Carrying on a Cultural Legacy
by Carolyn Shea
Celine Cloquet-Vogler MPA ’06 follows a family tradition of service to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.
Celine Cloquet-Vogler MPA '06 was inspired by her family to continue a longstanding tradition of working for the betterment of her people. "I wanted to carry on what my relatives and elders had done," says the second-term councilwoman for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, who graduated from the MPA Tribal Governance program in 2006. "I remember sitting under the table as a little girl, listening to my father and uncle and cousin, who were all involved in tribal government, discussing our quest to be recognized."
In the 19th century, the Cowlitz people lost not only their vast historic land base in what is now southwestern Washington, but also their standing as a sovereign nation. Although scattered geographically, they stayed remarkably cohesive as a people and united in their vision. Their solidarity and perseverance paid off in February 2000, when the 3,600-member tribe won federal recognition after a decades-long struggle.
Despite this triumph, the Cowlitz remains the only landless recognized tribe in the state. It has long sought to rectify that, too; it is awaiting a decision from the Interior Department to establish a 152-acre reservation in Clark County, north of Vancouver. In the meantime, the tribe has never strayed from its efforts to reconnect its members and their cultural traditions, even when faced with economic and social setbacks. To Cloquet-Vogler, who is now at the vanguard of this movement, it's a matter of justice: "To make right what is wrong," she says.
In order to survive as a culture and pass on their heritage and values, the Cowlitz people regularly come together for meetings, ceremonies and social gatherings. Even though their resources are limited, they continually strive to improve the lives of members. Using funding made available after the tribe's federal status was granted, they provide health care in the two clinics they run in Longview and Vancouver. They also offer scholarship programs to their youth with monies from a 1973 land claim settlement the U.S. government paid for expropriating their land in 1863 without treaty or compensation.
Cloquet-Vogler says the tribe's lack of financial assets poses unique problems to its leadership. "We don't have an economic base," she explains. "We have no casino or anything to create revenue. We're a grant-based economy. That can be challenging." First elected to office in 2004, she says she was moved by her people's confidence in her ability to lead and act in the tribe's best interests, and quickly saw the value of returning to college for her graduate degree. "If I could learn more about tribal government, I could offer more," she says.
At that point, the Tacoma native possessed a B.A. in communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a résumé that included experience in public relations for the Showboat Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, communications for a Seattle law firm, and client relations for an environmental consulting and engineering firm, also in Seattle.
In her MPA classes she was exposed to the lessons of Evergreen faculty members Alan Parker and Linda Moon Stumpff-who together created the graduate program, the nation's first in tribal management-and visiting lecturers like Sam Deloria, the founder and first Secretary-General of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. "The ability to blend real experience with their teachings was incredibly valuable," she says. "When I come to the council table, I know how to debate issues, hear other opinions and negotiate a proposal and win. Through the power of research and persuasion, I'm able to convince the 21 other people sitting on the council to support my ideas."
Cloquet-Vogler, who lives with her husband and two daughters on a 300-acre farm in Copalis Crossing, was recruited to the position of assistant local agency and development services manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation following her graduation. Working for the state has given her a broader perspective in addressing Cowlitz issues. "I learn state policy and carry that over to tribal policy," she says.
When her children get older, Cloquet-Vogler plans on going to law school to gain further advantages in her quest to work for the benefit of her people. And someday, she adds, "I see my children going to Evergreen."