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  • Writer's pictureMichael Christian

Colleen Echohawk: A servant of growth, a culture of hope


Photo: Courtesy of Amanda Snyder, The Seattle Times

Colleen Echohawk (Pawnee, Athabascan) was born and raised in rural Alaska, in the Athabascan region. The third oldest of eight children, Colleen had an early start in the world of coordination.


Getting the very independently-minded and entrepreneurial family on one page was a half-miracle and agreeing on anything was a different set of odds.


Colleen liked it though, her family was loving and kind, well-adjusted to the interdependent environment of the cold and bitter north. They hadn’t always been there however as her father was Pawnee Indian, not Athabascan. Her family had moved north to work on the Trans Alaskan Pipeline. Her mother was Irish, having her roots in the Great American Gold Rush and both had taken well to the grand nature of the Last Frontier.


She was raised within a community that looked like her, functioned like her, and was trusted, kind, and communal. It was a normal lifestyle within the Indigenous community, like so many others around the continent, healthy and uninterrupted.


After graduating high school, Colleen moved south to date a student at the University of Washington. Her love for self-growth and learning increased dramatically and a few short years later, she graduated from college herself, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in multi-cultural studies.


“I was very fortunate to have attended my community college. My Native mentor and other instructors have severely impacted my future and legacy for the better.”


With her degree in hand and a sound support system in her friends and family, Colleen set her sights on her civic change. Living amongst inequality, underrepresentation, and a lack of awareness for struggles unique to the Native Americans, Colleen began working with the homeless Indigenous communities. Being elected to social boards and organizational charters for public change, Colleen found her passion for empowering others.


She became a trustee at the Seattle College System, the winner of Seattle’s Most Influential People by Seattle Magazine two years in a row, and received Crosscut Media’s Courage Award for Public Service in 2016. She earned both the Adeline Garcia Community Service Award and the Antioch University’s Public Service Award in 2018, as well as winning the King County Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Distinguished Service in 2020. Ultimately, a successful crusader for community-wide growth and rehabilitation, Colleen had nowhere else to go but up, and where else but the Mayor of Seattle?

Photo: Courtesy of Colleen Echohawk

“I came in third in a race that many people never get the chance to run in, and either way, I find myself so fortunate to be a civil servant to such a beautiful people in such a special place like Seattle, in or out of the Seat of Mayor.” She continues, “No matter where we are, it’s our job and our privilege to empower others around us. With vision and cooperation, anything and everything is possible. Imagine you’re the CEO of Target because one day you can be! We’ve got to remember that as leaders, it’s our job to be the uplifting, servants of our communities. It’s only then that we can truly change our cities and our world.”


This is how she felt when her good friend called her to ask if she was open to a role that she hadn’t thought of, in an arena that needed established cultural leaders like herself.


Louie Gong, a member of the Nooksack Tribal community, was on the line and was offered the position of CEO at the award-winning Indigenous textile company, Eighth Generation.


“My kids were in the car with me when I took the call, they said I had to take the job,” Colleen fondly remembers.


“Kids lead us... It’s important to listen when they have representation they feel called by.” -Colleen Echohawk


Her two children felt represented by the Indigenous-based company; the Native artwork generated by the creative teams gave them a sense of cultural relativity on a mainstream level.


“Kids lead us” Colleen shares “It’s important to listen when they have representation they feel called by.”


Known primarily for their blankets, Eighth Generation proved to be a strategic move, as Colleens' leadership style has pushed the company well into the spotlight.

Photo: Courtesy of Marvel Studios Entertainment/ Eighth Generation designers worked with Marvel Studios to manufacture the blankets used in the 2022 feature film, Wakanda Forever.

“Our facility is but a portion of our blessing, to moderate growth in a desire for generational wealth, is one thing, but to be Indigenous is to think about our community." Colleen closes, "Our company culture is highly indigenized, and we think that global issues can benefit from this way of thinking.


How are we doing that? Well for starters, we’re raising awareness about the relevancy of Native values through our art, how we see ourselves, and how we see the world. Our goal is to one day, have Native American artwork in every home across the country."


With twenty-eight thousand square feet of factory warehouse and dozens of motivated and talented indigenous staff, Colleen’s cultural heritage and multicultural training have plenty of opportunity to change the world.


Find more about Colleen's work at https://eighthgeneration.com/pages/about-us

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