Dave Barnett, general council chairman of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe who successfully guided his tribe’s economic development, has died.
The cause was a heart attack Saturday at his Richmond Beach home. He was 61.
Born Oct. 9, 1960, in Aberdeen, Washington, Barnett was elected chairman in June 2021. His chairmanship was a capstone of a long career serving his people, particularly as a spokesperson for his tribe and point man on deeding the tribe’s first land into trust and developing a casino.
“Barnett dedicated his life to serving the Cowlitz people. He led with passion, deep generosity and an unending commitment to the Cowlitz Tribe. His legacy is one that touched the lives of many,” the tribe stated in a news release.
In accordance with the tribe’s succession plan, Barnett is succeeded by Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, general council vice-chair, according to the release.
“At this difficult time, the tribe will pull together to honor Dave’s legacy and continue his vision,” Kinswa-Gaiser said.
Barnett’s work to gain federal approval to deed land into trust and develop a casino was a long fought battle made more difficult by opposition from non-Indian card rooms. They feared competition from an Indian casino on the 152-acre property at an interchange with Interstate 5 near La Center in Clark County, just 20 miles from Portland.
His other accomplishments, according to the tribe, include:
• Developing The Language Conservancy program to help preserve and grow the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s native tongue.
• Implementing vote-by-mail for tribal elections.
• Ensuring that all members were able to receive equal distribution of COVID-19 relief funds.
• Striving to provide universal health care coverage for all members, no matter where they live.
• Supporting a hardship policy on enrollment that brings dispersed members back to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.
• Honoring his father by giving back more than $500,000 to Cowlitz Indians in need, including disabled members.
His father John Barnett also led the tribe as chairman. He secured federal recognition in 2002, itself a 25-year battle his son helped with and learned from.
Kent Caputo, chief operating officer for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, worked with both father and son and saw the determination and strength in each man. “He was very bright, very capable and very tenacious,” he said of Dave Barnett.
“If you measure length of life by how fast a guy moved, he outlived us all,” Caputo said.
Barnett earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Washington, and his interests were broad, from investments to music, including local bands, Caputo said. Barnett had multiple projects he was working on at the time of his death, including devising new ways to deliver tribal services for members who are dispersed around the country.
Abuzz with plans, “He was happier than I’d ever seen him,” Caputo said.
Barnett was on the track team at Aberdeen High School, where he was recognized as the greatest long distance runner in the school’s history.
Unbeaten in league and cross-country in both his junior and senior seasons at Aberdeen, he completed his high school career by winning state AAA championships in both sports, according to the school. He captured the cross-country title in the fall of 1978, then won the state 2-mile title the following spring. A high school All-American in both sports, he also established the state record for the steeplechase in 1979. He also set school records for the mile and 2-mile the same year.
Barnett was a four-year letterman in track and cross-country at the University of Washington, winning more than 20 races at the college level and competing in the NCAA cross-country championships.
“Dave was a go-getter, if he wanted it, he was going to get it. He was going to find a way,” said his wife, Jeanine Lundquist, of Richmond Beach.
He was also a generous person, digging into his own bank account to help anyone who needed it, she said. “If you needed anything, he would step up and help you out, he never wanted to see anyone suffer,” Lundquist said. “A wheelchair. A prosthetic leg. Money for legal fees. Anything. Money for gas. You could ask and Dave would just be there.”
She remembered a man who also was both funny and fun. “He loved to go do things, he loved nature, beaches, hiking. We did everything.”
In addition to his wife, Barnett is survived by a son, Jake of Bellevue, a daughter Anabelle of Charleston, South Carolina, and his mother Edythe Hulet of Olympia. He was predeceased by his brother, Mike.
The tribe asked for privacy “As his spirit soars with the eagles.”
Details for a celebration of his life will be forthcoming.
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