Born in his grandparents' home on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation in 1951, David Matheson, '73, '89, did not grow up in a life of material means. His parents, who had little money, relied on a wood stove for heat and a nearby creek for drinking water. For food, Matheson recalls hunting and picking berries. "My parents taught me that life is not about having more, but rather doing more and being thankful," he says.
David Matheson, '73, '89. Photo courtesy of Media Weavers Publishing.
"Doing more" became a way of life for Matheson. After earning two degrees from the University of Washington, he went on to serve as deputy commissioner for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior. There, he managed the Bureau of Indian Affairs' 13,000 employees and a budget of $1.5 billion.
Today, as CEO of the Coeur d'Alene Casino and Resort in Worley, Idaho, Matheson oversees a business operation that "has made a night and day difference in the lives of the people of the Coeur d'Alene reservation," Matheson says. "We went from around 70 percent unemployment to 10 percent. We fund youth and education programs, elder care, housing, and health care.
"There is a new attitude on the reservation. An attitude of confidence and optimism, rather than hopelessness and despair, permeates our lives now."
While at the UW, Matheson, 51, served as president of the American Indian Student Association and helped stage a campus pow-wow each springan event still enjoyed today. He received his bachelor's degree in political science in 1973 and came back to earn a master's in business administration in 1989. "I really learned how to write at the UW, and that skill has served me well," he says.
His new novel, Red Thunder, published by Media Weavers, chronicles the Coeur d'Alene tribe prior to white settlement. "I wanted to capture the essence of our authentic traditions and customs, our principles and teachings," says Matheson.
Matheson also served as an adviser for President George Bush's Commission on Reservation Economies. In recognition of his efforts, Matheson received a commendation from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for Outstanding Service.
"I can't think of anything more worthwhile than being able to help native people meet their needs," Matheson says. "It has meant everything to me." Kelsey Mertes