Lolade Fadulu: You were born into a ranching and farming family. Did you have any jobs farming or ranching?
Paulette Jordan: My grandparents were the hard workers on the field and in our farmland. Same thing with the ranching. My mother’s side farmed wheat. My father’s side managed cattle. I grew up horseback riding and appreciating the heritage that we have. But I was encouraged to go out to get my education and explore other routes. I ended up going off to school at Gonzaga Prep and then went on to the University of Washington. Every summer, I’d come home and do things for my community, like manage my aunt’s coffee shop.
Fadulu: What did your parents want you to become?
Jordan: My dad used to play in the NBA. He actually at one point wanted me to go into the field of professional basketball, but he also knew that we come from a long line of chiefs and leaders. He always knew that I would end up taking on leadership.
Fadulu: What does it mean to come from chiefs and leaders?
Jordan: Since I’m indigenous, my family has been here for thousands of years. There’s a tradition that the son of a chief would marry the daughter of a chief. That keeps that line going, that inheritance of leadership. Their children are subsequently going to be the chiefs or leaders. The women are also chiefs and leaders. We have an egalitarian society, so men and women can equally be the leaders.
Fadulu: Was there one relative with whom you were particularly close?
Jordan: I would oftentimes drive out with my uncles and my grandfather to go hiking at Mount Rainier, and we’d spend the day hiking in the trails and having a picnic. We’d sit out in these fields and it’d be gorgeous. I think about the sun and how beautiful it was, and the flowers being so brilliantly colored, and the meadows full of them, and then getting to hike up the mountain and enjoy the scenes and the waterfalls.
These are all great memories because they correlate to the stories they would tell me about my grandmother and my grandfathers and the roles that they played. They made sure that I knew of all their experiences and impacts they made so that I could utilize those experiences. They’d tell me, “This is our land, this is for everyone.”
Fadulu: You started managing your aunt’s coffee shop in your early teens. Did you have a relationship with her before running the shop?
Jordan: She worked with my mother in tandem raising me since I was a baby. She worked tirelessly to protect her children. She was big on education because she knew that was the greatest equalizer to help our people, especially when we were facing the most dire impoverished conditions. She went off to get her master’s in education and helped expand our educational opportunities all the way through early education. She was just very supportive of me and protective, but always looking for opportunities.