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Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman to Receive Charles E. Odegaard Award

The University of Washington Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity has announced Suquamish Tribe Chairman and UW Regent, the Honorable Leonard Forsman ’87, as the next recipient of the Charles E. Odegaard Award. As a long-time advocate for Native rights and civil rights, and the first American Indian appointed to the University of Washington Board of Regents, Forsman will receive the highest University of Washington community-awarded honor for his work advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

Forsman grew up in Suquamish, Washington, on the Port Madison Indian Reservation and lives there today with his family. His father served in the United States Coast Guard and later served as Suquamish Tribal Chairman. His mother worked on early education opportunities for students and his older brother and sister were actively involved in civil rights and social justice activism in the 1960’s. Forsman was inspired by the work of his family and, over the past forty years, has actively worked to solve a number of complicated issues. Some of the most notable issues he has tackled are Tribal sovereignty and Native voting rights, the environment and climate change, education, economic development for Tribal communities, and he also spoke out in support of LGBTQ+ rights long before same-sex marriage was legal across the country.

“Chairman Forsman has not only raised awareness about Native issues, but his leadership and advocacy has improved the lives of thousands of American Indians in the Pacific Northwest and nationally,” said Rickey Hall, Vice President for OMA&D and the UW  University Diversity Officer. “He has been a consistent voice of support and champion for those who have experienced discrimination, are underrepresented and underserved.”

Forsman has served on the Suquamish Tribal Council for over thirty years and as Tribal Chairman since 2005. In addition to his Suquamish Tribal leadership role, he is President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Northwest Regional Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians and currently serves on multiple tribal, Intertribal and intergovernmental boards and commissions including the Kitsap County Regional Coordinating Council, the Friends of Waterfront Seattle, the Washington Indian Gaming Association and the West Sound Partners for Ecosystem Recovery.

When asked about his social justice work, Forsman replied that it is more than just standing up for what is right, it is part of the history of the Suquamish Tribe. “Our tribe is very sensitive to discrimination because we’ve been subjected to it since contact. We are very sensitive to protecting people’s rights and human rights.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama appointed Forsman to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as the Native American Member and again in 2016 appointed him as the Vice-Chair. In 2021, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee named him to the Board of Regents for the University of Washington. Prior to Forsman’s tribal leadership service, he worked as a professional archaeologist and is the former director of the Suquamish Museum. Forsman is also active in the Tribal Canoe Journeys as a puller in the Sea-ah-ma-oaks voyaging canoe. In 2011, The Potlatch Fund honored him with the Fran James Cultural Preservation Award.

Some of the work that Forsman is most proud of are the cultural resurgence projects which culminated with the hosting of the Canoe Journey in 2009. Among these accomplishments, Forsman and others continued the work of previous Suquamish Chairman Benny Armstrong which resulted in Washington state returning the land of Old Man House Park back to the Suquamish tribe. After the return of the land, the tribe completed the rebuild of a replica of the Old Man House, renamed The House of Awakened Culture, which stands on the land that had previously been occupied by the Suquamish tribe for more than 4,000 years. In addition to the new longhouse was the construction of a new pier, a new early learning center, and the restoration of Chief Seattle’s grave site.

Forsman attended the University of Washington where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. He later earned a Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation from Goucher College where he studied the relevance of the National Register of Historic Places to tribal cultural values systems.

On May 15, 2024, The Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity and its Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program Board will present Chairman Forsman with the Charles E. Odegaard Award at the annual Celebration Gala, along with the inaugural Spark award to Mariama Suwaneh, and awarding recognition scholarships to outstanding UW students excelling academically.


About the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity

We create pathways for diverse populations to access postsecondary opportunities, nurture and support their academic success, and cultivate a campus climate that enriches the educational experience for all. Our programs serve over 25,000 students in 86 school districts, 179 schools and 19 two-year colleges through the state of Washington as they prepare and plan for college; over 6,500 UW undergraduate students with new student orientation, academic advising, instructional support, mentoring, financial aid and scholarship opportunities; and 450 students as they prepare for, apply to, and succeed in graduate and professional programs. Find out more at

About the Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program Board of Trustees

Established in 1971, the Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program (FEOP) Board of Trustees promotes academic excellence for underrepresented, educationally and economically disadvantaged students. The FEOP board serve as an advisory pipeline between the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D) and the community and provide counsel to the vice president on resource development and diversity initiatives. FEOP joins OMA&D in selecting the University of Washington Charles E. Odegaard Award and student scholarship recipients and serving as a host for Celebration. Find out more at

About the Charles E. Odegaard Award

The Charles E. Odegaard Award was established in April of 1973 to honor a member of our community whose leadership sustains the former University of Washington President’s distinguished work (1958-1973) on behalf of diversity at the UW and citizens of the state. It is the only University and community selected award and is regarded as the highest achievement in diversity at the University. For a list of past recipients, visit