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Stimulus money helping richer tribes

TACOMA – Nationwide, $3 billion in federal grants, contracts and loans has been set aside for 564 federally recognized tribes in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As a whole, Northwest tribes are faring better than most as the money filters down from federal agencies.

However, a News Tribune analysis of the money allocated so far shows that the stimulus funds are not helping all tribes in the state equally. On the contrary, the stimulus is widening the gap between rich and poor tribes created by the relative success of their casinos.

Of the $94 million awarded to Washington’s 29 Indian tribes so far, $51 million has gone to five tribes, all among the state’s wealthiest.

Two South Sound tribes, the Nisqually and the Puyallup, are among the big winners.

As of Sept. 30, the most recent date for which totals are available, the Puyallup tribe had received $13.1 million and the Nisqually tribe $12.3 million, money earmarked for dozens of projects ranging from housing and energy conservation to education, roads and law enforcement.

The Yakama Nation, the Tulalip tribes and Lummi Nation, all of which have large, profitable casinos and diversified economies, also are winners.

Meanwhile, the state’s less fortunate tribes so far have received comparatively little.

The Hoh tribe on the Olympic Peninsula, where unemployment exceeds 50 percent and which is struggling to relocate itself out of a flood plain, has received about $300,000 for a contract with the federal Department of Energy to install solar panels on its tribal administration building, preparatory work for a housing project and roadwork through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The chronically poor Shoalwater Bay tribe in Tokeland, about 80 miles west of Olympia, has received less than $150,000: $50,000 to disseminate an endangered beach plant called pink sand-verbena, and a $96,253 grant to connect sewer and water lines to a tribal housing project.

“What happens with smaller tribes is we just don’t have the infrastructure to respond to grants,” said Alexis Barry, executive director of the Hoh tribe. “The big tribes have grant writers, and they can jump on that stuff,” Barry said. “It’s very difficult for us – not that we don’t wish them well.”

And a tribe’s political connections have little or nothing to do with its success in getting stimulus funds, said Emmett O’Connell, with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“It may look like that,” he said, “but what you’ll find is that the money is going to the tribes with capacity. A lot of the stimulus money, at least in the beginning, needed to go to shovel-ready projects. Tribes either had a project or they didn’t.”