Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman receives Charles E. Odegaard Award for Native rights advocacy

The Squamish Tribe Chairman's love for cultural preservation has led to a life of service.

Forsman will receive the highest University of Washington community-awarded honor for his work advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

Leonard Forsman, ’87, grew up in Suquamish on the Port Madison Indian Reservation. His father served as tribal chairman while his mother helped develop education programs for young children. As a result, Forsman had early exposure to tribal government and working for the good of his community.

In May, the Suquamish Tribe chairman and UW Regent will be honored with the Charles E. Odegaard Award. As a longtime advocate for Native rights and civil rights, and the first American Indian appointed to the Board of Regents, Forsman is receiving the highest University of Washington community-awarded honor for his work advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Chairman Forsman has not only raised awareness about Native issues, but his leadership and advocacy has improved the lives of thousands of American Indians in the Pacific Northwest and nationally,” says Rickey Hall, vice president for Minority Affairs & Diversity and the University diversity officer. “He has been a consistent voice of support and a champion for those who have experienced discrimination, are underrepresented and underserved.”

In the early 1980s, Forsman enrolled at the UW to study anthropology and worked as an intern at the Suquamish Tribal Archives in partnership with the Burke Museum. Pursuing a master’s degree in historic preservation at Goucher College, he studied the relevance of the National Register of Historic Places to tribal cultural values systems. After completing his degree, he returned to the tribe, worked as an archaeologist and later served as director of the Suquamish Museum.

Forsman was elected to the Suquamish Tribal Council over 30 years ago and became tribal chairman in 2005. He is also president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and Northwest regional vice president of the National Congress of American Indians. He serves on multiple tribal, intertribal and intergovernmental boards and commissions including the Kitsap County Regional Coordinating Council, the Friends of Waterfront Seattle, the Washington Indian Gaming Association and the West Sound Partners for Ecosystem Recovery.

President Obama appointed him to the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in 2013 and 2016, when Forsman served as vice chairman. In 2021, Gov. Jay Inslee named him to the UW Board of Regents.

Forsman is also active in the Tribal Canoe Journey as a puller in the Sea-ah-ma-oaks voyaging canoe. He takes pride in the cultural resurgence projects that culminated with the Suquamish Tribe hosting of the Canoe Journey in 2009. Forsman and others continued the efforts of previous Suquamish Chairman Benny Armstrong to return the land of Old Man House Park to the Suquamish Tribe. In addition to a new longhouse to replace the one that was burned down by an Indian agent, the project funded a new pier, an early learning center and the restoration of Chief Seattle’s grave site.

Reflecting on his support for social justice and his history of advocacy, Forsman says that it is more than just standing up for what is right, it is part of the culture of the Suquamish. “Our tribe is very sensitive to discrimination, because we’ve been subjected to it since contact,” he says. “We are very sensitive to protecting people’s rights and human rights.”

The Charles E. Odegaard Award honors individuals whose leadership in the community exemplifies the former UW president’s work on behalf of diversity. The awardee is recognized at the annual Celebration event.

OMA&D Celebration

Join faculty, students, alumni and staff for the Annual Celebration Gala at 5 p.m., May 15, at the Husky Union Building (HUB).