David Barnett, general council chairman of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, died Saturday night from an apparent heart attack at his Shoreline home, the tribe announced Sunday.
“As his spirit soars with the eagles, we ask for you to respect the privacy of Barnett’s family and the Tribe during this time,” the Cowlitz Indian Tribe said in a news release. “Details for a celebration of life will be forthcoming.”
Barnett, a lifelong Cowlitz Indian Tribe member, was elected chairman in June 2021. His father, the late former Chairman John Barnett, led the tribe to federal recognition in 2000.
“(Dave) Barnett dedicated his life to serving the Cowlitz people. He led with passion, deep generosity and an unending commitment to the Cowlitz Tribe. His legacy is one that touched the lives of many,” the tribe said in the news release.
He is succeeded by Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, previously the tribe’s general council vice chair. Greg Hitchcock has been sworn in as the general council vice chair.
“At this difficult time, the Tribe will pull together to honor Dave’s legacy and continue his vision,” Kinswa-Gaiser said in the news release.
The tribe will observe a weeklong tribal mourning period, during which time its flags will be flown at half-staff.
“Our deepest condolences to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe upon the passing of General Council Chairman David Barnett. His strong commitment to the Tribe will be long remembered,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said in a Facebook post Sunday.
According to the news release, among his initiatives, Barnett:
- developed The Language Conservancy program to help preserve and grow the tribe’s native tongue;
- implemented vote-by-mail for tribal elections;
- ensured all members were able to receive equal distribution of COVID-19 relief funds and universal health care coverage;
- supported a hardship policy on enrollment that brings dispersed members back to the tribe;
- sought to ensure the maximum economic benefits of the ilani casino are distributed equally to members;
- honored his father by giving more than $500,000 to Cowlitz Indians in need.
Barnett ran track and cross county in high school and earned a scholarship to the University of Washington, where he earned a degree in communications in 1984.