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In historic election, Seattle names first Indigenous city council president

Debora Juarez, Kshama Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda
Elaine Thompson
/
The Associated Press file
Seattle City Council member Debora Juarez, right, speaks as council members Kshama Sawant, left, and Teresa Mosqueda sit nearby at the May 14, 2018, council meeting.

The Seattle City Council has made history by electing its first Indigenous president.

Debora Juarez, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, will serve as president for the next two years.

The vote was unanimous.

The president sets the council agenda, among other responsibilities. If necessary, the council president also assumes the duties of mayor.

In 2015, Juarez was the first Native American elected to the city council. At the vote on Tuesday, City Council member Lisa Herbold — who was also once a contender for the position — expressed her support for Juarez’s nomination.

“Our beloved city of Seattle needs healing, community, and Debora Juarez is the leader we need to help Seattle heal and unite," Herbold said, quoting the Rev. Harriett Walden. "As an Indigenous woman with strong ties to local tribal, Indigenous communities, it's time for a leader like Debora to restore our relationships with each other and with the Earth."

Indigenous groups and nonprofits serving Native communities have urged the city council to elect Juarez for weeks.

Chairmen of the Suquamish Tribe, Lummi Nation, and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community sent letters to the city council, arguing Juarez deserves the position as she has served the public for decades.

Nonprofit organizations including Chief Seattle Club, a Native-led housing and human services agency, also signed off on letters.

Juarez replaces former city council president Lorena González, who ran for mayor against Bruce Harrell but lost.

Corrected: January 7, 2022 at 2:49 PM PST
This story was updated to clarify that Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold was quoting the Rev. Harriett Walden when speaking.
Lilly Ana Fowler reports on social justice issues for KNKX. She previously worked for the nonprofit news site Crosscut — a partner of KCTS 9, Seattle’s PBS station. Reach her at lfowler@knkx.org.