Tulalip leader and former state legislator John McCoy was recognized on April 9 by the Washington state Senate for his years of service in the state legislature.
McCoy is a Tulalip Tribal member who served 17 years in the state legislature and was a longtime advocate for tribal rights, education and internet broadband for all.
Before being a legislator McCoy served for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and then began working as a White House computer technician.
He returned to the Tulalip area and served as the general manager of Quil Ceda Village in 2000.
In 2002, he began his career in the state legislature, first as a State Representative and then as a State Senator from 2013 to 2020, becoming both one of the first Native Americans elected to the state legislature and also one of the longest-serving Native Americans in the state legislature.
McCoy served the 38th District, which currently covers Tulalip, a large portion of Marysville and north Everett.
A year ago in April 2020, McCoy announced his retirement due to health concerns.
On April 9, State Sen. June Robinson and other senators passed a resolution honoring McCoy.
“It’s a common practice to sponsor resolutions for someone who has made a significant contribution,” said Robinson.
They didn’t have much time to do it last year so it was good to do a proper goodbye.
“We have been in a pandemic and we were really unable to see him off when he retired,” she said.
McCoy said it was good to hear from his former colleagues again.
“I didn’t realize that I had such an effect on everybody,” he said.
One of the biggest things McCoy did in the legislature was help others understand Native American sovereignty and perspective.
“He helped bring our concerns forward and did a lot so that we could work together to solve those problems,” said Tulalip Tribal Chairwoman Teri Gobin.
McCoy said that was actually what motivated him to get into state government.
“One of the reasons that I wanted to get into the legislature is that they were pursuing some laws that were brushing up against tribal sovereignty,” he said. “I wanted to educate the fellow legislators on why they couldn’t do those things."
He pushed ‘retrocession’ bills often, or bills that would help cede rights back to tribal governments.
One of his early bills helped tribes gain jurisdiction over criminal cases, instead of just civil cases, allowing them to regain more control over their home’s justice systems.
“Before I could pass that bill I had to educate a lot of the legislators,” said McCoy.
He said he worked with the governor’s office and set up multiple training sessions to talk about tribal law enforcement.
Gobin also noted McCoy’s push for more Native American history in local school curriculum that focused on Washington state tribes.
She said a lot of Native history taught didn’t reflect local tribes.
“It would be about teepees [a traditional Native American tent used more by Great Plains Native Americans], not local tribal history,” said Gobin.
Improvement of K-12 education was another area that McCoy pushed often, said Robinson.
“He was really a champion for tribal kids, although not just tribal kids, but also any kid who didn’t fit in the traditional school system,” she said.
McCoy wanted every student to have a pathway to success, she said.
“I started trying to improve the education system in 2005 and I was still working on that when I was going out the door,” said McCoy.
The former senator also noted that he worked to represent everyone in the 38th District.
“I would say my great achievement was my ability to serve everybody,” he said.
“Some people would tend to pigeonhole me as an ‘Indian-issues only’ legislator,” McCoy said, but added he had a wide range of issues he worked on.
In Marysville he helped bring state funding for projects like the Ebey Waterfront Trail.
“He’s helped with a number of capital projects as well,” said Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, including transportation projects.
“He helped us with the current tax incentive bill,” which provides businesses that bring enough jobs at high enough pay to the north Marysville area some tax relief, said Nehring.
That bill has not been extended to other parts of the state.
McCoy also helped the city of Marysville gain more control over some water resources.
“That was more of a nuts and bolts bill, but it allowed us to take over a part of the water system that was in the Sunnyside area,” said Nehring.
Another issue that McCoy was known to push was broadband for all areas of the state, particularly in rural areas that have traditionally had more limited access.
“Because of his career before he came to the legislature, he was always an early adapter of technology,” said Robinson.
“Now with COVID I think the rest of us in the legislature are on board and we are passing some of those bills this year. He was the original person to work and push those policies though,” she said.
Before he was a legislator McCoy also brought a lot of business to the area in the Quil Ceda Village.
“He’s been a huge contributor with the Tulalip Tribes and bringing a lot of jobs to the Snohomish County area,” said Nehring.
As manager of Quil Ceda Village he helped the area become a federally recognized municipality.
“He helped bring the tribe to a new level,” said Gobin. “That was a long fight to become a federally recognized city.”
After Washington D.C., the village is only the second federally recognized municipality, which allows the area to pass specific ordinances and install infrastructure.
“As the manager of Quil Ceda Village he recruited a lot of the businesses that would come into the place,” said Gobin.
Local officials who worked with McCoy said they were glad to have him as a representative.
“For everyone he represented, including the people of Marysville, he always took that seriously,” said Nehring. “I just really appreciate all the work he has done."
“It’s just an honor to have a tribal member serve in the Senate and he has set a high bar for us all,” said Gobin.
McCoy also said he was glad to be able to serve the local communities.
“I enjoyed my career and it was a rewarding experience for me,” he said.