Meet Our Keynote Speaker: Colleen Echohawk | Executive Director of Chief Seattle Club

We are thrilled to have you as our Keynote Speaker at the upcoming GoGreen Conference on April 6th. We understand that you are hoping to be Seattle’s first Indigenous mayor with a spotlight on equitable renewal. Can you tell us what that means to you and what action you hope to achieve?

The events of the past year have laid bare the extent of health, racial, and economic inequality in our city. We can’t just assume that our most impacted neighbors and small businesses will recover equitably from the overlapping crisis facing us. The status quo simply isn’t working for most of the people in our city. 

Ensuring public safety and health are critical to restoring comfort levels with public transportation, working conditions, and education. I’m focused on getting people safely back to school and using multi-modal transit. 

I’m committed to a holistic approach to our city’s renewal. By bridging silos to connect the already-people-first champions working within City departments and neighborhoods, we can reshape the norms of our City: from childcare and early learning, access to local and nourishing foods, neighborhood-based mental health workers, economic as well as artistic partnerships, and providing tangible opportunities for public influence on policy. 

As mayor, I would leverage Federal dollars to create family wage jobs that are good for workers, families, and the environment. The COVID-19 recession has impacted Black and African American workers, young people, women and communities of color most in King County. ⅓ of those who filed jobless claims in King County are people who have the equivalent of a high school degree or less. This is not right. Our workers deserve better and to build back stronger, we must center an approach that focuses on the experiences of our most impacted neighbors. 

Seattle has an opportunity to develop jobs to simultaneously address the climate crisis and build back stronger and smarter with a people first approach. Equitable pathways into the trades could help build infrastructure like low income and affordable housing that deliver social, economic, and environmental benefits to foster community resilience in the face of climate change. 

As Mayor, I would lead an equitable renewal process that invites Seattle to return to behavior and practice that recommits to reciprocity. When we make choices that account for the potential impact our community and our planet, we are making smarter choices for today and tomorrow and for generations to come. 

You are a member of Kithehaki Band of the Pawnee Nation and a member of the Upper Athabascan people of Mentasta Lake. How has this background/alliance changed your focus to equitable low-income housing development and Indigenous-led design?

We have to reflect on the relationship between white privilege and urban design. There are many ways that Native populations are victimized by patterns of development. And there are many troublesome patterns in our ever-changing city’s cycles of expansion— we need to explore the potential for reframing our urban narrative by creating an ethic of design centered on Indigenous knowledge.

This means centering a community based approach while recommitting to a right relationship with the land. We need to develop low-income housing that is good for people and the planet. This means making design and development decisions today that supports sustainability for future generations. We need to be building in a way that minimizes impact to our planet. Buildings account for 23% of greenhouse gas emissions in Seattle and are steadily going up. If we do not solve this issue and build in a climate smart manner, we will continue to worsen our chances of curbing climate change.

We should be building with human dignity in mind. Housing like my team and I are building through Chief Seattle Club or housing in the High Point community are exemplary housing that accounts for human dignity, environmentally friendly and community centric design. 

I would love to encourage and enable infrastructure design that reflects the rich diversity of cultures in Seattle, especially that of the Coast Salish tribes. Indigenous led design can mean imagining how a building can keep people safe and healthy while keeping the Puget Sound healthy. It means pairing design with investments in the beauty of parks, greenspace and trees to support spaces for families and children to gather and play while addressing urban heat island effect, air and water pollution. 

On April 6th we will have a session at GoGreen that recognizes how historically white the environmental space is and the necessity for diverse voices to be centered in the work that we do now and moving forward. Can you give us your opinion on steps we can take to create positive change and move away from inequalities? How do we make initiatives focused on just and equitable economies a top imperative?

It is no secret that the mainstream environmental movement consistently misses opportunities to play a strong leadership role in investing in environmental solutions that come from communities most impacted by environmental injustice. That said, Native and Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and the Asian and Pacific Islander communities come from cultures whose identities are intertwined with caring for the land. Our cultures understand the interdependency of the survival and well being of humans on our ability to steward our natural spaces. There is a saying, “those closest to the problem are closest to the solutions”. Environmental solutions must directly address the climate crisis while dismantling systemic inequities. As Mayor of Seattle I would listen to the community and City staff to collaboratively identify ways to build upon the important work of the Race and Social Justice Initiative and the Equity and Environment Initiative. The Equity and Environment Agenda identifies key strategies for the City to advance equity and environmental justice in partnership with communities. I want to make substantial investments in those strategies by supporting a Green New Deal for Seattle. Seattle has long been seen as a leader in climate nationally and internationally. I want to see Seattle continue to lead through our climate justice work. 

One way the mainstream environmental movement can begin to change is to hire Black, Indigenous and people of color in leadership positions at all levels of the environmental movement. This includes non-profits, foundations, private and public sector. The only way that we will effectively curb the impacts of climate change and move away from an extractive economy to a regenerative one is to center the leadership of those who bear the burden of environmental, racial and economic injustice first and worst. 

As Mayor of Seattle I would appoint leaders who intimately understand what it is like to experience these inequities and who also know what it takes to co-develop the solutions with our communities in order to lift us all up. I will prioritize making deep investments in Seattle’s immigrant and refugee communities, in our Indigenous communities, Black communities and communities of color. 

Many of the most promising solutions to displacement, environmental, and economic injustice are already taking place within Seattle neighborhoods. These community-assets deserve support from City Hall, not an obstruction to progress. Central to my platform is an investment in community-based solutions and businesses so City contracts are awarded equitably, and profits are shared with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color-led organizations. We need to model this for other cities around the country and have equitable local economies in all our communities.

For example, the City of Seattle has $1B+ right now in current capital projects, but those contracts and profit aren’t being awarded to people of color owned businesses. An Echohawk administration will renew and update the Community Workforce Agreement and restructure city procurement practices to invest in workforce development and expand priority hire, mentorship and skill building programs, and explicit equity requirements for City contract holders. 

If you’d like to hear more from Colleen – register to join us at the virtual conference on April 6th! See the full schedule and grab your tickets here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s