Tulalips to discuss policy changes

TULALIP — Hundreds of members of the Tulalip Tribes are expected to meet today to consider major initiatives to steer jobs to their own, provide independent police oversight and protect reservation land from being sold off.

The semi-annual meeting of the tribes’ General Council gives all tribal members over 18 the right to vote on new tribal policies. The meetings are held just twice a year, giving limited opportunities to change the course of the 3,900-member tribe.

Les Parks, a former member of the board of directors, has coordinated grassroots meetings to discuss what issues are most pressing in the minds of tribal members.

Parks has drafted policies with members for the past five weeks in preparation for today’s meeting.

“This is the first organized effort walking into a general council meeting in the last 15 years,” Parks said. “It’s important to know in advance what our issues are instead of waiting until the day of meeting. There are too many big issues facing us as a tribe.”

A proposed “tribal members first” employment act would require tribal members be favored in all hiring practices. The tribe is already supposed to favor tribal members, but job qualifications are often stacked against members, Parks said.

If approved, tribal members conceptually would be trained to take over jobs currently held by non-tribal members who have worked for the tribe fewer than three years, Parks said.

Members also will consider creating a Tulalip police commission and internal affairs department to conduct investigations of allegations of wrongdoing, Parks said.

Another measure under consideration — the “future generations land protection act” — would seek to halt some tribal members’ efforts to build homes on tribal land and sell them to non-Indians, Parks said. Conceptually, developer fees would be collected if a home or project was sold to a non-Indian, Parks said. The money collected would be spent on buying up other land to hold in the tribes’ name.

The tribe owns more than 13,000 of the reservation’s 22,000 acres, but once held just 600 acres, back in 1935, Parks said.

Tribal members currently do not pay building fees, Parks said. Developing the land as an entrepreneur is to be encouraged, but the land must stay within the tribe, he said.

“When you sell it off to a non-Indian, you’ve lost the ability to reacquire that land for our lifetime and our children’s lifetime,” Parks said. “At every opportunity, we want to buy up that land. We’re trying to protect it for future generations.”

Another proposal up for discussion would lower the age at which some tribal elders would receive benefits. Currently, a tribal elder age 62 or over receives a living allowance and free utilities, Parks said. Some of those benefits would be granted at age 55 under the proposal to the General Council.

“Sometimes people don’t get to 62 here,” Parks said.

The tribal constitution gives the power to the people, Parks said.

“I think they forget that they have that power, and need to exercise it whenever it is available,” Parks said.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.

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