Elizabeth Furse

Relationship to ITG

Elizabeth Furse is a former member of the United States Congress (First District of Oregon). She served three terms (1992-98) before retiring from Congress in 1998. Since 1998, she has worked with national tribal leaders to establish the Institute for Tribal Government in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University. She serves as the Director of the Institute, under the leadership of its Tribal Policy Board. Ms. Furse received her B.A. degree in education from The Evergreen College (Olympia, WA), and studied law at Lewis & Clark Law School (Portland, OR). She has a lifelong commitment to Native American, peace, environment, and justice issues. She was co-founder of the National Coalition to Support Indian Treaties (1970-78), was Director of the tribal restoration project for the Native American Program at Oregon Legal Services (1980-86) and was the Founder and Director of the Oregon Peace Institute (1986-91). Ms. Furse was born in Nairobi, Kenya and as a young adult in Cape Town, South Africa she was a member of the anti-apartheid Black Sash movement. During her tenure in the U.S. Congress, Ms. Furse served on the Merchant Marine & Fisheries, Banking, and Armed Services Committees. Today, she continues to serve as a public citizen on several regional and national boards committed to health, environment and economic issues.

Public Service

In 1992, Ms. Furse was elected to U.S.Congress representing Oregon’s First Congressional District where she was the first woman to represent this district, and the first African born member of the United States Congress.

Furse served until 1999 when she chose to retire and return home to Oregon. The committees she served on included, Armed Services, Banking, and Commerce. Her focus in Congress was on reducing military spending, protecting the environment, defending a woman’s right to choose, as well as supporting adequate funding of diabetes research.


Born in Nairobi Kenya, Elizabeth moved to South Africa as a child. Inspired by her mother Barbara, Furse’s activism against apartheid caused Elizabeth to join the first Black Sash demonstration in Cape Town in 1951. This experience set the stage for a life of activism and commitment to civil rights.

Furse moved to England in 1956, and then married and moved to Los Angeles, California where her children Amanda and John were born. While in Los Angeles, Furse was involved in a women’s self help project in Watts and assisted in Caesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers efforts to unionize the grape fields.

On relocating to Seattle in 1968, Furse became involved with the Native American fishing rights struggle and co-founded Citizens for Indian Rights, a non-Indian support organization which did grass roots education on the law of treaties and the solemn obligations that flow from such treaties. This organization became the National Coalition to the Support Indian Treaties (NCSIT).

Elizabeth became a US citizen in 1972, and in 1978 she moved to Oregon where she attended Northwestern School of Law for two years before leaving to direct the Restoration Project of Native American Program of Oregon Legal Services (NAPOLS). Oregon Tribes had been devastated by the Termination Era with 56 tribes and bands having their federal relationship terminated by Act of Congress in 1954. From 1980-86 Furse coordinated the successful passage of three Acts of Congress to restore the federal status of the Coquille Tribe (1982) Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (1983) and the Klamath Tribe (1986).

In 1986, Elizabeth co-founded the Oregon Peace Institute, located in downtown Portland. OPI mission is to develop and disseminate conflict resolution curriculum for Oregon schools.

Elizabeth and her husband, John C. Platt own Helvetia Vineyards in Washington County, where they have lived for over twenty years.

Current Activities

Elizabeth Furse has a lifelong commitment to Native American issues, peace, the environment and social justice. Today, she continues to serve as a public citizen on several regional and national boards dealing with health, social and economic issues.