by Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News
Every week the Obama Administration highlights ordinary American citizens chosen by their peers for acts of extraordinary service in their communities.
They are called the “Champions of Change” for their above and beyond dedication to innovative efforts to improve the lives of their fellow neighbors in areas such as science, health, education, technology, communication, and more.
On Tuesday, July 23, Tulalip Vice-Chairwoman Deborah Parker was honored as an Open Government Champion of Change, along with six others.
Nominees are selected by their peers for being entrepreneurs, innovators, organizers, and community leaders. Their efforts include, “piloting innovative programs to involve traditionally disengaged communities in local governance; using technologies to enhance government transparency and collaboration.”
Parker was selected based on her work with the Violence Against Women Act.
When asked during a White House Champions of Change panel discussion what motivated her to become vice-chairwomen, she responded, “The dream of living on our reservation and seeing the changes that needed to occur, from health care to hanging onto our traditional Native language, and really just getting through what it means to be a Native American in this country.”
When asked about her role in advancing cultural development, Parker discussed the lack of Native American representation tribes face during national or local decisions.
“We are lucky if we get a day or a week in the public schools systems, learning about Native Americans. I knew I had a big job, and with that I knew I had to go to Washington D.C. to help fight for our rights to protect our salmon runs and help protect our health care dollars.”
Parker’s work on VAWA began long before she became her tribe’s vice-chairwoman. As a policy analyst for her tribe for nearly two decades, she understoods the importance of maintaining tribal sovereignty and treaty rights.
“The more I learned about our own government, I learned about our Nation’s capitol government, so between the both I really sought to make some changes. A big change that was important to me was the Violence Against Women Act,” said Parker.
While Parker and others worked tirelessly to have Native American women included into the reauthorization of VAWA, it did not pass. Parker said she was determined not to give up even though the House bill omitted the protection for Native American women living on reservations.
“That really sparked something inside of me and I said, wait a minute, Native American women need to be protected equally, as any woman in this country, and any visitor that comes to our traditional lands should be protected,” said Parker.
“It took a lot of knocking on doors and having to explain who we are as a traditional cultural people and how we run our government, and how nation to nation building is so important to us. In the end I was very proud that Congress decided that Native American women are important to protect, and now we are a part of VAWA.”
While Parker may have become the face of VAWA, she explained to the panel the work was accomplished by a host of people. Those that worked with her included not only advocacy groups of native women and non-native members, but also men.
“We stood together, we stood strong and we created change. And that took a lot of education and it took a lot of explaining. Many people do not even know where Tulalip is, and what we go through on a daily basis trying to maintain our language and trying to make sure our people have good health care. As a young tribal leader I’ve had to not only learn from a university prospective, but I’ve had to learn our traditional ways and what our elders teach us,” said Parker.
When asked what she believed would continue to move development forward for Native Americans, she mentioned the need to improve communication between tribes and the nation’s capitol.
“For reservations across the nation, bridging the digital divide and opening up communication has been a very difficult process because of economics, and how some tribes are in very remote areas. I know it creates challenges for tribal leaders across the country to communicate.”
Having traditional cultural ways represented and understood on a wide scale is another important concern for tribal leaders, not only in Tulalip, but across the nation, Parker pointed out. Especially in school districts, sometimes the worst offenders in cultural misappropriations.
“We are looking for ways to bring back those traditional cultural ways so that our children don’t feel isolated in the school system, and our children don’t feel that they are not part of this country, because we are very much a part of the fabric and we are not going anywhere.”
“We don’t represent a huge number in the United States, but for us, we have many generations of stories we can tell. I believe the United States has so much to learn from Native Americans that would enhance who we are as a nation. It’s going to take a lot of work from not only our people, but from caring people that are interested in learning about new ways of life and learning old ways.”
Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-913-5402; firstname.lastname@example.org