Chairman Brian Cladoosby of the Swinomish Tribe from coastal Washington is honored as a finalist for the 2012 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award for his exceptional skill in strengthening economic and environmental conditions among Coast Salish tribal communities. His dedication to developing a holistic voice for all members of 66 Coast Salish tribes and nations has bridged tribal boundaries, strengthening efforts to protect indigenous human rights and to restore the region from ecological degradation. He has served the Swinomish Tribal Senate for 28 years and has been elected chairman for the past sixteen consecutive years.
As a fisherman, Cladoosby has a strong connection to the salmon from which Coast Salish tribes draw their livelihood. Of his own tribe, he says, “Swinomish always has been and always will be a fishing tribe.” Echoed in this statement is the Chairman’s commitment to protect the environment and natural resources, while ensuring the prosperity of an age-old traditional industry for future generations. The sustenance of these resources for tribal culture and health is of utmost importance.
Chairman Cladoosby and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community share a common goal: to develop a strong economic development plan that supports members’ way of life. The tribe committed to this plan when they purchased the formerly leased Swinomish Fish Company in 2009. The Swinomish Fish Company, one of two remaining canneries in western Washington, represents a tribal investment that ensures that all fishermen, tribal and non-tribal, have the ability to maintain their livelihood.
Brian’s vision and hard work, along with the help of tribal elders and the community, have increased the Swinomish Fish Company’s annual revenue from $3 million in 2009 to $14 million in 2011, bringing economic development back into the hands of tribal communities. Swinomish Fish Company has also increased inter-tribal cooperation in the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska through its purchases of nearly 22 tribes’ fish and seafood resources. By creating the Native Catch seafood brand, Cladoosby has added value to all tribal fishing communities and created a positive image of Indian country seafood processing.
Under the Chairman’s leadership, economic activity has thrived in the Swinomish community with nearly 750 people involved in tribal enterprise. In 2011, Cladoosby was honored with the American Indian Tribal Leader Award at the Reservation Economic Summit & American Indian Business Trade Fair for his exceptional achievements.
Cladoosby has been a strong supporter of the Coast Salish Gathering, a platform that brings together tribal and non-tribal governing bodies to develop innovative policies to protect the environment and natural resources. In 2008, he helped organize the Tribal Journey Water Quality Project in collaboration with the Coast Salish Western Washington Tribes, British Columbia First Nations, and the U.S. Geological Survey to map 607 miles of coastline along the Salish Sea. The initiative coupled traditional tribal ecological knowledge with modern technological equipment, as participants towed state-of-the-art water quality probes and global positioning systems (GPS) in canoes. These efforts were honored in 2009 by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and earned the Coast Salish Gathering the Partners in Conservation Award. The Coast Salish Nation owns the data collected through this project, emphasizing the importance of indigenous autonomy in environmental protection efforts.
When President Obama held the first government-to-government meeting of his presidency in 2010, Brian Cladoosby was selected from a pool of 571 candidates as one of twelve tribal leaders to attend. His eminent career as a spokesman for the preservation of indigenous culture and the development of economic opportunity for Coast Salish tribes makes Cladoosby a distinguished choice for this honor. A visionary dedicated to serving the needs of his people, Brian brings together a strong focus on environmental stewardship, productive dialogue, and spiritual connectedness.
Brian and his wife of 33 years, Nina, live in La Conner, Washington. They have two daughters, LaVonne and Mary, granddaughter Isabella and new grandson, Nathanael.
Photo by Benjamin Drummond