washington State Senate. Their late brother, John, was an internationally recognized playwright, actor and director.

Their mother, Josephine Kauffman, was a Rosie the Riveter during World War II and Native activist who struggled with alcoholism and the racism she experienced as a child. JoAnn Kauffman’s grandmother, Lizzie Hayes, buried six of nine children. Hayes was a proud Nez Perce Presbyterian and former student at Carlisle Indian School who helped raise JoAnn and introduced her to the Nez Perce way of life.

"JoAnn comes from a family of industrious women," Wyman said. "Her life is a testament to the impact one generation can have on the next.

"I’m more convinced than ever that Washington is home to some of the most resilient people on the planet," Wyman added. "We owe a debt of gratitude to these individuals for sharing their personal stories with such candor."

In a state of 7 million people, “Who are we?” examines the lives of extraordinary people who have made Washington a remarkable place.

The "Who are we?" project’s first profile is on the Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney, a longtime Seattle civil rights activist. The second profile is on Duane French, a resilient quadriplegic who remade his life and fought for the rights of the terminally ill. The third profile is on Latino winemakers Amy Alvarez-Wampfler and Victor Palencia.

Kauffman will speak at the "Who are we?" interactive exhibit that opens August 25 at 3 p.m. in the State Reception Room, on the third floor of the Capitol Building. The event is free and open to the public.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page