“I’m there for the commission to help carry the voice of the 20 tribes in their interests,” Yanity said. “It’s a huge honor, and it’s a huge responsibility.”
The commission, based in Olympia, represents 20 tribes in the state, with a member from each tribe serving in the group. A chair, vice chair and treasurer are elected from among the commissioners.
Former Chair Billy Frank Jr. died in May at age 83. He is remembered as a lifelong fisherman, a passionate advocate for the fishing and hunting rights of Northwest tribes, and a longtime leader of the commission.
Lorraine Loomis, fisheries manager for the Swinomish Tribe and previous vice chair of the commission, was selected as the new chair.
Yanity, 49, became chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe in 2004 and has been on the fisheries commission since 2000.
“Together we focus on all the treaty issues, everything from clean water to salmon, shellfish, groundfish and wildlife,” Yanity said.
The commission provides resources for tribes facing specific concerns, such as microbiologists to handle disease outbreaks at fish hatcheries. The group also acts as a sort of database on Washington fish and their habitats, from mountain streams to the salty coastline.
Commission goals include upping wild salmon populations, pushing for legislation to prevent pollution in Puget Sound and cleaning up rivers and streams around Western Washington, Loomis wrote in a message to the commission earlier this year.
“Our tribe can be a little more active in this,” Yanity said. “It’s an honor for us to do that, but now we have to step up to the plate a little more and honor those responsibilities and traditions.”
Frank left his wisdom and teachings for the commission, Yanity said. The group aims to follow in his footsteps, pushing for cleaner waters, protecting native fish populations and advocating for the tribes’ treaty rights to fish and hunt throughout the state.
“The commission has a lot of important work that’s set out before us, and the committee is still as strong and dedicated to protecting the treaty resources as we’ve always been,” Yanity said. “But we know that we lost a great leader.”
TULALIP — Chuck Thacker was working as the principal of Quil Ceda and Tulalip Elementary School when he was approached about starting a Boys and Girls Club on the reservation of the Tulalip Tribes.
The tribes, Thacker and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Snohomish County all saw the need for a safe after-school program targeted at tribal youth. Thacker would contribute his leadership and experience working with kids, Boys and Girls Clubs of Snohomish County would provide the model, and the tribes would provide the startup money and location, as well as the kids.
The Tulalip Boys and Girls Club opened in 1996, the first club located on an Indian reservation in Washington and one of the first in the United States. The Tulalip Tribes continue to support the club financially to this day.
Charitable contributions by tribes have become more visible in an era in which some tribes have become financially successful in their business undertakings. But giving has always been a part of Native American culture, even before the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act created a national legal framework in which tribes could operate casinos on their reservations.
In Washington state, tribes such as the Tulalips who run casinos are required to donate a certain percentage of the proceeds to charity. But the tribe routinely exceeds that amount, and even tribes without significant income give back to their communities.
“This rule is not new to Indian Country, as it has now been formalized,” said Marilyn Sheldon, who oversees the Tulalip Charitable Fund.
“We’ve always been givers,” she said.
The Tulalip Tribes
When Chuck Thacker sat down with Terry Freeman of the county Boys and Girls Clubs and Stan Jones, the former chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, they outlined a vision for the new club: It had to address needs of both the tribe and the surrounding community.
The goal was to create a safe after-school program that would accept both native and non-native kids; provide reading programs, other educational activities and sports activities; and remain open as many hours as possible. Most important, it would also provide a meal program.
Thacker recalled what Jones told him: “Feed our kids good, because a lot of them don’t get a good meal at home.”
The Tulalip Tribes backed up its support with financial assistance, and has provided the club with financial support every year since, allowing tribal kids to come to the club free of charge even while it has gradually expanded its services to include arts programs and a technology center.
The meal program now serves three meals a day to up to 250 youths.
Thacker, who has directed the club since its inception, said “99 percent of them come in for activities, and they know the food’s going to be there.”
The Tulalip Boys and Girls Club is just one organization that’s been on the receiving end of the tribes’ charitable giving.
Since 1993, shortly after the Tulalip Tribes opened its first casino, charitable giving from the Tulalips has risen from $273,000 then to $6.9 million in 2013.
In the first half of 2014, the Tulalip Tribes has given more than 160 grants to nonprofit organizations, groups or programs both on and off the reservation. They include community groups, the Boys and Girls Clubs, arts organizations, environmental groups, educational programs and specific events, such as the tribe’s annual Spee-Bi-Dah celebration and parade and an emergency grant of $150,000 to the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation and the American Red Cross to help victims of the Oso mudslide.
Marilyn Sheldon recalled that when she was growing up, her own mother and other tribal women in the ladies clubs would support their community with various fundraisers.
Tribal giving has been formalized since then, but it still draws on tradition. During the tribe’s annual Raising Hands gala, all attendees receive gifts as a way of honoring them. Children at the Montessori school also spread the table at the end of each year, Sheldon said, and gifts are traditionally given at funerals.
“That’s part of the healing of the family, to put all that love and energy into giving,” Sheldon said.
Agreements between the tribe and Washington state set a minimum percentage of proceeds that must be given to charity, but the Tulalips now regularly exceed that baseline, said Martin Napeahi, the general manager of Quil Ceda Village, the Tulalip Tribes’ business and development arm.
In 1993, the Tulalips donated $273,000 to charitable causes. That rose to $6.9 million in 2013, the 20th year in which the Tulalip Charitable Fund has operated.
A committee weighs grant applications, but the members are all anonymous. Each serves for a two-year term and oversees one subsection of the grant requests — for example, natural resources, education, arts or social services.
Then, at the end of every quarter, the committee members switch assignments, so no one member evaluates the same subset of applications.
“That way it adds to the fairness of deciding who gets funding,” Sheldon said.
In the end, the tribes’ board of directors reviews the committee’s recommendation and decides which applications are funded and to what extent.
The fall Raising Hands gala is not just a celebratory event, but an opportunity to create more lasting bonds within the larger community.
Dignitaries and community leaders are invited to mix and mingle with the recipients of the tribes’ giving.
“The beauty of putting that together is you can put other groups together at the same table,” Sheldon said.
That, coupled with presentations honoring the work the various grant recipients do, turns the gala into a educational event as well, which creates connections among the disparate groups and may lead to future collaboration.
“We are doing the best we can to make a difference in our communities,” Sheldon said.
“Prior to the casino we didn’t have a whole lot of money to give,” said Eric White, vice chairman of the Stillaguamish tribe.
“In fact, we were the ones out there asking for help,” he said.
Since instituting a formal giving program, the Stillaguamish convene a committee of tribal members and employees to evaluate grant requests.
The Stillaguamish gave $800,000 in donations during the tribe’s last fiscal year, which ended in October 2013, White said
So far this year, the Stillaguamish have donated about $1.9 million, with some of the larger recipients being relief agencies working in the aftermath of the mudslide. But recipients also have included community organizations, such as a $300,000 gift to local food banks that the tribe made before Christmas in response to an acute need.
“Basically our main mission would be to help the folks who are in need,” White said.
The Stillaguamish also make charitable donations to environmental organizations, animal rehabilitation services, recreation and health care, especially to the American Cancer Society, which White said the Stillaguamish has long supported.
The Sauk-Suiattle Tribe
Tucked up in the mountains near Darrington, the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe doesn’t have a casino, other large business enterprises or even easy access to the sea for fishing.
The tribe derives its revenue from running the gas station in Darrington and a smoke shop on its reservation, and from leasing its gambling licenses to other tribes that do operate casinos.
Nonetheless, the Sauk-Suiattle tribe makes a point of contributing to the community.
“We do, on a yearly basis, take $30,000, sometimes $40,000 if we have extra, and make small grants to the city of Darrington,” said Ronda Metcalf, the tribe’s general manager.
Beneficiaries include the local senior center, the grange, the school and some programs through the pharmacy to help people pay for medication.
“We’re not obligated to do that, but it’s something the tribe felt would be a good way to build community with the city,” Metcalf said.
When the Oso mudslide cut Darrington off from the rest of the county, Sauk-Suiattle members came together and donated about $5,000 to families affected by the slide, and then came to the Darrington Community Center to lay out a blanket in a traditional form of fundraising, bringing in about $1,100 more on the spot.
A committee looks at requests and decides where the need is greatest. If there are many needy causes, the tribe tries to give out something to most of them, Metcalf said.
“Tribes have been doing that for a long time, it’s part of who they are,” Metcalf said.
This story is part of Snohomish County Gives, a special section highlighting the spirit of philanthropy in the county. Look for more stories on HeraldNet throughout the week and the full section in the print edition of The Herald on Sunday, Aug. 31.
ARLINGTON — The Stillaguamish Tribe finally has a reservation, a federal designation tribe leaders say is long overdue.
The reservation spans 64 acres from the Angel of the Winds Casino to 236th Street Northeast.
“It kind of gives us that anchor on the map,” tribal Chairman Shawn Yanity said.
A reservation is an area recognized by the U.S. government as a permanent homeland for a Native American tribe. A tribe can be recognized by the government without having a reservation.
There are nearly 300 members of the Stillaguamish Tribe. It’s been 38 years since the tribe gained federal recognition, and at least 28 since leaders first tried to establish a reservation.
Their first attempt was rejected by the U.S. government because one of the properties did not meet all the requirements for being a tribal trust land, meaning the federal government owns the land but the tribe manages its use.
For years, the tribe stopped pushing for a reservation.
“Things had stalled due to many factors,” Yanity said, including “the inner workings with the (U.S.) Department of the Interior and the tribe’s leadership at the time.”
The Stillaguamish built the Angel of the Winds Casino on tribal land where gaming was permitted under federal law. Members of the tribe found homes throughout Snohomish County, many in Arlington, Stanwood and Marysville.
Establishing a reservation was put on hold. It’s a lengthy process with no guarantee of success.
But this year, the Stillaguamish tried again, and succeeded.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs released its Stillaguamish Reservation Proclamation on July 30.
“It lets people know we’re obviously here. It encompasses the area that is already commercialized around the casino,” said Jon Hare, who manages real estate for the tribe. “I think really what it does is put a bold line on it jurisdictionally.”
Having a reservation doesn’t change much for day-to-day operations in the tribe, Yanity said. But it’s part of the process for pulling the tribe together and centralizing services like public safety, healthcare and a community center.
Tribal trust lands are somewhat scattered, Hare said, but the tribe hopes to unify.
“We really just want to have the land and make it all one piece instead of all these scattered parcels,” he said. “I think the tribe, now that there’s a reservation, we’re not scattered and we know where we want to plan.”
Having a reservation can also help the tribe qualify for grants or public safety funding specifically earmarked for reservations, Yanity said.
The tribe may try to expand the Stillaguamish Reservation in the future. “We started small, but if the tribe wants, they can do the process all over again to add more property,” Hare said.
New housing and a community center are planned on 80 acres of land east of Angel of the Winds Casino, Yanity said. The planned development eventually could be added into the reservation. The tribe would also like to have a clinic on its reservation, he said.
“It’d be nice to be able to expand, but right now we have a lot of other things we’re trying to focus on,” he said.
A 125-room hotel, a gift shop and a smoke shop are under construction adjacent to the casino. The hotel is scheduled to open by spring 2015. Roadwork is also planned around the casino to patch up and widen streets and add lighting.
“It’s nice to keep most of our main infrastructure as close together as we can,” Yanity said.
Pulling tribal services together also lowers costs because resources can be concentrated in one area, he said.
The tribe could have become centralized without creating a reservation, but the designation is a solid starting place, Hare said.
“The main reason to do this is to show you’re established,” he said. “To have one, I think it’s kind of a historical thing.”
The Stillaguamish Tribe was one of more than 22 that signed the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, handing over several million acres to the U.S. government for minimal compensation. The Stillaguamish kept their fishing rights and gained federal recognition as a tribe in 1976.
Though most of the tribes in Washington now have reservations, at least three are still working on designating land and gaining approval, according to the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs.
OLYMPIA – The deadly March 22 Oso mudslide and subsequent flooding have caused at least $32.1 million in damage to public infrastructure, according to preliminary assessments by state and federal authorities.
Gov. Jay Inslee cited that figure Tuesday in a letter sent to President Barack Obama asking for federal assistance for local and tribal governments to help cover an array of costs incurred in clearing debris and repairing roads and waterways damaged by the disaster.
The slide not only wiped out the Steelhead Drive neighborhood, it has blocked the usual route into Darrington along Highway 530.
“The landslide and upstream flooding it caused brought down death and destruction on these tight-knit communities in Snohomish County,” Inslee said in a statement. “These are our friends and neighbors and we’re racing to help repair their roads and other public facilities in the Stillaguamish Valley. If the president acts on this request, we can help do the job even faster.”
Also late Tuesday, medical examiners said they had received the remains of 28 slide victims and have identified a total of 22. The names released today were: Brandy Ward, 58, Thom Satterlee, 65, Lon Slauson, 60 and Adam Farnes, 23.
The confirmations lowered the total of missing by two; 20 people still are presumed missing as a result of the slide.
On Monday, Inslee requested the president issue a Major Disaster Declaration to free up federal assistance for individuals, households and businesses affected by the disaster. This could include money for temporary housing and immediate needs, and unemployment insurance benefits.
In that letter, he pointed out 40 homes were destroyed and up to 30 families left in need of long- and short-term housing. It pegged the estimated damage to residences and structures at $10 million.
Inslee wants the president to make two public assistance programs available in Snohomish County, and to the Sauk-Suiattle, Stillaguamish and Tulalip Indian Tribes.
The slide buried 6,000 feet of Highway 530. About 700 feet had been cleared by Tuesday.
Travis Phelps, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said it is too soon to know the highway’s condition.
“There is still a lot of Highway 530 under a lot of mud,” he said. “I am sure we are going to find portions that are damaged and portions that are OK. It is too soon to tell if it is completely demolished.”
The expanse of the Oso mudslide miniaturizes people and their machines.
The workers tasked with clearing the 1.2-square-mile debris field are comparing the devastation to 9/11.
“When you get down there, it looks like the World Trade Center,” said Ed Troyer, of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. “Instead of steel workers, it’s loggers.”
Gerry Bozarth, a debris specialist for Spokane Emergency Management, said the tangle in Oso is as complex as that from the terrorist attacks in New York.
Bozarth said searchers may never find all of the victims. The questions families have may never be answered.
Crews continued to search for the missing Tuesday. Some 600 yellow-and-orange-clad workers donned their hard hats. They were looking through piles of hazardous material sometimes 80 feet deep.
Crews are scratching the surface of the debris field, targeting the places they believe people most likely are buried. There are splintered trees, tires, shredded roof tops, pipes, chunks of walls and people’s photos strewn in the muck.
Water that earlier flooded a portion of the site on the southwest corner is now mostly gone.
“People were thinking air pockets, but there were no air pockets,” Troyer said.
Search conditions have improved since the first few days when crews spent much of their time fighting the water.
“It created a hazardous material soup that was exhausting to crews,” Bellevue Fire Lt. Richard Burke said. “They were sinking to their chests in this muck.”
While pumps droned constantly, moving the water out, crews weren’t hauling dirt away.
The contaminated soil is shoveled, sorted for people’s belongings, then piled up. Right now, it is not being moved off site.
Workers and search dogs must go through a decontamination process before leaving to limit the risk of spreading diseases such as dysentery.
On Tuesday, a sour smell rose from the site. It seemed to be a combination of spilled septic tanks, fuel, household products and exhaust from heavy machinery
The operation is much more organized nearly a dozen days after the slide, officials said. Soldiers and others have stepped in, relieving some of the weary workers.
“We want to go home and look the citizens of Oso and say we did our best,” Burke said.
“The strength in this community and their commitment to one another is just unbelievable.”
ARLINGTON – A company that makes cups from recycled soda and water bottles is undergoing a $10 million factory expansion here.
MicroGreen will be able to produce 2 million InCycle cups per day after the expansion, up from the current 400,000.
“Our investors expect big things from us – it’s go-time,” said Tom Malone, CEO of MicroGreen, in a statement. “Production is running 24/7 on our existing lines, while we’re also managing the construction site and training new employees.”
Investors include the Stillaguamish Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon.
“We are pleased that our investment in this young company has resulted in creating more than 100 jobs in our local community,” said Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe, in the press release.
In December, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde funded an equipment loan to MicroGreen and followed that with $5 million in January. This allowed MicroGreen to proceed with expansion.
The company is changing the industry, said Titu Asghar, director of economic development for the Grand Ronde, in the statement.
“We are looking ahead several generations to create an economically sustainable future, supporting clean technology that helps correct wasteful practices with environmentally sound products that are simply better in performance,” he said.
The company, at the Jensen Business Park near Highway 9, uses technology developed at the University of Washington to make the InCycle cups. The idea is to reduce the waste in landfills by using plastic bottles to create cups that can be recycled over and over.
MicroGreen has contracts with several airlines to provide cups for hot beverage service in flight. It’s also looking at using the same technology to expand to other markets, ranging from building construction and electronics to transportation.
The Stillaguamish and Tulalip tribes have partnered with the state Department of Natural Resources and three private timber companies to map forestlands in the Stillaguamish and Skykomish basins.
LIDAR, which stands for Light Distance and Ranging, uses an airborne laser to survey topography.
“The laser pulses from the plane are reflected back to record billions of points of light that measure elevation,” said Derek Marks, Timber/Fish/Wildlife biologist for Tulalip.
Elevation data was collected on working forestlands and a large area of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The result is a high-resolution model that enables natural resources managers to identify resources and potential risks, such as landslides.
“We can save many hours with high-resolution models,” Marks said. “We don’t have to walk the hillside; a forester would have to traverse the area to know where the streams are.”
The new LIDAR surveys covered an area that previously had not been mapped, where the forest canopy covers streams. The models will guide environmental permit reviews for logging and road proposals.
“We’re also reflying the entire North Fork Stillaguamish corridor to compare the data with LIDAR from 2003, to see what’s changed in a 10-year period,” said Scott Rockwell, Timber/Fish/Wildlife biologist for Stillaguamish. Those surveys will cover tribal restoration projects on the North Fork.
“It streamlines management and risk assessment for private industry and state lands,” Rockwell said. “It allows tribes to prioritize and scope restoration projects where we can see obvious habitat potential.”
The surveys were coordinated by the Puget Sound LIDAR Consortium, an informal group of federal and local agencies that acts as a clearinghouse for the high-resolution topographic models, making the data available to the public.
ARLINGTON — Friday, Oct. 25, saw the Angel of the Winds Casino officially break ground on construction of a new $20-million, 125-room, five-story hotel.
“This is the next step in our growth of the Angel of the Winds Casino,” said Koran Andrews, CEO of the Stillaguamish Tribal Enterprise Corporation. “We continue to look at what our guests want, and develop those amenities.”
“We are truly blessed to have an opportunity to add a hotel to our facility, and provide more services to our guests,” Stillaguamish Tribal Chair Shawn Yanity said of the expansion, which will add more than 100,000 square feet to the casino, in the form of not only a new hotel, but also a new gift shop and smoke shop, as well as a porte-cochere to centralize guests’ entrances to the property. “Not only are we growing our tribal economy, but we’re growing the local economy, too, by increasing job opportunities and tourism.”
According to Travis O’Neil, general manager of the Angel of the Winds Casino, planning for the new hotel expansion began roughly 18 months ago, but the possibility of such an expansion was factored into the casino’s plans shortly before its previous expansion six years ago.
“We’ve got a master plan, but we also listen to our guests,” O’Neil said. “We blocked out the space for this sort of expansion, because we always had in mind that the Angel of the Winds Casino would become a destination resort. We might as well reach for the stars. We’ve got a good group of people, who do their best for our guests, and the Stillaguamish Tribe has been willing to support us, so long as they see our accomplishments.”
As far as O’Neil is aware, the Angel of the Winds Casino is one of the last, if not the last, casino on the I-5 corridor to add its own hotel, and he touted the new hotel — which is anticipated to open in the winter or spring of 2015, creating an estimated additional 50 jobs for the local community in the process — as “moderately priced, but not lower-end.”
“The hotel will be just as comfortable and nice as they’ve come to expect from the casino,” O’Neil said. “It promises to be a very good complement to the World’s Friendliest Casino.”
Beyond the jobs that will be created once the new hotel opens, O’Neil also touted the local construction jobs that will be created in the meantime, since he expects that the Bellingham-based Excel Pacific will retain a number of subcontractors, whose employees he believes will likely include more than a few folks from Marysville and Arlington.
“We’ve got other steps in our master plan, but it would be premature to discuss those at this point,” O’Neil said. “For right now, we just want to focus on making this hotel a success, and I just want to thank the Stillaguamish Tribe for the opportunities they’ve given me in this job. Their elders paved the way for this, and they’re supporting it because they’re mindful of leaving something to their future generations. It’s been a blessing to work with them.”
The Angel of the Winds Casino is located three minutes east of I-5 Exit 210 in Arlington.
The cup that holds your morning coffee is a seemingly simple item to be used and discarded. It probably hasn’t changed much over the years. No big deal, except that Americans go through 137 billion disposable beverage cups each, generating a tremendous amount of waste.
That looks like a huge opportunity toMicroGREEN Polymers, a company with a distinctly Pacific Northwest mix of technology, innovators, customers, and investors, now including two American Indian groups, which represent a new source of venture capital and private equity nationally.
The Arlington, WA-based manufacturer is raising $10 million from investors including theConfederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. The financing is part of a $20 million round, which began early this year with a $5 million investment from the Stillaguamish Tribe, and is expected to close with another $5 million investment, also from American Indian tribes, says MicroGREEN president and CEO Tom Malone. The company plans to use the cash to expand its line of recycled and recyclable hot and cold beverage cups, and to increase production capacity.
The Stillaguamish and Grand Ronde are part of a growing number of American Indian tribes putting their newfound casino wealth to work in more sophisticated ways, including through direct investment in local companies focused on long-term sustainability, among other values that match their own.
MicroGREEN aims to make up to 500 million InCycle cups a year—still just a drop in the bucket of the disposable cup market, which is expected to grow to 159 billion units by 2016, according to the company, which cites research from The Freedonia Group. That would generate around $25 million in sales, and the company forecasts it will turn profitable by mid-2014, “largely because this round of financing enables us to put in place the final production equipment to hit that full capacity,” Malone says.
It plans to nearly double its staff to 100 people by the end of the first quarter of 2014, with a third shift to be added “almost immediately,” he says.
MicroGREEN’s manufacturing process—developed by Greg Branch and Krishna Nadella as graduate students in the University of Washington mechanical engineering department more than a decade ago—injects food-grade carbon dioxide into recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic inside a pressure vessel. The polymer is then heated, allowing billions of tiny bubbles to form in the core of the plastic, expanding it into a material that can be made into insulated beverage cups marketed as InCycle.
The cups have 30 percent the density of solid plastic cups, Malone says, reducing the cost and global-warming impact of the end product. Moreover, the cup is easily recyclable at the end of its life—adhering to “cradle to cradle” design principles—unlike plastic-lined paper cups found in many coffee shops, which are difficult to recycle in most conventional municipal systems.
“All we’re doing is allowing recycled plastic to take another trip through the economy,” Malone says.
And since the MicroGREEN process gives the cups great insulation properties, there’s no need to grab a second cup or sleeve to protect hands from the hot drink inside.
“We can compete against all the legacy producers in a way that enables us to give the consumer what they’re looking for and for us to make a profit,” Malone says.
The company names customers including Redhook Brewery and Alaska Airlines, which will begin using InCycle cups for beverage service on flights beginning Oct. 1. Other airline orders are also in the works, Malone says.
The Alaska deal has helped expose the company to one of the world’s biggest users of disposable cups: Starbucks, whose coffee is served by Alaska and, according to Malone, has approved the InCycle cup to hold its brew. (Starbucks, which uses 4 billion cups a year globally, has a goal of making 100 percent of them reusable or recyclable by 2015. It’s actually a quite complex problem, as explained in this post updating the coffee giant’s progress.)
The story of MicroGREEN’s investment from American Indian tribes starts with proximity. After receiving an order from the Stillaguamish-owned Angel of the Winds in Arlington, MicroGREEN invited tribal representatives to visit its factory.
Koran Andrews, CEO of the Stillaguamish Tribal Enterprise Corporation, took a tour last year and recognized an investment opportunity in keeping with her organization’s goals of economic diversification and long-term sustainability. Bill Lomax, president of the Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA), says of the Stillaguamish: “For one of the smaller tribes in the country that maybe doesn’t get out into the national media as much, they’re probably one of the savviest.”
Malone says Andrews opened his eyes to the opportunity presented by the growing economic might of American Indian tribes. And it was the Stillaguamish who introduced MicroGREEN to the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde at a conference in Seattle earlier this year, says Titu Asghar, director of economic development for the Oregon-based group of 27 tribes and bands.
“MicroGREEN’s philosophy aligns with the tribe’s philosophy of returning back to the Earth, being ecologically sustainable, looking into green investments,” Asghar says.
Those goals inform the Tribe’s investment focus, along with a geographic concentration on historic lands forcibly ceded in the mid-19th century, which stretched from Northern California, through the mid-Willamette Valley, to southwest Washington.
The Confederated Tribes formed an economic development arm in 2011 as a way to diversify and invest revenues from casino and timber operations. It made direct equity investments in two other companies in 2012 and is exploring a few more opportunities currently, Asghar says. The Confederated Tribes target investments in the $5 million to $10 million range, in companies that are sustainable environmentally and economically, with stable management and cash flows. He would not disclose the size of the fund to be invested.
Rather than investing as a limited partner in an existing private equity or venture capital fund, the Confederated Tribes decided to keep their investing activities in house, performing their own due diligence and relying on existing legal, finance, and public relations capabilities. That’s part of being good stewards of tribal dollars, a responsibility the Tribal Council—which has final say in all investments—would never leave to outsiders, says public affairs director Siobhan Taylor.
Malone says companies seeking investment from tribes must be aware that each one is different.
“One step is getting to know the tribe, getting to know particularly the decision-making process and the leadership council,” he says. “It’s also an investment based not only on due diligence, but also on trust in the management team. Getting to know them, them getting to know us—that’s very important to both parties.”
While they may indicate the beginnings of a trend, the Stillaguamish and Confederated Tribes’ direct investments in a cleantech manufacturer remain relatively uncommon nationally, says Lomax, of the NAFOA. “We haven’t seen necessarily a lot of investments like that to my knowledge,” he says. “We’ve certainly seen a big interest in clean energy.”
In the past, few tribes had much extra money, so venture capital investing wasn’t relevant. “And then the casinos came along and that created wealth for a great number of tribes,” he says.
“We’ve seen a real evolution in the tribal acumen when it comes to investing over the last 10 to 15 years,” Lomax says. Over that time, tribes have accumulated significant wealth from their casinos and associated businesses. They are now looking to broaden their portfolios beyond plain vanilla investments in stocks and bonds, he says.
One of the most sophisticated efforts is Growth Fund Private Equity, the Durango, CO-based business investing arm of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, which has invested in technology companies including Seattle-based RFID systems makerImpinj.
“I think generally, a lot of tribes are now starting to make allocation to passive private equity and venture-type investments,” Lomax says, though he cautions that tribes aren’t moving to this kind of investing en masse.
As in the case of MicroGREEN, tribes tend to focus investments locally, which makes them a promising emerging source to support local innovation, particularly in sustainability and cleantech, he says.
Wildlife biologists from the Stillaguamish and Tulalip tribes are testing a new way to track the population of the Nooksack elk herd using the animals’ scat.
Tribal biologists have partnered with Western Washington University’s Huxley College of the Environment to determine the most efficient way to collect DNA from elk scat. Genetic material can be found in the intestinal mucus coating the pellets. This winter, biologists sampled fresh scat using toothpicks and cotton swabs, submitting the samples to a genetics lab to determine which method is most effective at providing an animal’s unique genotype.
“This is a non-invasive method that does not require collaring animals or helicopter time to survey them,” said Stillaguamish biologist Jennifer Sevigny.
While the current method of using tracking collars and aerial surveys is expensive, it allows state and tribal wildlife managers to determine the bull-to-cow and cow-to-calf ratios needed to set harvest levels. To fit elk with tracking collars, the animals must be captured and tranquilized.
In the spring, the Stillaguamish and Tulalip tribes plan to coordinate a large population survey, sampling elk scat in the North Cascades Mountains, including forested landscapes that are hard to monitor during aerial surveys.
“Once individual elk are identified by their DNA, a population estimate can be obtained by re-sampling an area and comparing the number of originally identified individuals – the marked animals – to the newly identified animals – the unmarked animals,” said Tulalip wildlife manager Mike Sevigny.
During the past two decades, tribal and state co-managers completed numerous habitat restoration projects to improve forage for the Nooksack herd, which had declined to about 300 animals by 2003. According to 2012 aerial surveys, the herd has rebounded to as many as 1,400 elk.
The Stillaguamish Tribe recently partnered with the state Department of Natural Resources Family Forest Fish Passage Program to restore access to Cherokee Creek, near Darrington.
Cherokee Creek provides spawning, rearing and refuge for coho and other species of Pacific salmon, as well as cutthroat and bull trout. However, the creek also was home to a deteriorating metal culvert that had been poorly installed and was too small to withstand floods.
“The culvert had created an artificial waterfall that was too high for salmon to swim or jump past on their way upstream,” said Scott Rockwell, Forest and Fish biologist for the tribe. “It was also interfering with natural stream ecology, interrupting the downstream movement of water, fallen trees and gravel.”
The Family Forest Fish Passage Program replaced the culvert with a steel bridge and an 80-foot-long section of stream channel that restored fish access to more than a mile of productive spawning habitat. The state program helps small forest landowners comply with forest practice rules by covering 75-100 percent of the cost of eliminating stream barriers.
At a fall event celebrating the project’s completion, many coho salmon swam through the restored area.
“Their genetic compasses guided them back to habitat that had not been accessible for years,” said Washington State Forester Aaron Everett, who worked on the project.
As a project sponsor, the Stillaguamish Tribe conducted landowner outreach, collected habitat data, provided matching project funds, and managed project design, construction oversight, permitting and billing.
Cherokee Creek is a spawner index stream for coho salmon. For the past 12 years, Stillaguamish natural resources staff have documented the number and location of spawning adults and redds (egg nests) to help forecast the size of future coho runs.
For more information about the state’s Small Forest Landowner Office, visit www.dnr.wa.gov/sflo.