Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Native representation to increase in Washington Legislature

caption: Chris Stearns currently serves on the Auburn City Council and is running for Legislative District House Position 2.
Enlarge Icon
Chris Stearns currently serves on the Auburn City Council and is running for Legislative District House Position 2.
Chris Stearns campaign

Washington state is home to 29 federally recognized Native American Tribes, but only one Native person currently serves in the state Legislature. That will change next year.

Three enrolled members of Native tribes are poised to win their elections this fall.

Democrat Debra Lekanoff, a member of a Tlingit tribe of southeast Alaska, currently represents the 40th Legislative District (Position 1), which includes the San Juan Islands. She is on her way to a landslide victory in her reelection race against write-in candidate Republican Shannon Perkes.

Lekanoff emphasizes the importance of having Native lawmakers in office. She points to specific bills she sponsored including one to create a first-in-the-nation statewide alert system for missing Indigenous people.

“More voices with more perspectives that reflect the diversity of the Native community are also needed,” Lekanoff said in an interview with KUOW before the election.

Down in the 47th District, in the Auburn and Kent area, Democrat Claudia Kauffman, of the Nez Perce Tribe, appears to be on track to win back the Senate seat that she previously held from 2007-11. As of Tuesday afternoon, she was ahead of Republican Bill Boyce with 53% of the vote, to his 47%.

Adding more Native voices to the mix is important, Kauffman said, in part “so that you can bring your lived experience, culture and history into the conversation.”

Democrat Chris Stearns, of the Navajo Nation, who currently serves on the Auburn City Council has a commanding lead (64% to 30%) in his race for a House seat in the 47th District (Position 2) against fellow Democrat Shukri Olow.

“It really means that tribal voices and Native Americans living in cities are being heard,” he said. Stearns said there’s still “a long way to go,” but he’s optimistic for a future where more Native candidates run and win.

Not every Native person running this year pulled off a win, however. Out in central Washington, independent candidate Lorene Contreras lost her bid for a House seat in the 14th Legislative District (Position 1).

Contreras is an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation, running this year in a district that includes the entire Yakama Reservation. But her opponent, Republican Chris Corry, was reelected. Corry has served in that seat since 2019.

Why you can trust KUOW