"Drive north on Interstate 5 toward Grand Mound and you’ll see an unusually shaped structure called the Great Wolf Resort. It’s a combination indoor water park, conference center and hotel — and the latest example of the increasing economic diversification of Indian tribes.
The $100 million project, a joint venture between a Wisconsin-based chain of water parks and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis, is scheduled to open this month and employ 500 people, many from the Lewis County area recently hard hit by flooding.
Other examples of the economic revival of some of Washington’s 29 federally recognized Indian tribes are readily evident, particularly along the I-5 corridor. Most recently, the Puyallup Tribe has partnered with SSA Marine, the world’s largest private container and cargo-handling company, to build a seaport on tribal land on Tacoma’s East Blair Waterway, and other tribes are making investments in hotels, retail shopping centers and manufacturing. A 2005 study concluded that tribes contribute more than $3 billion annually to the state economy, generated $141 million in state and local taxes, and were the largest employers in some communities.
Despite the rising prominence of tribes as economic powerhouses, myths and mysteries still surround the issue of tribal sovereignty. Many businesses, local governments and individuals don’t fully understand how treaties signed in the 1850s affect their relationships with tribes in the 21st century.
Currently, the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, State Department of Revenue, the Association of Washington Business, and tribal representatives have embarked on a series of tribal sovereignty workshops in an effort to help businesses, local governments and the general public better understand the legal framework underlying relationships with the tribes. More information: goia.wa.gov
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Craig Bill: Indian tribes fuel economic development
(The Columbian 3/12)