Washington governor, tribes talk business, fish and fentanyl

Centennial Accord meetings hosted by Chehalis Tribe this week


In separate interviews, Gov. Jay Inslee and W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe, had the same message: Formal collaboration between the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington and state government can benefit all Washingtonians, native or not.

“Tribes are a part of the solution to the needs of Washington state,” Allen said. “We are helping Washington state become stronger. … Our revenue stays in the community and it spreads around the community. We create jobs. We enhance the community’s welfare.”

Inslee noted the same thing: “Because 80% of people who work in tribal enterprises are not tribal members.”

Thirty-four years ago, Allen helped create the Centennial Accord, a document that guides tribal and state relationships in Washington. As part of the deal, the governor and state agencies meet with representatives from the 29 tribes annually. 

This year, for the third time, the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation played host. Hundreds of attendees packed the event center at the Lucky Eagle Casino on Tuesday for the second day of Centennial Accord meetings. From 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., leaders from the reservations across Washington earned Inslee’s undivided attention. A few tribal leaders from Idaho and Oregon also attend the yearly Centennial Accord gatherings.

“It’s a way that people can listen to one another in a very comprehensive and deep dive on these issues. So, not superficial,” Inslee told The Chronicle. The governor and the Jamestown S’Klallam chairman also agreed on another point: the Centennial Accord forms the basis of the most successful tribal-to-state government relationship in America. 

“Most successful,” though, does not mean these annual meetings are friendly. There are insults, tears and frustrations shared.

“It’s a tremendous listening session to see what we can work on together and it can avoid a lot of litigation and heartache by powerful listening,” Inslee said.

There will always be “venting,” Allen said. But, when considering the diversity of the 29 tribes’ “complex” individual issues, Allen said he’s seen significant progress over the last 34 years.

Visit https://goia.wa.gov for a detailed list of the issues and proposals discussed at the 2023 Centennial Accord. 


Natural resources

Disagreements over land and resource management have been a hallmark of state and tribal relations since Washington joined the United States. Tuesday’s Centennial Accord meeting was no exception. Tribal leaders spent more than an hour criticizing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) director and commission.

Lummi Nation Councilor Lisa Wilson criticized WDFW for dragging their feet on a policy that addressed treaty tribes as co-managers of salmon and other fish more than 40 years after the landmark Boldt decision. 

According to the agency’s website, the WDFW commission ordered department staff “to begin development of a joint policy agreement on salmon and steelhead hatchery programs with tribal co-managers” in April 2021. The Boldt decision affirmed treaty tribes as co-managers in 1974.

“There’s a big concern about a few commissioners that don’t respect treaty rights,” Wilson said, later adding, “It’s actually offensive that some of the WDFW’s commissioners call us ‘industry stakeholders.’ (Like) we’re not willing, we don’t want conservation? We’re the leaders in conservation. We’re the ones that have been the conservationists since time immemorial. … They can’t even quantify what conservation is. Because it’s not just about the harvest.”

On the same note, Allen, to Inslee, said that despite not having control over WDFW’s director, the governor does appoint members to the department commission, which oversees the director, Kelly Susewind. Susewind sat quietly throughout this conversation Tuesday.

“Why aren’t there Indians on that commission?” Allen asked. “Why aren’t there? There’s no reason why not. … There should be Indians on that commission.”

Doug Woodruff, chairman of the Quileute Nation, expressed concerns that WDFW prioritized recreational fishing over treaty rights. The tribal leaders in attendance Tuesday urged the state to pause development of any new recreational activities.

At the Sol Duc Hatchery in the Quillayute River system, which is managed by the Quileute Nation, according to WDFW, only 47 Chinook had returned by July 12 of this year. On average, about half of the hatchery’s 900 released fish return by that date, the department website stated.

“If there’s co-management, that means we work together, we’re partners,” Woodruff said. “Not, ‘we’re going to take all of everything we want and you guys get what’s left over.’”


The impacts of fentanyl

Tribal leaders spent a great deal of time Tuesday describing to Inslee the impacts of fentanyl on their communities.

Lummi Chairman Tony Hillaire, whose nation recently had five fentanyl deaths in one week, asked that the governor declare a state of emergency due to rapidly growing rates of overdose deaths in Washington. 

Misty Napeahi, vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes, gave a chilling testimony of the opioid crisis on her reservation, naming several tribal members who recently died in drug-related incidents.

Within the last few weeks, Napeahi said, the Tulalip Tribes buried one woman who committed suicide after struggling with opioid addiction since the age of 16. She had four children.

“This problem is affecting all of us. But, to my non-tribal counterpart my same age, he’s only been to one funeral in his whole life,” Napeahi said. “I’ve been to hundreds.”

In response, Inslee said he did not think Washington was “cutting the mustard” on educating children about the impacts of fentanyl. In the next legislative session, Inslee said he plans to propose a bill that would enhance K-12 education about opioids.

The governor also intends to propose “hundreds of millions of dollars” of new mental health care funding, he said.

Other items on the list he mentioned to address the crisis included “flooding the market” with Narcan, supporting medical-assisted recovery treatment programs and having a fentanyl-focused summit with the tribes and the state to allow for a more in-depth look at this topic alone, Inslee said.

A representative from the Spokane Tribe of Indians proposed hosting the next fentanyl summit. In the next few months, the Chehalis Tribe will be expanding its medically assisted treatment program, which is set to include a mobile unit that could come to Lewis County, Chairman Dustin Klatush told The Chronicle.