Native Heritage Month: Indigenous Representation
National Native American Heritage Month, which was approved in a resolution by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, is an opportunity to learn about Indigenous people and uplift Indigenous history, cultures, and ways of life. President Bush in 1990 also approved a resolution for Native American Heritage Day, which occurs the day after Thanksgiving.
At United Way of King County, we always acknowledge the presence of Indigenous groups who once lived on the land we now occupy. On our website and in our meetings, we acknowledge that we work on the unceded traditional land of the Coast Salish peoples—particularly the first people of Seattle, the Duwamish Tribe.
We highlight the work of Indigenous groups and people year-round, and this month is no exception. This blog post features James Lovell (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe), development director for Chief Seattle Club who is running for Position 5 on SeaTac city council. Chief Seattle Club is a member of the Indigenous Communities Fund, which United Way launched in 2020 to provide Indigenous communities with resources to address COVID-19’s impact.
United Way of King County: Talk about your running for SeaTac city council: What prompted you to run?
James Lovell: As someone who has always been engaged with government, you can kind of say it comes from birth because every Native person has to be acutely aware of jurisdiction from the day they are born.
I have different rules and laws that I follow as someone who is a citizen of two different nations. I am a citizen of the United States and I’m a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians from Belcourt, North Dakota.
As someone who has worked in the nonprofit sector for the last 20 years, I’m always aware of how important it is to change systems—how that can be done by organizations, how that can be done by intermediaries who aren’t doing direct services, how that can be done by foundations.
And I’m aware of how that can be done by legislators—how those who write the laws, those who analyze codes, those who make sure there is data behind Requests For Proposals that are going to go to create services.
I’ve had this stuff in the air I breathe so much that I think it’s fully concrete in my DNA to be politically aware and jurisdictionally aware.
United Way of King County: What prompted you to run at this time?
James Lovell: There was a projected opening where an incumbent was not going to run again. I started talking with other folks who share a lot of my values in SeaTac.
James Lovell (continued): We said that this was an opportunity for us to hold our values up on a council that’s recently been taking a different direction than it had for a few years. It’s a council that was starting to look at more things like rental protections and economic development for smaller businesses. It’s been looking at doing them in a way that still supports large businesses and everyone who is trying to make SeaTac a great place to live and work. It’s an opportunity for SeaTac to get a Native person as a competitive candidate, I think, for the first time. I knew it was time for me to run personally and it was time for SeaTac to have a Native person.
United Way of King County: What was the process of going from decision to candidacy?
James Lovell: Once the decision was made it was just the mechanics of it. You register and wait to see where a few chips land and then you file when the filing date opens. The bigger process was making sure I was being a good father and a good husband through the decision-making process and making sure I had my partner’s full support before I ran for office.
A lot of times folks get these urges and instincts, and by the time they talk with the people who are their real core support, if their partner says, “No,” at that point, [to run anyway] is being cruel, and you’re going to be resented. We started this conversation in a real and trusting way, where we knew it was okay to say no and have me not run and we knew it was okay for me to say yes and support it. The biggest decision was for me making sure it was a unified front.
United Way of King County: How is your background threaded into your campaign?
As a Native person, I want to bring an understanding that you grow up with that jurisdictions matter, relationship matters, and being accountable to people matters. This is the only place my children have ever known as home. I’m really excited about bringing the background of someone who takes the walk and checks on neighbors and whose neighbors check on us, and that kind of reciprocity creates real trust. I want to bring that to the city council.