The late Carleen Anderson

Tribal leaders from 2008-2010 reflect on her impact 

Former Colville Business Council member Carleen (Desautel) Anderson passed away March 20.

She was 72.

Anderson, who is remembered by many as a tribal leader and a former tribal executive director, served on the CBC from 2008 to 2010. Prior to her death, she was an integral part of the Peacemaker Circle, a group aimed at helping tribal members heal from past experiences. 

A 1965 graduate of Omak High School and former Miss Colville Confederated Tribes, Anderson became a vocal leader within the tribal government — particularly when it came to finances. Anderson ran for tribal leadership during 2008’s Great Recession.

“During the 2008 financial crisis, Carleen ran for a position on the Colville Business Council, representing the Omak District,” Karen Condon, a current CBC member who also served with her a decade ago, said. “She won her seat. She represented the CCT handily. Her compassion, ability to articulate her understanding of all government operations, and enterprises, as well as her kindness toward tribal members was memorable.”

Multiple former council members recalled her concern toward preserving tribal dollars.

“Carleen was a very concerned councilwoman about our tribe,” former Nespelem District council member Andy Joseph Jr. recalled. “Very protective of the tribe’s resources.”

“We both tried not to travel as much to save the tribe money,” Juanita Warren, a former Inchelium District councilwoman remembered.

“She cared deeply about our people, the tribe’s resources and accountability,” former chairman Michael Marchand stated. “She could fiercely argue for her beliefs, but at the end of the day we could be friends and laugh. That’s how (that era of) council behaved.”

Historian and former chairman Michael Finley, of Inchelium, recalled Anderson incorporating tribal history in her leadership style.

“Carleen was person passionate about virtually every aspect of the Tribes.  She was also well-versed in tribal history and had in depth understanding of the termination era having lived through it,” he said. “She collected old documents, and would often bring them in when needed.  She brought that knowledge to the table and would often reference those earlier times when our tribe stood on the cusp of uncertainty. 

“She was firm when she needed to be and would never back down from an honest debate, even on some of the most difficult topics. Carleen also had a kind, grandmotherly spirit about her and like many of us native people, loved a good laugh. We lost another great leader. It was an honor to serve with her and she will be missed.”

That never-back-down mentality was what many remembered her by.

John Stensgar, a former Keller District CBC member, said she would battle for tribal employees as the tribe’s executive director.

“She would hold her ground. This woman had integrity. If she felt it was right to hold her ground she did and she carried that into council,” he recalled. “She was a joy to be around. She had a great sense of humor. … We had a lot of great debates. Not always did we see eye to eye, but we both understood that it was okay for council to disagree.”

Stensgar said he shared a passion with Anderson: meticulously reading tribal documents and legislation as they poured in — sometimes in overwhelming capacity.

“She read everything,” Stensgar said. “I’ve always had respect for her for that.”

Warren added, “(Carleen) and I worked many Saturdays to try and keep up on the paperwork and reading.”

Former Inchelium councilwoman Susie Allen knew Anderson in three capacities: A former CBC member, the E.D. and as the program manager for the tribe’s Purchasing Department. Allen was a purchasing agent in the 1980s and recalls a program in disarray when Anderson was hired.

“I remember the first day she reported to work and met with the employees, she meant business and outlined what her expectations were for all us employees and the program,” Allen said. “She would be evaluating the program and our performance as employees and making recommendations. She presented herself professionally and that included dress attire, which led to a new professional dress code.”

The next professional interaction Allen and Anderson had was CBC to executive director in 2007.

“Again (as the E.D.) she rose to the occasion to serve her tribal membership and employees to address a budget deficit, a feat that seemed insurmountable at the time for all the leadership within the tribe,” Allen said. “She took the bull by the horns, held the comptroller accountable to report what was in our reserves, working night and day along with the CBC to make the recommendations for possible budget cuts. It was one of the best budgetary working sessions I have ever been involved in as a tribal leader.”

That year, Allen recalls the CBC had to cut back $13 million and had to commit to building back up reserves that would remain untouched.

Then, as co-CBC members, Allen said Anderson “came in with a vast knowledge of the tribe and its needs for the people. She was passionate about the elders, youth, and all the membership. She hit the ground running trying to improve the quality of life for all the membership, while holding management accountable on policies and procedures.”

One big decision that 2009-10 council had to make was closing CIPP due to the economic downturn of the housing market — one that led to a low demand and lower lumber prices, Allen said.

“I know this was essentially one of the hardest decisions the CBC had to make,” Allen said. “I recall Carleen readily expressed her concerns deeply with compassion for the 200-plus employees who would lose their jobs within her community she was elected to represent. As with anything, this leader rose to the high-stress task to ensure the workers would be taken care of in any way possible to ensure they had the resources available to get them back on their feet. … She truly loved the Colville tribal people in her heart.”

A full obituary will be feature in this week's Tribune.

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