Ramona Bennett is a longtime and prominent leader from the Puyallup tribe. A pioneering activist on behalf of Indian fishing rights, she co-founded the Survival of American Indians Association in 1964, an organization that helped bring local “fish-ins” to national prominence.
Bennett was elected to the Puyallup Tribal Council in 1968, and elected as Tribal Chairwoman in 1971, a position she held until 1978. In addition to her fishing rights advocacy, she participated in the takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Building in Washington, DC in 1972 and helped take over Tacoma’s Cushman Hospital in 1976. She also opened doors for women activists by actively fighting attempts during the 1970s to exclude her from National Tribal Chairmen’s Conferences.
Much of Bennett’s leadership has focused on issues of social welfare. She began her social service work in Seattle’s American Indian Women’s Service League in the 1950s. In 1972, she co-founded the Local Indian Child Welfare Act Committee. Through the Committee, she developed a model for childhood and family service in Washington State that she used to help her co-author and secure a national Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978. In the 1980s, she served as an administrator for the Wa-He-Lut Indian School in Olympia before going on to co-found Rainbow Youth and Family Services, a Tacoma-based non-profit that she still directs today.
Bennett earned an MA in Education from the University of Puget Sound in 1981, and received an honorary Doctorate of Public Affairs from the school in 2000. In 2003, the Native Action Network awarded her with its Enduring Spirit Award.
Teresa Brownwolf Powers interviewed Ramona Bennett and filmed her giving a presentation at the University of Washington. To the right are streaming-video excerpts.
Work on this interview was made possible by a grant from 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax.