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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Debora Juarez elected first Indigenous president of Seattle City Council

Seattle Councilmember Debora Juarez stands near Sound Transit’s Light Rail station at Northgate on September 17. Tuesday, she was elected president of the City Council.  (Ellen M. Banner/Seattle Times)
By Sarah Grace Taylor Seattle Times

Councilmember Debora Juarez was elected president of the Seattle City Council on Tuesday, making her the first Indigenous president in the council’s history.

The nine-person council voted unanimously at the top of their first meeting of 2022 to elect Juarez, a member of the Blackfeet Nation.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who was at one point vying for the position against Juarez, co-nominated Juarez as president, “stepping aside” to support Juarez as council president for 2022 and 2023.

“When discussing the council presidency with Councilmember Juarez, she told me about the Blackfoot Confederacy model of kinship, and acknowledgment of our humanity and the source of our power to thrive together,” Herbold said, calling for her colleagues to support Juarez.

Juarez kept her remarks brief, but thanked the council for their support, specifically praising Herbold for being “gracious and kind.”

“I want to thank all of you, and it’s an honor,” Juarez said, before moving into the council agenda.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Juarez said she appreciated her partnership with Herbold, adding that she was “really touched.”

“It’s what our people call the sunflower model, where all the energy from the outside goes to the inside. And usually you do it that way because the inside is where all the energy is in young people,” Juarez explained. “And that’s my leadership model.”

Juarez declined to say how she and Herbold came together in the end, only saying that it was a “collaborative” decision.

As president, Juarez says she will work to make the council more team-driven.

“You know, I’m more of a thinker and collaborator, and I’m not interested in the hierarchy,” Juarez said, later noting that she doesn’t believe in looking at city government as a building block for a political career.

“At the end of the day, the only thing government is supposed to do is to make people’s lives better.”

In her time on council, Juarez has led the city’s efforts to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People epidemic and created the first-ever Indigenous Advisory Council.

As council president, she says she want’s to continue those efforts by giving tribal governments due input.

One of the first major actions Juarez had to undertake as president was assigning the nine council members to committees.

The council also swore in Sara Nelson and Teresa Mosqueda, on the same day new Mayor Bruce Harrell held a small inauguration, offering a similar message of unity.