We asked Kris to answer a few questions about his work and being a leader. Here’s what he told us:
Q: What are your responsibilities as Tribal Chairman?
The Tribe is governed by a seven-person council elected by the adult citizens of the Squaxin Island Tribe. As the Council chair, I am tasked with providing leadership to our Tribal Council and our Executive staff. We create laws and policy to better the way of life for Squaxin Island Tribal citizens and the greater Squaxin community, today and for our future. It is my goal to enhance our Tribes’ sovereignty and protect our inherent Treaty rights. I work collaboratively with local and federal government agencies to protect our natural resources and keep Squaxin at the forefront in any consultation and decision making.
I take pride in my ability as a communicator. Someone who really listens. I embrace difficult discussions, listen to all sides of an issue and work really hard to keep my own biases and each council members’ biases out of our policy-making decisions.
I provide leadership to our business leaders, promote the diversification of our economic holdings, and take pride in our Tribe for being a forerunner in business and providing jobs for tribal people.
Most importantly, I cherish our history and work to maintain our heritage and culture in everything we do. We strive to move our Tribe forward in today’s society and grow economically while not only holding on to our identity but truly embracing it and infusing it into everything we do. This is paramount in maintaining a seven generations mindset and providing a future for our children.
Q: You grew up on Eld Inlet, listening to your great-grandmother share stories of her life on Squaxin Island and fishing with your father. How do your experiences from a childhood spent on the beaches and the water inform the work you do today?
The greatest lessons I have learned from my father and my grandmother are less about tangible, technical skills and more about emotional intelligence and the importance of family, connection, spirituality and a true love and connection with the water and surrounding environment. These lessons have carried me in everything I do. When I teach, I am all about connecting and creating a bond with the students. In every job I have had, every leadership position, I have always valued interpersonal relationships; creating a culture of family and trust and a bond with my co-workers, employees and the community I serve.
It is also important to believe in what you do. If you are lucky enough you will find a job that you are passionate about. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, then it is not going to work and the people you are working with or leading may not truly gel with you. I do things that I am passionate about and I am guided by my strong moral compass and a connection to my people, our culture and the environment. This is engrained.
Q: When Governor Inslee named you to the Evergreen Board of Trustees, he called you, “a true leader.” What do you think makes an effective leader?
A good leader needs to communicate effectively with their colleagues, employees, outside entities and most importantly the community. You must have the ability to listen to differences without dismissing those who don’t agree with you. The ability to grow and learn from others and recognize your own biases is a sign of high emotional intelligence and strong leadership. This is just a little of what I expect from myself as a leader.
I never forget that I am a public servant. Being on Council is not about me. It is not about being in charge; it is not about the title or the recognition; it is not about pay or benefits. It is about service. True compassion, empathy and sincerity is within. If you don’t have these things, then you won’t truly be able to become kinder, helpful or healing. Some people are in leadership positions for the wrong reasons. I have chosen this path because I am Squaxin. That means so much to me. The love I have for our people is indescribable.
I also love to teach and I have a great affinity for the Evergreen State College. I would never have applied for the Board of Trustees at Evergreen had I not had a lifetime of connection to the college through my family, the location and my own educational journey. I choose to be a leader in organizations that I care about and hopefully can impact in a good way and provide a service.
Q: Bonus Round! What’s something fun about you that people might be surprised to learn?
I take pride in some of my family calling me Clark Griswold for my love of family vacations, road trips, and a love for holidays and Christmas decorations. My family and I have many stories from these family trips over the years (ups and downs, scary, funny, and even a little dangerous at times). Broken down vehicle, a hospital trip, scary hotel room, just to name a few and all seemed to occur in the middle of nowhere and hundreds of miles from what seemed like civilization. In retrospect, we share great laughs and memories from these trips. Next time you see me, feel free to ask for details!