Theodore “Ted” George, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s oldest elder, passed away May 13 at the age of 92.
George was born in 1928 to Martha and Bennie George. Martha was a Suquamish member and Bennie was Port Gamble S’Klallam, which meant their 10 children could choose which tribe to enroll with. Ted became Port Gamble S’Klallam and would graduate from North Kitsap High School in 1947 at a time when many tribal youth dropped out of school due to unending harassment by their white peers, a tribal news release says.
In 1951, he became the first Port Gamble S’Klallam member to graduate from college. With his degree in education from Western Washington University in Bellingham he hoped to teach at Indian Schools. But these schools were controlled by white administrators so he did not get a job in his chosen field until the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954.
While George did fulfill his dream of becoming an educator for Tribal youth he would take his passions to an even bigger stage.
Starting in 1967, George helped advance education for Tribal youth on a national level, first as an appointee to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Education Committee under President Johnson. He visited a number of Indian Boarding Schools across the U.S. and, in 1968, became a leading voice to Congress advocating for the closure of the boarding school system.
Under the Nixon administration, George headed the committee to search for a director of the then-newly formed Office of Indian Education. After presenting several candidates, each were rejected without review. Fearing that the department’s mission would go unfulfilled without qualified leadership, George eventually forced the administration’s hand and the committee’s top choice was appointed
For 16 years, George served as the Regional director of the Administration for Native Americans, responsible for awarding grant money to further the economic, social and cultural development of tribes in eight Western states. “We’re a piddlin’ little agency of about $30 million, but our money has probably turned more corners and has been on the cutting edge of a lot of Indian issues,” he said. During his tenure, the National Congress of American Indians named the ANA the U.S.’s Best Domestic Assistance Program.
George continued to work for local tribes and universities, and held several appointments focused on pushing forward tribal issues and concerns. In 1987, as the chairman of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia’s First Nations Committee, he contributed to an apology issued by the church directed to Native Americans and Alaska Natives. This document became an example of how the institution as a whole should address these issues and was circulated throughout the world. The original letter is enshrined at the church’s headquarters in Switzerland.
In 2018, the Theodore “Ted” George Legacy Award was established, recognizing Port Gamble S’Klallam members who demonstrate a lifetime of dedicated service to the advancement of issues related to education, cultural preservation, sovereignty and/or treaty rights protection. George was the first recipient.
In 2019, Rose Purser was awarded the award for her decades of service working for the tribe. Purser died earlier this year.
“Throughout their lives, Ted and Rose had love and passion to spare,” said Jeromy Sullivan, tribal chairman. “They dedicated themselves to our people, working every day to be a role model and make life better for others.”
George is survived by his wife, Karlene, along with a brother, eight children, 14 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.
A community-wide Celebration of Life for Ted George is planned for June 11 at 1 p.m. at Kiana Lodge in Poulsbo. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Ted George Student Financial Aid Fund managed by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Foundation. To make a donation, please visit https://www.