By John Weymer
Response to recent articles in the Tacoma Weekly regarding COVID-19, the Puyallup Tribe and Emerald Queen Casino have been met with great response from readers. I deeply appreciate those tribal members that have reached out with support, and sometimes with even more questions. I was very fortunate to be involved with the tribe for as long as I was. I also take responsibility for defending the actions of casino management and council, and supporting bad decisions that were made in the past while working for the Puyallup tribe as their public relations person. In my time with the tribe, I would diligently portray a good image of this council while being fully aware of the issues they truly faced.
Fault for the tribe’s current economic condition does not lie entirely with this tribal council’s mismanagement of assets. Tribal members are well aware of this history of challenges that have faced their tribe to get where they are today. Puyallup tribal historian Judy Wright once told me that the tribe doesn’t change unless it runs into a “bump,” in her words, and it has to be a big bump. But once that happens, the tribe jumps into action and gets it done. The tribe is very much at the point now where they have run into a big bump, and fundamental change will be necessary to overcome it.
Back when Cascadia was being planned, the tribe’s original vision was to build their casino with mixed use retail and commercial, and better housing all around it. Now, the tribe will have to recommit itself to these goals in order to compete. For example, the Tulalip tribe is surrounded by retail, housing and other amenities that provide more than a gaming experience and a destination for people to travel to. The Puyallup tribe will need to meet this level of diversification, or exceed it, in order to rise to the challenges that the tribe is facing today. Partnering with the city will be crucial, as the city’s role will be to help acquire land and attract developers and businesses that can enhance the Portland Avenue corridor area.
The Eastside of Tacoma has been neglected for half a century. The original Eastside redevelopment plan goes back to the mid-70s. In the mid-1980s, the Land Claims Settlement called for the tribe, the city and all local governments to unite in developing a land use plan addressing the needs of all parties involved. Then about the time that the tribe was planning its new big casino, Cascadia, another Portland Avenue redevelopment plan was put in place and the tribe was very involved in the whole planning process, outlining the necessary infrastructure for redevelopment of the entire area.
To date, all of these efforts since the 1970s have stalled. It’s now time to come up with a new strategy for redevelopment of the Portland Avenue corridor. This plan should include the area from the Tacoma Dome to Salishan, the gateway to our city, and reinvent the current plan put forth by Sound Transit that best suits the region, with Tacoma linked to Portland, Olympia, Seattle and more, and a mixed use entertainment district from Puyallup Avenue up Portland Avenue to the casino, with state of the art facilities.
COVID-19, though horrifying, presents opportunities for the rebuilding of communities that have been devastated by this virus. Federal grants and the original Land Claims Settlement to rebuild the Portland Avenue corridor are extremely vital to the tribe and the region. Our city is boarded up. Business has changed forever and we will have to find new ways to do it.
The Land Claims Settlement originally calls for a review every five years. That has never happened. Regional planning is more important than ever. The tribe and local governments have gone through various struggles mostly with environmental issues. It is my experience that all parties involved, including the county and city, are very concerned about the environment and want the best for their community. It’s time to regroup and put together a working agreement that benefits the region. A group effort will be needed in Washington, D.C. and the tribe’s participation is crucial. The amount of funding needed is astronomical. An area that has been, and is still, plagued with drug use and crime on a daily basis requires our attention immediately. The tribe is bound by the borders of their reservation. They can’t just place their casino anywhere. The city and local government efforts to make the tribe more successful will benefit us all. The tribe has to understand that the old ways no longer work. It is time for changing the old tribal guard. There are people that have been on council too long.
It is the tribal members’ mandate to make a better life for their children. The most successful aspect for the tribe has been its emphasis on education. Younger tribal members need to step up and get involved. David Bean started out as a young tribal member with a grassroots movement advocating transparency. The membership deserves the truth. We are all victims of bad politics. Puyallup tribal members not only have to deal with bad politics in local government and in the White House, but also bad politics that run their own government. Historically, Native Americans have been victims of governments for several centuries.
At 6,000 strong, Puyallup tribal members have an advantage over the rest of the community. A handful of families tend to fight among each other once in a while, but when times get tough, tribal members unite and take care of each other. They don’t have to like each other, but they will take care of each other. I’m nowhere near to being a tribal member, but I was fortunate enough to have people like Herman Dillon, Judy Wright and a lot of other tribal members educate me in their ways. We’re in this together.