Paulette Jordan: A Proven Leader

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Paulette Jordan

By JACK McNEEL

The name, Paulette Jordan, should be known to all Idaho residents, since she ran for Governor on the Democratic ticket in the last election.

She didn’t win, but few Democrats do in this notably red state. She was serving her second term as a state representative when she had to give up her seat to run for governor. At that time she was the only Democrat in the House from districts essentially north of the Boise valley.

I first wrote about Paulette in 2009 and sensed at the time that she was slated for great things.

Paulette was raised on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation near Plummer by a very supportive mother, grandmother, aunts, and uncles. She learned nothing was beyond her reach, and the sky was the limit.

Several Pac-10 schools recruited her to play basketball, and she eventually graduated from the University of Washington, excelling both in the classroom and on the basketball floor. Although her focus was on academics and moving toward legislative fields, she credits her accomplishments to sports, which helped open doors.

While at Washington, she became active in their First Nations group and became one of the group’s co-chairs. This allowed her to negotiate with the University President, the athletic director, and some Seattle councilmen for improvements for the First Nations group.

She remembered that as her first major effort in negotiation, something valuable for anyone entering political fields.

This all led to the Alumni Association nominating her as one of the top 40 emerging leaders.

She also spent three months after her junior year as a legislative assistant intern in Washington, D.C. She was thinking even then of eventually being a congressman or senator. “I really felt the young warrior blood in me just pumping,” she said.

At the Boise state convention in 2009 she was asked to run for the position of national delegate. Fifty women were running, many for weeks, and only one would be selected. Paulette was selected to represent Idaho.

During that same time she joined and helped organize the Young Idaho Democrats.

In a different vein, she’s been involved in a couple of movies. She worked behind the cameras in Smoke Signals, the movie written by Sherman Alexi. She also starred in a movie entitled Shoot, Minnie, Shoot, which was about an Indian girls basketball team from Fort Shaw, Mont., which became the world champion basketball team in 1904.

Paulette played the role of Minnie, a Shoshoni girl sent to a school to learn about white people, which she could take back to her people

“I think it’s the greatest story that had never been told,” said Paulette. “There were so many rivalries at that time and racism, yet through basketball they were able to be above it and to make friendships and other nontribal people became supporters of them.”

The role was very personal for Paulette, who felt a strong connection with the main character she played.

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“I felt Minnie and I were one and the same, how she was, her demeanor, everything. She was a natural: tall like me and strong,” she said. “She immediately became a leader. They kept winning, and the hate became less as hate transformed into respect.”

In 2012 Paulette first ran for a House seat in the Idaho legislature. No Native Americans were in the Idaho legislature at that time. Paulette says her greatest mentor was Jeannie Givens, also a Coeur d’Alene tribal member who served in the Idaho House a short time earlier.

Paulette stated that having a Native person in the legislature could improve things for the state’s American Indian population.

“We need to be at the table, to be part of local, state, and federal dialogue. It will help encourage people of all ages to get involved.”

In March of this year, Paulette was asked to be the keynote speaker at an event at North Idaho College, honoring women in the community for work they’ve done and to encourage others to get involved.

She is an accomplished public speaker and shared stories of her heritage, growing up on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, a country girl born and raised in a humble, conservative place where living off the land was normal and where neighbors helped take care of neighbors.

She also pointed out that those times are changing as more and more people are moving to Idaho, which isn’t necessarily bad, only that we need to preserve our heritage and preserve nature.

“You should have representatives who speak for nature, but that’s become a lost faction,” said Paulette. “There is a great awakening in the movement we started in our state.”

Paulette urged people to engage with young people.

“Why are these matters important? Is it the environment you love, clean air and clean water? Is it child care? You need to understand what other people’s needs are and how to engage,” she said. “If you’re talking to a mother with a sick child she doesn’t care if you’re democrat or republican. She’s worried about tending to her child.”

Paulette found her place at an early age, largely due to her elders who would often place her at the forefront and expect her to speak and to lead. Even now she is often asked, “please run for this” or “please run for that.” Her leadership skills come through loud and clear.

But sometimes, she just needs to get away and hit “reset,” so to speak.

“When things get overwhelming, I like getting out in the country,” she said. “I like sports and I like being out with nature and really connecting. I have to remind people to do this. We have to take care of ourselves in our own space.”

Paulette is still quiet about future plans but you can bet thoughts and ideas are underway. She’s a leader. You can bet she’ll be involved. ISI