Tulalips vote to tax those who develop reservation land and sell it to non-Indians

TULALIP — Tulalip tribal members voted Saturday to create a tax for those who develop land on the Tulalip Indian Reservation and then sell it to non-Indians.

They also voted for a new policy guaranteeing that any qualified tribal member will be hired for a job over non-Indians.

Tribal members passed the Future Generations Land Protection Act and the Tribal Member First Employment Act on Saturday at the Tulalip Tribes’ biannual general council meeting.

“These are history-making resolutions,” said Les Parks, a former tribal board member who now leads a grass-roots committee that pushes tribal laws to protect tribal members and their interests.

Mel Sheldon, Glen Gobin and Chuck James were all re-elected to three-year terms at the meeting. Sheldon, who has been the board chairman for the past year, was also re-elected to that post for another year.

Sheldon acted as the meeting’s moderator and did not vote on any of the items the tribes’ members brought forward for discussion. He declined on Monday to share his personal opinion on the two major resolutions.

“I go with our people’s wishes,” he said.

About 80 percent of all residents of the Tulalip Indian Reservation are non-Indian, Sheldon said. Waterfront and forested areas are peppered with luxury homes. The reservation may slowly lose its forested areas, Sheldon said. If that happens, there should be space enough for tribal members to build their own luxury homes, he said.

There are nearly 4,000 Tulalip tribal members, and more than 50 percent of those people are teenagers. The tribal population is expected to surge in the coming decades.

“We live with our neighbors, whether tribal or nontribal, but the importance of preserving enough land for future tribal members’ residential needs is what this resolution reflects,” Sheldon said.

Tribal members who develop land through a Tulalip Tribes building permit are exempt from the fees and taxes associated with development off Indian land, Parks said. They’re able to sell the developed land and “gain huge sums of profit.”

The Future Generations Land Protection Act implements a tax of about 17 percent of the developed land’s assessed value, Parks said.

“We’ll then use that tax money to purchase other land for the tribe,” he said.

Sheldon said he’s concerned that the tribe may not have the authority to implement the land tax. Tribal attorneys plan to examine the act to ensure its legality, he said.

The Tribal Member First Employment Act ensures that qualified Indians are hired over any other applicants to fill a job. The tribe has long held a tribal-preferred policy when hiring, but Parks said that many Indians haven’t been able to find work when non-Indian casino managers are doing the hiring.

The tribal-preferred policy was based on a point system that offered token points to Indians, but it wasn’t a guarantee that a qualified Indian would be hired over a non-Indian, Parks said.

“This will upset the balance at the casino,” Parks said. “We will have some non-Indians who don’t like the fact that tribal members have the first right to employment, and they may quit. This may hurt our organization to some degree, but we at the grass-roots committee feel it’s worth the effort to get our tribal members in through that door.”

More than 400 jobs are expected to be created this year on the reservation, mostly for housekeepers, managers and other staff at a luxury hotel scheduled to open in June.

The grass-roots committee proposed the act at the general council meeting in October, but it was tabled in favor of further discussion.

Both acts passed with about 80 percent of the vote, Parks said.

Other changes include a $250 increase in the tribes’ per capita distribution and a change in the tribes’ disability policy, Parks said.

Voting on Saturday began at 7 a.m. and closed in the afternoon, when the re-election of Sheldon, James and Gobin was announced. The tribal members then re-elected Sheldon to the post of board chairman.

Tribal issues were discussed and votes on proposed acts were held until about 7 p.m. Several issues were tabled until the next meeting, scheduled for October.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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