OLYMPIA – Retired Colville Business Council member Mel Tonasket and current CBC member Joel Boyd testified alongside representatives from Eastern Washington University during a work session on a funding request for a Lucy Covington Center Archive in the House State Government & Tribal Relations Committee, Wednesday.

Covington served in Colville tribal leadership from 1954 to 1979. She is widely credited for leading the charge against federal policy aimed at terminating the Colville tribes and other tribes across Indian Country.

Jo Ann Kauffman, a Nez Perce tribal member who served for 12 years on the EWU Board of Trustees, called Covington “the Rosa Parks of Indian Country” and “a treasure that needs to be recognized.”

“Lucy Covington gave up cattle ranching, sold her cattle, bought airline tickets and was able to stop not only the termination of the Colville but the termination policy nationwide,” said Kauffman. “She wasn’t done then. She continued to fight for the restoration of the many tribes that had been terminated back to their full status again.”

If granted, the funding will go toward collecting stories from around the nation on Covington’s impact, according to EWU’s David Buri, who stated eventually the school hopes to build a center in honor of the historic tribal leader.

Tonasket, who served with Covington from 1969 to 1979, noted her impact on his career as well as on the lives and careers of many other leaders in Indian Country.

“She took me under her arm and started teaching me about how to listen, how to think about politics, how to think about the public and how to think about Indian affairs, treaty rights and sovereignty,” said Tonasket. “A lot of young people don’t think deep about what sovereignty really means, what a reservation really is and what the history really is between the U.S. government and tribal nations across the country. It wasn’t taught in schools very much and it still has a ways to go in my opinion.”

Tonasket retired from tribal leadership in 2017.

“When I came into the business, I was mad at the state. I was mad at the county. I was mad at the city. I was mad at the sheriff’s office, and what Lucy taught me is that we all work together in some way or another. We have to rely on each other at some time in our life, in our career, so there must be a way to talk when we need to talk, fight when we need to fight and do it in a professional manner. Whatever you can do with this program at Eastern, please do it. Young people will learn from what she taught.”

EWU announced the goal of starting a Lucy Covington Center at EWU in 2015 when the school posthumously granted the tribal leader with an honorary degree.

Boyd, an EWU alumni, testified to the importance of a cultural center in providing students with support while away from their homes and families.

EWU’s Nicole DeVon, Mescalero Apache, stated the initiative to develop the archive as one that furthers the school’s goal “to develop culturally appropriate strategies that lead to sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships between the university and tribal communities.”

Gov. Jay Inslee included $250,000 for the project in his proposed budget, and EWU has requested an additional $250,000.

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