Alana Quintasket became interested in government and politics at a young age.
At 10, her aunt and grandmother — at the time both Swinomish Indian Tribal Community senators — took her to watch the tribe’s annual meeting and general elections.
Her aunt, Lona Wilbur, took Quintasket to the state Democratic Party headquarters in Seattle. And when she was 16, Quintasket attended the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians conference with Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby.
The 27-year-old is now the newest member of the Swinomish Tribal Senate, the governing body of the tribe. Elections were held Feb. 9.
Quintasket defeated Cladoosby, a Swinomish senator for 35 years and the tribe’s chairman for 23 years.
Quintasket, who grew up on the Swinomish reservation and is an intern at Swinomish Planning & Community Development, said she wasn’t surprised at the outcome.
“People are ready for change,” she said. “I didn’t want to be overly confident, but I knew I had a really good chance of (winning).”
Out of 323 votes cast in the race, Quintasket said she received 220, or 68%. She said it was nearly 50% voter turnout — the largest turnout she can remember.
Quintasket said she will be sworn in as senator on March 9. The Senate’s 11 members, who serve five-year terms, are set to elect a new chair on that day.
Quintasket is working to complete her master’s degree in American Indian studies (indigenous rights and social justice) from Arizona State University. She previously earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington where she double majored in early childhood and family studies and American Indian studies.
As an undergraduate student, she was director of Yehawli, a mentorship program for indigenous students, and president of First Nations, a student group that organizes events such as the annual spring powwow. She then worked for the Swinomish Education Department for two years, and taught the language Lushootseed to kids in the tribe’s toddler and preschool program, and to students at La Conner Elementary School.
Quintasket said she was in graduate school in Phoenix last year when she first thought of running for Cladoosby’s position. While the idea was daunting at first, she believed it was time for new leadership.
“Respect is so big in our community,” she said. “I knew that nobody else would do it.”
In addition to being the longest serving chairman in the tribe’s history, Cladoosby served as president of the National Congress of American Indians and as president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. He currently serves on the Washington Indian Gaming Association board of directors.
“(Brian Cladoosby) has taught me a lot,” Quintasket said. “I’m grateful for what he’s done for Swinomish and for people across Indian Country. He’s inspired myself and others with the work he has done.”
She said she would like to see more young tribal members step into leadership roles.
In her new position, Quintasket said she would like to focus on bringing the community together.
“We need to heal ourselves, relationships with each other, to land, water and non-human relatives — those were things that were stolen in boarding schools and child-rearing practices — government policies to assimilate indigenous people,” she said.
Quintasket said tribal members should continue to have opportunities to practice language and culture, starting from an early age.
Another priority for her is addressing a housing shortage on the reservation.
“It’s exciting,” Quintasket said of her election. “Just hearing from people from all over — what I’ve done has inspired them to step up.”