Tuesday 23 January 2007

Imogene Bowen, Upper Skagit elder, dies at 71


We'll be thinking of Imogene Bowen from now through the Eagle festival in two weeks...

i learned of Ms Bowen's passing from http://www.indianz.com/News/2007/017659.asp You can read her obituary in the Seattle Times

Imogene Bowen, an elder of the Upper Skagit Tribe of Washington who fought for voting rights, racial harmony and environmental justice, died from cancer on January 5. She was 71.

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Blogger yes-Iah garvey said...

we'll just save a copy of the obituary here...

From Poverty, Alcoholism, a Tribal Leader Blossomed

By Bob Young
Seattle Times staff reporter

After President Clinton finished a speech in Seattle in 1994 he made a beeline for Imogene Bowen, who stood at the front of the crowd, just behind the rope line.

"I'll always remember his people guiding him toward my mother, saying, 'That's her right there,' " recalled Ms. Bowen's son, Joe, a Mount Vernon attorney. With a big grin, Clinton hugged Ms. Bowen and said, "You're Imogene. I've heard all about you."

Ms. Bowen had gone from being a single mom on welfare to a 52-year-old college graduate, tribal leader and political activist courted by Democratic politicians.

"Imogene was one of a half-dozen people you had to talk to if you were a politician headed to Northwest Washington," said former Gov. Mike Lowry, who spoke last week at a funeral service for Ms. Bowen, who died from cancer Jan. 5 at her Mount Vernon home. She was 71.

Ms. Bowen's life seemed to tell the story of many American Indians in Washington state in the 20th century, Lowry said.

When Ms. Bowen was 10, the state took her from her family and put her in an Oregon boarding school in an effort to "civilize" Indian children and steer them away from tribal customs, said her son.

Ms. Bowen later overcame poverty, self-doubt and alcoholism and proudly embraced her heritage. She became a founding member of an intertribal housing authority and helped the Upper Skagit Tribe secure land that's now home to about one-third of its members.

She crusaded for migrant workers, racial understanding, environmental protection, peace and voter registration.

She served as chair of the Skagit Valley Democrats and president of the Washington State Rainbow Coalition, and was a member of Lowry's "Citizen Cabinet." And she did it all, friends and family say, with grace, humor and tenacity.

Her recipes for salmon soup and fry bread — which she often whipped up for political volunteers — didn't hurt, either.

"She taught everyone that to get the job done you had to work hard, be strong and stand up to some tough opposition. She also taught us that it helps to have fun and good food, too," said Debbie Aldrich, who befriended Ms. Bowen almost 30 years ago in a campaign to stop a nuclear-power plant from being built on the Skagit River.

While Ms. Bowen had felt the sting of racial taunts and jabs, she didn't return the prejudice, her son said.

"She never let me indict people as a whole. She said, 'There are bad and foolish people in every race. You have to judge them one by one and then you have to give them a second chance.' "

Ms. Bowen encouraged her son to become a lawyer and pushed him to go to Harvard. Joe Bowen remembers being poised to throw the javelin at a high-school track meet when his mother dashed onto the field waving his acceptance letter from Harvard and threw her arms around him.

Ms. Bowen herself proved to be an excellent, albeit unconventional, student. At the age of 43 she earned a paralegal degree from Antioch School of Law. She later enrolled at Skagit Valley College, transferred to Western Washington University and graduated with honors on the same day her son graduated from the University of Washington Law School.

She insisted that she and other family members attend his graduation, not hers. "'I worked four years for mine, but 25 years for yours,' " her son recalled her saying.

Meanwhile, she worked as a housecleaner because the hours fit her hectic schedule.

During a rally for Jesse Jackson in Seattle, a woman from Mount Vernon peered into her binoculars and spotted Ms. Bowen in a chair near Jackson's podium. According to her son, one of Ms. Bowen's friends heard the woman say, "Isn't that Linda's cleaning lady sitting up there next to Jesse?"

In addition to her son Joe, Ms. Bowen is survived by her children Kay Knott and Jay Bowen, both of Mount Vernon; and Gina Fredburg, and Jack, John and Ray Bowen, all of Sedro-Woolley; and 24 grandchildren.

Ms. Bowen fought cancer for more than a year, her friend Aldrich said. "She loved music and dancing. Even when she was really sick we'd go over to the Edison Tavern and have oysters and listen to country music."

After Ms. Bowen was buried at a family cemetery in Rockport, Aldrich said a huge rainbow colored the sky and about 30 eagles soared overhead. "I think they were definitely there to help her go into the next whatever-you-call-it. They were there to fly up with her."


Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

1/23/2007 10:55 a.m.  

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