Tribal family's land a treasure
Theme park, theater, shops: All are options for tribal family's land
Dan Bates / The Herald
From left, David Spencer, Helen Campbell, John Campbell, Walt Campbell, Bill Zackuse and Les Parks meet outside a 60-acre property just north of 116th Street NE on Thursday. Descendents of Katrina Jim, who was given the property to farm in 1904, are considering a high-end development.
Courtesy of Walt Campbell
Katrina Jim (second from left) stands next to her husband, Ambrose Bagley, in an undated photograph.
Courtesy of Walt Campbell
An unidentified man stands near Katrina Jim's farmhouse. Jim's descendants believe the farmhouse was torn down when state crews used topsoil from Jim's land in an I-5 project.
When the federal government diced up American Indian reservations over the course of about 50 years in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the good land -- with waterfront vistas, cool springs or rich soil -- was often given to white settlers.
The dry land -- the farming land, as the government described it -- was given to the Indians. They were to become farmers.
More than 100 years later, the land is owned by Jim's descendents. The farm's heirs have talked for years about what to do with the property: about 60 acres of what has become some of the most valuable real estate in the county.
Now, they're ready. A board of directors, made up of five of about 35 heirs who have ownership in the land, is meeting a stream of developers who have ideas of what to do with it. Board members have talked about a luxury movie theater flanked by boutiques. Big-box stores. A theme park.
"We want to make this property high-end and pedestrian-friendly," said Les Parks, a former tribal board member who was hired by the family to supervise development.
Visitors to the development can expect to find an open-air shopping or entertainment area similar to the outdoor area at Alderwood mall in Lynnwood, Parks said.
Whatever is built, it will be the first major commercial development on the Tulalip Indian Reservation engineered by tribal members, not the tribal government.
The land is just west of I-5, north of 116th Street NE, and bisected by 34th Avenue NE. Because it is within view of the state's major freeway, anything built on the land could become as successful as the outlet store and the amphitheater at Quil Ceda Village.
"This property is a treasure to us," said Walt Campbell, one of Jim's grandsons.
Campbell is chairman of the board for the Katrina Jim Corp., which the family formed under Indian law to manage the development.
Campbell and Jim's other grandchildren aren't sure exactly when Jim was born, but they know it was in the decades after local tribal chiefs signed the Treaty of Point Elliott with the federal government in 1855. She was probably 30 or 35 when the land was transferred to her name in 1904, said David Spencer, Jim's grandson, who lived with her on her land for a few years as a child.
Jim became owner of the land through a program created by the 1887 Dawes Act, also known as the General Allotment Act. Politicians in Washington, D.C., had tired of dealing with Indian reservations, the large pieces of land they'd promised to tribes in exchange for much of the American West, said Terry Janis of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Minnesota that helps tribal families deal with their land.
Many politicians and soldiers who served in the Civil War were promised prime frontier land, Janis said. Many settlers believed it was their God-given right to claim American soil wherever they found it.
"This was the time frame when the concept of Manifest Destiny really started to arise, and it took on almost a mythic religious tone," Janis said. "They said, 'We've settled our internal disputes, now we have a right to all of the land in this country from sea to shining sea, and we will establish federal policy to help us accomplish that.'"
Indian reservations were divided into tracts, Janis said. Some tracts were given to Indians, and others were given or sold to settlers. The purpose of the Allotment Act was to crack open reservation land for American citizens, he said, and to fracture tight-knit Indian communities.
Many Indians quickly sold their allotments.
"Owning land to an Indian would be like saying you own the air," he said.
Jim was a businesswoman, Spencer said. Even though she couldn't read English, a foreign language to her, on the allotment paperwork, she knew the land would grow in value. It was in the middle of nowhere in 1904, miles from the beaches of Tulalip Bay, where settlers built vacation homes.
Jim drove a plow into the ground and nurtured a large garden and fruit trees that produced enough food for her to keep a storehouse fully stocked year-round. Dairy cows grazed in her pastures. No one knows when, but at some point a two-story farmhouse was raised on the property.
When other tribal families struggled in poverty, Jim always had more than enough to share, said John Campbell, a grandson.
"People would come around for food, and she would give it to them if they agreed to chop wood or pick apples," he said.
Over the years, things changed. Jim moved to live with her grown daughter and died in 1950. The house was demolished when state crews took the property's topsoil to build an overpass to I-5, Spencer said. Later, dirt bikers used the land to race. The family worked hard to keep them away and eventually cleaned up the property.
Now, there are about three dozen heirs to the land. For years, the large number of family members with claims to Katrina Jim's property was a roadblock to doing anything with it. But in Indian country, where some parcels have thousands of owners, it's remarkable that the land has so few people claiming it.
Many Indians who kept their land weren't able to pass it down to specific family members because it was held in trust by the federal government, Janis said. Today, many Indian-owned allotments are stagnant because they are owned by hundreds or even thousands of family members who can't decide what to do with the land.
But Jim's life was marked by tragedy. Her first three husbands all died. Several of her 12 children died of disease. One son never returned from World War I. Her loss is part of the reason that there are only a few dozen people who have claims to the land. They've spread throughout the country over the years, but now, the land is bringing them back to the reservation.
"They have a chance to come home, and that is so neat," Tulalip Tribes Board Chairman Mel Sheldon said.
Tribal members are encouraged to become entrepreneurs, but most, like the tribes' many artists, have created small businesses, Sheldon said. The tribal government governs how land is used, but if more tribal families begin to develop land, more codes might be necessary.
The family hired Parks to help them form the Katrina Jim Corp. and find developers to build on the land. Parks said the family at one time offered the land to the tribal government, but a deal was never reached.
Now, the family is glad the land wasn't sold.
If Katrina Jim held on to the land so her heirs would benefit, they believe they should do the same.
"It's been in our family for 100 years," Walt Campbell said. "We want to pass it down for another 100 years."
Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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