By John Wolcott SCBJ Freelance Writer
Over the past two decades, Washington’s enterprising Native American tribes have transformed their reservation worlds, their lives, their economy and their image.
Twenty-five years ago, many Native Americans in Washington state were heavily dependent on welfare checks. Reservations harbored a higher percentage of alcoholics than among their mostly white neighbors. Few Native American youth graduated from high school, even fewer from college.
Today, tribes across the state are turning their lives around, building their own economy, hiring their own tribal members, building health care centers and alcohol treatment clinics and graduating Native Americans from high school and college in far greater numbers.
The changes are more than anecdotal. A recent economic impact study released Jan. 18 by the Washington Indian Gaming Association provides specific details:
• Washington’s 29 federally recognized tribes — including the Tulalips, Sauk-Suiattle and Stillaguamish — employ more than 27,300 people in tribal governments;
• Pay more than $1.3 billion annually in employee wages and benefits;
• Buy more than $2.4 billion annual in goods and services from private companies;
• Generate more than $255 million annually in state and local taxes.
That information and more comes from www.washingtontribes.org, a public education program sponsored by the gaming commission to raise awareness about how tribal economies are benefiting everyone in the state.
Among the tribal projects in Snohomish County, the Tulalip Tribes spent millions to construct Quil Ceda Village, which includes the Tulalip Resort Hotel and Casino, then attracting the 100-store Seattle Premium Outlet Mall north of the casino. This spring, a 110,000-square-foot Cabela’s store will be completed and ready to open south of the casino.
“All Washingtonians aspire to the same basic things — safe communities, excellent schools, decent jobs, clean air and water, good health and roads and transit that make travel easy. We want our kids to have more opportunities than were given to us and we value a culture where neighbors help neighbors,” according to a preface in the economic study.
One of the Tribal Gaming Association’s programs, for instance, provides $60,000 for higher education scholarships for Native American students.
“We have a long way to go in Indian Country, but we are making progress,” said W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe on the Olympic Peninsula and president of the Washington Indian Gaming Association.
The economic study was prepared by Jonathan Taylor, a nationally known economist who presented his findings to the Washington House State Government &Tribal Affairs Committee. Based in Cambridge, Mass., Taylor has prepared similar studies and reports on the impact of Indian tribes in the state.
“Tribal investments are having a huge impact in rural areas,” Taylor said in his presentation. “In some countries tribal governments are among the top employers and top buyers of goods and services from local companies.”
Net income from tribal enterprises, including casinos operated by tribal governments, enable tribal governments to pay for essential services such as health care, education, housing, public safety, environmental protection and economic development.
In addition, gaming contracts with the State of Washington provide for tribes to set aside a percentage of profits annually for local nonprofit organizations, neighboring school districts and police, fire and other agencies.
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