CIRI Spotlight: Sheri-Lee Williams

CIRI has a unique cultural diversity due to its location in Alaska’s urban center, where many Alaska Natives relocated from other regions. Its shareholders belong to many different cultures and backgrounds. CIRI shareholder Sheri-Lee Williams is a great example of this, with both Alaska Native and American Indian roots.

Sheri-Lee’s father, Alexander, was born in 1909 in Kotlik, Alaska. His parents, Romak and Ireena Kamkoff, died in the influenza epidemic that swept the globe in 1918. Romak was a mail carrier by dog sled and riverboat in that area, and the villagers referred to his log cabin in Kotlik as the Kamkoff Castle.

Upon their parents’ illness and death, the young orphan children were taken to Deming, Wash., by Senator Edwards, who owned the trading post in Kotlik. The children’s relatives in Kotlik sent boxes of gold with the children to ensure their well being. Alexander used his gold to attend Washington State Pullman University and graduated in 1937. He is believed to be the first Alaska Native to receive a civil engineer degree in the U.S., earning a 4.0 grade point average. He married Sheri’s mother in Bellingham, Wash., the day of her high school graduation.

Sheri-Lee is also a member of the Lummi Nation, a recognized American Indian tribe in western Washington State. The Lummi Nation signed the original Point Elliott Treaty of 1855 with the United States. The treaty gave the Lummi Nation their treaty rights, ceded sovereign lands, fishing and hunting rights, with lands and beaches held in trust. The Constitution of the United States recognized the treaties.

Sheri-Lee’s mother, Mary, was a strong Treaty supporter in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s as a representative of the Lummi Nation Council, an 11-member elected body. Her work with state and federal officials helped lay the foundation of many of today’s Indian organizations.

The Lummi Nation recently appointed Sheri-Lee as treasurer, her third appointment to the Office of the Treasurer. The Lummi Commercial Co. board also appointed her as their treasurer-secretary, again for the third time. Sheri-Lee anticipates that holding both positions will allow Lummi to reach out and focus more on economic development, which will result in an extremely busy and productive year for the Lummi Council.

Sheri-Lee’s additional council-appointed responsibilities include: Lummi Commercial Co. board member; Capital Projects Working Group; Economic Development Task Force; Water and Sewer District board member; Port of Bellingham Negotiation Team; reviewing and amending tribal ordinances from the Lummi Code of Laws; and planning scholarships through the Bakke Graduate University Team. Sheri-Lee is also chairwoman of the Lummi Budget/Finance/ Investment Committee and manages Community Contributions 501(c)3 allocations.

Sheri-Lee is committed to protecting the fishing areas and hunting rights for all tribal members. She seeks unity with other entities in Puget Sound on enhancing natural environmental resources and the long-term plans and primary rights of the Lummi Nation.

The Office of the Treasurer’s goal is to create a comprehensive financial plan for the Lummi Nation that includes calls for a capital plan for future tribal construction and development. The six approved first phases include development of a new tribal center, HeadStart building, expanded casino gaming, retail facilities at the Lummi’s Interstate-5 property and securing better loan terms by refinancing. And high priority has been given to developing a Boys & Girls Club and Veterans’/Elders’ Building.

“We selected a financial consulting firm to provide technical assistance as we finance the above-listed projects, prepare to issue the ARRA (stimulus fund) bonds and plan for a bright future for our children,” said Sheri-Lee. “We seek to partner or joint venture with other Native businesses to help both worlds create jobs and resource opportunities for Native people.”

Sheri-Lee enjoys attending the CIRI meeting in Puyallup each year and sells Native design scarves and merchandise. She also owns an RV Park built in 1995 on her property in Lummi. Sheri-Lee visited Kotlik in June with her three brothers, Ed, Andy and Chuck Kamkoff. She can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] or [email protected].