The impact of a landslide election victory has had the effect of an earthquake on Swinomish Reservation, the aftershocks from which are likely to be felt for quite some time.
First-time candidate Alana Quintasket, 27, defeated incumbent Tribal Senate Chairman Brian Cladoosby 220-103 during balloting held in conjunction with the annual Swinomish General Council session on Sunday. Cladoosby, the longest serving Senate Chairman in Swinomish history and recognized as a key regional and national Native American spokesman, was seeking his eighth five-year term on the 11-member Tribal governing panel. The election of Quintasket, who emerged as a campus leader at the University of Washington and Arizona State University, is widely viewed as generational. She was born at about the same time Cladoosby assumed the Tribal Senate chairmanship, midway through his second term. “The winds of change are blowing,” said Dr. Wil James, of Swinomish, who prior to the election praised Cladoosby as “greatest leader in recent Swinomish history” while noting that Quintasket, as a young, college-educated female, would represent an entirely new voice on the Senate. Swinomish Senator Eric Day echoed that view in a social media post after the election results were announced. “It’s time,” he said, after lauding Cladoosby’s leadership and extensive mentoring skills, “for the next generation of leaders to take the mantle.” That discussion of direction was taking place late Sunday evening, as some stayed until 10 p.m., nine hours after polls closed. The Weekly News reached out to Quintasket and Cladoosby following the General Council meeting but as of press time Tuesday had received only comments in an official Swinomish Tribal Community press release. In a prior interview with the Weekly News, Quintasket credited Cladoosby and present Tribal leaders with helping give her and those of her age the tools to serve on the Senate. She repeated those sentiments in the press release. “We all thank Chairman Cladoosby for his love and dedication to Swinomish for many years,” she said. “He has led our community at home and across the country with strength and vision. He has brought us far and is the reason that I am prepared to step into a leadership role today.” Cladoosby, 60, a 1977 La Conner High grad, has been president of both the National Congress of American Indians and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Washington. He has shared speaking engagements with former U.S. President Barack Obama, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and numerous other political, business and environmental leaders. He also been an occasional guest columnist for the Weekly News. Under Cladoosby, Swinomish has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth and made major advances in education and development of community health services programs and facilities. During his tenure, Cladoosby has frequently spoken out on a wide range of Native American sovereignty issues, leading some to tag him as an activist and lightning rod, labels he rarely if ever shied away from. Few expect his failed Senate re-election bid to completely sideline Cladoosby. “He has the ability,” James said, “to serve his community and the greater community at a higher level.” For his part, Cladoosby avoided specifics in the Tribal statement issued Sunday. “The Creator has chosen a new path for me,” he said, “and Lord willing, Nina and I will find that together,” referring to his wife. At General Council, which included a luncheon and lengthy floor discussions, Swinomish voters retained Senator Sophie Bailey, who ran unopposed for re-election. Bailey is a daughter of the late revered Swinomish leader Chester Cayou, Sr. “I am honored to serve our people,” Bailey said. “My late father taught us that leadership is about loving, caring, and sharing. I will continue to work to follow his teaching on behalf of all our people.” The Senate will select a new chair to succeed Cladoosby at its next meeting.