JoAnn Kauffman

“We want to define a future that is resilient, that is celebratory in the beauty of everything Nez Perce.”

- JoAnn Kauffman

joann kauffman

Kauffman with longtime U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield (OR) and Keith Red Thunder, son of Joe Red Thunder, prominent Nez Perce leader. Kauffman represented the Nez Perce in passing sweeping legislation in the early 1990s. The bill added some 14 sites in 4 states to the Nez Perce National Historic Park. Kauffman family collection

Left: In the early 1970s, JoAnn marches from the University of Washington to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to protest cutbacks to Indian education. Kauffman family collection

Middle: As chair of the Seattle Indian Services Commission, JoAnn is instrumental in the construction of the Chief Leschi Health Center. The center provides a place for urban Indians to gather and new facilities for the Seattle Indian Center, Seattle Indian Health Board and elderly Indian housing. Kauffman family collection

Right: “We were always going to funerals,” JoAnn says of her childhood. “I pondered how to channel that concern for the health of native people. I was not the type to poke needles, but I knew I wanted to make a difference.” Kauffman & Associates celebrated 25 years in 2015. Kauffman & Associates, Inc.

Who is she?

A nationally-recognized champion of Indian health and justice, JoAnn Kauffman has given more than 40 years to the cause. She’s come a long way since she shuttled between a chaotic childhood home in Seattle and the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in Kamiah, Idaho.

Inspired by her ancestors, JoAnn helped found the National Association of Native American Children of Alcoholics. As executive director of the Seattle Indian Health Board, she brokered an agreement to create the Chief Leschi Center in Seattle. Kauffman later won federal recognition for key historical sites of the Nez Perce— including the Bear Paw Battlefield in Montana where Chief Joseph surrendered in 1877. After one of the worst school shooting sprees in American history unfolded on a Minnesota Indian Reservation, Kauffman helped form Native Aspirations. The national effort prevented youth violence, bullying and suicide.

JoAnn is the owner of Kauffman & Associates, Inc., with offices in Spokane and Washington D.C. “She often petitions the government on behalf of Native Americans—particularly in the area of healthcare—and wins,” the Freedom Forum wrote in 1998 when Kauffman received the Free Spirit Award.


“My grandmother and mother carried themselves with dignity in the face of racism, hardship.”

-JoAnn Kauffman

Top Left: JoAnn describes Grandmother Lizzie Hayes as 5’2” of solid grit with an unforgettable laugh. “Her shoulders would shake up and down. Her belly would bounce. Her elbows were out. She would laugh with her entire body.” Kauffman family collection

Top Right: Josephine, JoAnn’s mother, never lost her feisty spirit. JoAnn watched on television as her mother and sister were arrested for climbing the fences at Fort Lawton during an Indian occupation of 1970. Kauffman family collection

Bottom left: Hattie Axtell, JoAnn’s great grandmother, sits on her front porch in Kamiah. “She commanded so much respect. When you say the seas parted—that’s what happened when she came out. The kids were up against the wall as she made her way through. Everything stopped, time stood still and everybody froze.” Kauffman family collection

Bottom right: Lizzie Hayes, JoAnn’s grandmother, at Carlisle Indian School where she spent years assimilating into white culture. “I often think of dear alma mater and shall always up raise her good name,” Lizzie said. “I never regret that I ever entered Carlisle as a student.” Kauffman family collection