In 1988 when the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was approved by Congress, both legislators and tribal leaders intended its purpose to further the economic development of tribal governments and envisioned that gaming should not serve as an end unto itself, but as a means toward additional growth and expansion for the nations. More than two decades since its passage, although dramatic inequity still exists among our 500-plus federally recognized tribal nations, certain gaming tribes have in fact been able to achieve that original vision and serve as important role models in the tribal community.
Perhaps no better example exists than that of the economic development footprint on the Tulalip Tribes’ reservation in central Washington State located just north of Seattle. Also known as the Salmon People, these descendents of the signatories to the 1855 Treaty of Elliott Point, the Tulalip Tribes, are a combined federally recognized Indian tribe comprised of the descendents of the Snoqualmie, Skykomish, Snohomish, Dwamish, Kikiallus and other bands of Coastal Salish Tribes (collectively Tulalip).
Historically, Tulalip’s economic industry was natural resource based in fishing and timber. Over time, the economic future of the tribe was at risk when these resources became scarce and limited. In 1991, Tulalip entered into a gaming compact with the state of Washington, and capitalizing on its location near the Interstate 5 freeway and the large state population base in Seattle, soon established itself as a leader in the gaming resort business. Some tribes would have stopped there perhaps, content with an immensely successful gaming business. (To be clear, Tulalip actually hasn’t stopped expanding their gaming development over the years. They have expanded their resort enterprises to include ancillary amenities such as a resort hotel, two gaming facilities, an amphitheater and a conference center.)
But what has made Tulalip such an outstanding role model and what draws other tribal leaders from all over the nation to tour and study for their own ideas, is the development known as Quil Ceda Village. The Tribal Government Tax Status Act of 1982 allows Indian tribes to create politically separate subdivisions, and the tribe incorporated the village in 2001 as a city directly under the U.S. government as a political subdivision of the Tulalip Tribes, with its own charter and ordinances. As far as the tribe knows, no other tribes have taken advantage of the law, and Quil Ceda Village is the only federal city in the nation other than Washington, D.C. It consists of 2,000 acres designated for economic development and was funded and developed 100 percent by the Tulalip Tribes utilizing their gaming proceeds to further additional economic development.
Because of its strong and visible location off the interstate, the goal was to develop the land to lease to large corporate businesses. The infrastructure had to be established first in order to attract businesses, and Tulalip had their hands full with the process:
• Tulalip used hard dollars to build a new freeway off-ramp to gain mainline access to the development area.
• Tulalip continues to pay for the overpass maintenance with very little financial assistance from surrounding jurisdictions.
• Tulalip negotiated government-to-government agreements with surrounding communities to receive water.
• Tulalip initially negotiated intergovernmental agreements with the county sheriff and later provided its own tribal police.
• Tulalip built its own waste water treatment facility.
• A government-to-government agreement was made with the local power company, and Tulalip provided a small portion of land near the site to locate a substation that was needed not only by Tulalip, but the growing community around them as well.
The Village opened with large anchor tenants Walmart and Home Depot. Other retail enterprises followed to the point that the retail portion of Quil Ceda Village is 98 percent occupied. Soon after, they established the Seattle Premium Outlets at Tulalip with more than 100 different high-end retail stores leasing space on their land. The powerhouse that is now Quil Ceda Village—“dirt and trees” in the early 1990s—generates $720 million per year in gross sales, according to the tribe. And this does not include their casino revenues.
Earlier this year, they announced the finalization of a transaction to build a brand-new Cabela’s on the sovereign land and construction is currently underway. Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon noted that the Quil Ceda Cabela’s will be the first on a tribal reservation.
“On behalf of the Tulalip Tribes, we welcome Cabela’s into this valuable partnership, which marks the historic occasion of the first Cabela’s store to be planned for opening on a Native American reservation.”
Cabela’s will be located between Home Depot and the tribal casino resort. The unique distinction of this Cabela’s, a large hunting/fishing retail chain, is that the store intends to feature native hunting and fishing elements reflecting the original traditions of the land and tribes. Teresa Meece, a marketer for the tribes’ Quil Ceda Village, said the popular sporting goods store will be a good fit with other stores in the area and with their resort casino clientele. “We believe many of our customers are outdoorsmen and fishermen,” Meece said.
Perhaps the greatest success story, though, is how Tulalip has utilized its business success for the benefit of its people. The tribe has a thriving community. Using dollars derived from its diverse economic developments, the tribal government has recently completed the following additions or upgrades: a cultural center and museum, elder housing, an administration building, a teen center, spiritual/ceremonial grounds, and ongoing environmental preservation of streams, wetland preserves and trails.
Within all its businesses and especially during new development construction, the tribe adheres to a strong Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) policy commitment that not only supports its own tribal members, but other Native Americans as well. Tulalip’s TERO director, Teri Gobin, sits on numerous boards throughout the state, building “bridges” and establishing important liaisons with government officials, contractors, and unions to ensure that tribal members and Native Americans are employed, trained or utilized as vendors, as appropriate, on all of their projects.
“It is a win-win when tribal nations and Indian businesses support one another,” Gobin said. “The results are not just financially rewarding, but culturally and community empowering as well. Once the construction boom started, TERO stepped up to the plate and offered assistance. When we see a tribal person succeed in a job or business, it makes it all worthwhile. TERO staff members are a new generation of warriors fighting for our people, and loving the challenge. The journey has been a long one, but very rewarding.”
I am a frequent guest at Tulalip, and during a recent visit, I had the pleasure of touring the Tulalip Tribes’ new developments and current construction sites and was struck anew by the commitment to their local artisans. The Tulalip Resort Hotel incorporates tribal art and motifs beautifully throughout its entire property. I felt honored and speechless when taken to a behind-the-scenes look at the workshop where tribal carvers are working on 10-foot totem poles being carved out of 900-year-old cedar trees that will grace some of the tribe’s new facilities. The attention to detail and the pride in culture and heritage are breathtaking to behold.
IGRA may have given Tulalip the launching pad necessary to start their economic development explosion, but through solid leadership, community unity and clarity of vision, Tulalip has made a difference and established a firm foundation for their current and future generations. A solid role model in Indian country, they are helpful and generous in sharing their journey’s lessons with others and have always extended open invitations to other tribes to visit.