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Skokomish Tribe approaches economic development in holistic fashion

SHELTON, Wash. - Two generations of tourists, locals and reservation members bought their produce at McDonald's Farm Market near the Skokomish Reservation on Highway 101. When illness forced the sale of the market, the Skokomish Tribe bought the business as a little side-venture, an outlet for the elder's garden project produce.

Four years, many grants and nearly $800,000 later, the Twana Farmarket is ready to open its doors.

Incorporating the tribal name for the Skokomish language, the Twana Farmarket is turning out to be as much a symbol of the tribe's sovereignty as its economic flowering. Not only will the market sell the tribe's produce, it will offer fresh and cooked seafood, caught by Skokomish tribal members, game products such as deer hides and antlers and traditional medicinal plants, herbs and other wild edibles.

The store will also serve as an outlet for art work created by tribal members. Long known for their fine basket-making, Skokomish members will at long last have a place of their own to market their wares. Sculptors, painters, carvers, weavers will have a viable location to exhibit work to both the local and tourist populations.

"We have a large pool of artists in our community that have been working out of their trunk to go to pow wows and trade and sell," says Genny Rogers, cultural resources technician. "There are a handful of notable people ... who are known for their artwork. But we have triple that of people who are just as good. They just haven't focused on it totally."

Lesser known artists may well be the ones that benefit most from the Farmarket. The selling and marketing experience will prepare many to approach bigger markets in Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle.

"They may feel a little intimidated by some of the better artists and just the scale of work that they do and what they can kick out," Rogers says. "So this will help them to just blossom a little bit."

A long, specially constructed sidewalk to the market will feature salmon carved into the pathway. One Skokomish artist, Judy Walking Eagle, has contributed three, special etched glass signs to hang over the produce sections and cashier's stand.

Rogers did translations of words like 'produce,' for which the closest Twana words were 'things that grow.' They were etched into the glass. The best Twana word she could find for check stand was one that says 'buy it.'

Judith Hoeflinger, economic development director and head of the project, says it was the tribe's economic task force that researched the grants and saw the project through from its ramshackle roadside beginnings to its final scope. The project even drew contributions from the Paul Allen Foundation (a scion of Microsoft) in Seattle.

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Now that the Twana Farmarket project is approaching completion, other economic ventures are on the horizon. Plans include a small gaming facility that will be built close to the Farmarket.

Another tribal-owned operation, a small gas station and convenience store is being beefed up.

Hoeflinger envisions a kind of tribal "strip" along the highly trafficked highway, where tourists can cruise from one tribal offering to the next.

Many individual tribal members already have shops along the highway, selling arts and crafts and other items.

"It's going to be quite something," Hoeflinger says . "It's one of those things that just encompasses a whole lot of what the tribe hopes to do with their sovereignty issues as well as economic development."

Eco-tourism is another possibility. Although the Skokomish Reservation is small, encompassing only 7 square miles, it is ideally situated along the Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula. The majority of the reservation is heavily forested with many wetlands and tributaries. Extensive restoration work along streams and the highway through the reservation has already been done, paying off with an increase in wildlife and public appreciation for the beauty of the area.

"I went down to Florida and visited with the Seminoles and they had these wonderful boardwalks through the Everglades," Rogers says. "They were interpretive and ... one boardwalk was up to five miles long. We have wonderful wetlands that run through the reservation.that would be just cool as heck to build some boardwalks and do some interpretive stuff like that.

"That would give us a land-use other than a giant sponge."

Many tribal members already serve as wildlife interpreters and eco-tourism guides for non-tribal businesses on the peninsula. With a developing economic center, they may be able to pool their experience to work on reservation and serve more of the tribal community.

The holistic approach, Hoeflinger says , is the best way to develop tribal resources, using all the tribal members' skills and talents as part of the process of strengthening the Skokomish Tribe's economic hand.