Old law slows plan for tribal land
A Tulalip family plans to build on 60 acres near Quil Ceda Village, but first it has to wait for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
About 35 descendents of a Tulalip woman have organized themselves over the past several years in order to decide what to do with family land that’s been passed down over several generations. As Katrina Jim Corp., named after the family matriarch who died more than 50 years ago, the family appointed board members who created a development plan they say could rival Quil Ceda Village, the Tulalip Tribes’ casino and shopping area.
Things stalled when the family submitted its plans to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The land is owned by the family, but is held in trust by the federal government. Under policies designed more than a century ago, the BIA must approve most plans involving Indian-owned trust land.
“We don’t get any say,” said Les Parks, a former Tulalip Tribes board member hired by the Katrina Jim Corp. to help get the development off the ground. “We have to rely on the BIA to make decisions.”
Beginning in the 1800s the federal government first reserved land for American Indians then diced it up and gave or sold it to Indians and non-Indians. Later, federal officials, apparently working to protect the remaining parcels for Indians, set up a series of rules to oversee actions on tribal lands.
That has resulted in a complicated system for any tribal member who hopes to develop his or her land, Parks said. Indians can avoid the headache by asking that the land be removed from protected trust status, but that would mean losing out on tax exemptions that many tribal members believe are their sovereign right.
Matters are complicated because many parcels in Indian Country are owned by dozens or even hundreds of people, because of BIA rules that restrict the way Indians can hand down their land to descendents.
For the Katrina Jim Corp., which hopes to sign leases with a handful of tenants, the BIA rules would mean constant federal supervision and miles of red tape, Parks said. Instead, the corporation devised what he calls a “master lease plan,” in which each of the several dozen landowners have made themselves shareholders of the property. The shareholders intend to lease the land to themselves under a 50-year master lease agreement, Parks said. Once the BIA approves that master lease, Parks said, the federal government won’t need to be involved in sub-leases to tenants.
“This is done every day in the outside world, but I don’t know that it’s done in Indian Country in this type of case,” Parks said. “It’s certainly not anything the BIA is accustomed to.”
The Katrina Jim Corp. submitted its master lease to the BIA more than a month ago, Parks said.
“I have no doubt that the BIA will eventually approve the master lease, but it might take 60 more days,” he said.
The Katrina Jim Corp. has one tenant lined up, Parks said. If the BIA approves the master lease, that tenant plans to build a $10 million project north of 116th Street, along I-5.
Parks said he hopes to make a public announcement outlining the development’s tenants by the end of the year.
Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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