Native American tribes explain financial, fishing, and environmental impact of government shutdown

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OLYMPIA, Wash. – Outside the Nisqually Red Wind Casino and just across the street at the administration building, tribe members are moving forward despite the government shutdown.   Nisqually Tribe Chairman Ken Choke is fairing better this time around compared to 2013’s shutdown.

“We learned lessons back then and we kind of adapted,” said Nisqually Tribe Chairman Ken Choke.


The casino is not affected by the government shutdown. The revenue from the business is helping the tribe make up the shortfalls in funding that would’ve come from the federal dollars.

“It also impacts our housing our HUD our homes for our tribal members here and there’s our social services where there are provisions from the federal government to assist tribal members in our time of need,” said Choke.

But this time around, the tribe is filling in the gaps while the government is closed.  While the Nisqually Tribe is more self-sufficient now, there are still some major projects out of their hands.

“Right now, we’re working on a watershed plan and part of that has to do with that is salmon recovery. everything is affected,” said Nisqually Tribe Natural Resource Manager James Slape, Jr.

Nisqually and four other tribes and agencies were approved for a nearly $13 million federal disaster relief grant for habitat restoration, a salmon recovery plan, and water shortage prevention efforts after the drought of 2015.  Those dollars haven’t come yet.

“We’re stewards of the environment, we’re trying to do good things,” said Slape, Jr.

The state and tribe work hand-in-hand with NOAA, but NOAA is shutdown and not granting fishing licenses or determining sustainability for the upcoming season.

“If you bought a 2019 fishing license and you expect to fish Chinook salmon, you don’t have that salmon fishery, you don’t fish. Not only sport fisherman but tribal fishermen and all commercial fisherman,” said Slape, Jr.

It’s now a wait and see approach for the tribe that is moving forward with other projects and plans they can control.

While the Nisqually tribe has other revenue sources like red wind casino, smaller tribes rely more heavily on federal dollars and are in more of a bind right now.

“I’ve actually had a few tribes reach out.  Quileute Nation, for instance, they depend on the Coast Guard and with the government shutdown it shut them down as well.  So they’re reaching out to other tribes to see if we can help them continue to operate,” said Choke.

And the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe sent a letter to state and federal lawmakers saying in part, “The shutdown and lack of appropriations severely exacerbate our Members’ struggles due to lack of adequate funding of programs serving Indian people. Doing so is difficult, particularly since few tribes have a strong tax base or steady and reliable sources of income.”

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That’s why Chairman Choke says Indian people of all tribes will work together to stay afloat during the shutdown.

“As tribal nations, we get together and try to assist them as well.  That’s what we’re based on,” said Choke.

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