The first person of color to serve on the City Council in Superior, in far northern Wisconsin, is now the first person of color to serve as its president.
Jenny Van Sickle, an Alaskan Native of Tlingit and Athabaskan heritage, was elected President with eight votes in favor, one opposed and one abstention at the council’s regular meeting Tuesday, April 19.
In an interview Sunday, Van Sickle said representation in public service is important to give young people someone to look up to.
“(Superior) has a really rich, indigenous population, culture and history that has a real opportunity to shine. And you know, maybe I hope that I can be a part of the little kids in Superior starting to introduce themselves by their clan houses or with their Indigenous names,” she said. “I want little kids to see themselves in this landscape, in their government, in their art, in their food. And we have a really long way to go to realizing all of that progress in representation here in the Northland. This is a pretty good step towards that.”
She identified transportation as a top priority – especially creating a more sustainable transportation system.
“Transportation is the lifeblood of my work,” she said. “We’re going to continue electrifying our city fleet. We will be electrifying our fire department as well. We just invested in solar. We are making a lot of environmental moves.”
Additionally, Van Sickle said taking over as president also gives her responsibilities beyond representing her own district.
“When you make that shift into leadership, your goal becomes to help your councilors, your team, your council achieve the goals that their neighbors sent them to accomplish,” she said.
Professionally, Van Sickle works as outreach specialist for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, and noted most of the 10 members of the City Council work full-time jobs and have young children. She noted that seven of the 10 are 40 years old or younger.
“This is a very ambitious Council, that is laser focused on efficiencies, innovation, and just a very determined forward facing council,” she said.
Van Sickle was named one of Madison365’s most influential Native American leaders is 2020 and was honored with the inaugural Wisconsin Leadership Community Choice Award for Woman of Excellence in 2019, awarded by vote of Wisconsin residents. That award came just months after she was formally censured for making a social media comment critical of the City Attorney. She said earning the vote of the community meant a lot at that time.
“(The award) really saved me because I had internalized all of the shame and all of the humiliation, all of the comments, the hatred. I internalized it all very, very personally,” she said. “And the Woman of Excellence recognition helped me start to see outside the bubble I was living in, and it changed things for me. And after that, I got obsessive about working really, really hard for the city. And just hoped that one day the hard work would shine through and I would earn trust.”
Van Sickle’s term as president will last one year.