John Dossett ’87

Tribal Counsel

By Donna Parker

John Dossett, who received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Trinity in 1987, says he had no idea what he’d be doing after leaving Trinity but that he certainly wouldn’t have envisioned his current role as general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, known as NCAI.

“This role in which I represent the Indian tribal governments in Washington D.C., advocating for them in front of Congress and performing regulatory work at the Department of Interior and in our nation’s courts, has been very fulfilling,” says John, who found his niche after studying environmental law as a law student at Lewis and Clark University.

“There is such a broad range of issues involving land acquisition, labor and tax laws, gaming and climate change issues, for which I’m frequently in D.C.  Most recently, I worked with the White House ‘drug czar’ in a big campaign against meth use.  It was very grassroots, hitting even the most rural of reservations.”

John, whose time is commandeered by these important issues, does carve out several hours a week to coach the soccer team on which his nine-year-old daughter, Samantha, plays.

“I played soccer while at Trinity and it was such a great experience!  I wanted to pay that forward and I’m really glad that both my daughters play the game.”

“It’s great fun also getting to know the parents of the girls on the team.  I’ve coached Samantha’s team since she was in kindergarten, both in the spring and the fall.”

“And if we’re not playing soccer games, then we’re biking – either cyclo-cross or road biking,” says John, who is married to an attorney.

“That feeling on a bicycle, of being in motion and getting exercise, is so great!”

John and his family also love to get away. They just purchased a U.S. Forest Service cabin on Mt. Hood, just outside Portland, Ore.  It offers great views with a creek running through the property and plenty of hillsides on which to hike, another favorite sport.  That is a commonality with his Trinity friends who headed to the northwest with him some years back.

John, who loves his home city of Portland, says he found his way to the northwest, along with Trinity friends Scott Fasser ’87 and Greg Latimer ’88, who both now live in Seattle.

“Scott was my roommate and the first person I met on campus,” recalls John.  “Now, the three of us get together with several other guys and take a trip each year to hike in places like Hawaii.”

Looking back, John says Trinity was his first dose of the “real world,” after having lived a sheltered life with his parents in Pennsylvania.

“I learned so much from my professors, especially Victoria Aarons, department of English.  A great deal of my job involves writing.  She was tough and that was the best thing for me.  Many avoided her class because she was so hard on the students, but it was the best thing to happen to me as a young writer.  Also, Ken Elzinga, department of economics, who was a visiting professor from the University of Virginia, was great.  His economics course made a big difference for me.  I use economic analysis as a legal tool.”

John hopes to be working with the Native Americans for many years to come and praises the Obama administration for opening doors by appointing Native American people to work with the administration on complex issues.

“I really feel that I now have a great opportunity to make a difference.”

You may e-mail John at jdossett@ncai.org.