Skip to main content

Tulalip tribes sign historic agreement with the city of Seattle

SEATTLE - Following hard on the heels of the recent political debacle by the Washington state GOP and its "Indian Resolution," is some better news regarding tribal political status in the state. For the first time in history, the city of Seattle signed an agreement of equal sovereign status with an Indian tribe.

Tulalip Chairman Stanley Jones and Seattle Mayor Tom Schell signed the agreement which outlines mutual respect for the sovereignty of the federally recognized Tulalip tribes and the city, as well as respect for the values and culture represented by the tribal government. Provisions of the agreement are designed to assist in improving communication between the tribes and the city, encourage the development of mutual goals and facilitate resolution of issues.

Although the city has entered into government-to-government relations with other Washington tribes, this is the first time it initiated the process as a forward-looking, cooperative development rather than damage control over pre-existing problematic issues.

"This agreement signals a new phase, a recognition of roles and responsibilities, a level of maturity and respect in intergovernmental relations that we've worked hard to create," said Mayor Schell.

The tribe's executive director John McCoy said he had been working with former Mayor Norm Rice and Mayor Schell for four years to bring the agreement to fruition.

From statements made at the signing, it was clear that at least some city council members' enthusiasm for the agreement stemmed from a desire to distance themselves from the "anti-Indian" politics that played out at the state's Republican Party convention in Spokane in June.

"We recognize tribal governments are unique within our federal system of government," said Margaret Pageler, councilwoman. "And this protocol is designed to help us deal with that unique status."

Scroll to Continue

Read More

The city council voted unanimously in support of the agreement.

The comprehensive agreement calls for both parties to work and "celebrate together to further the basic goals of a regional community." These goals include promoting respect for different cultures, linking people to their heritage, fostering a sense of place, deepening community pride, encouraging civility, fostering empathy and offering hope for the future.

The agreement also calls for public educational efforts to create better understanding of the government-to-government relationship between the tribes and the city.

Most important to the Tulalip Tribes, the agreement acknowledges the environmental and economic pressures that proximity to Seattle creates along the Puget Sound corridor.

McCoy has pointed out that population pressure and economic opportunities in the city have created bedroom communities to the north and south. The rapid growth, which has added several thousand non-Indian residents to the Tulalip Reservation over the last several decades, has created problems with tribal infrastructure as well as systems in local communities.

Road and sewer systems have maxed-out and there is an ever-growing concern over damage to watersheds, salmon habitat, wildlife and cultural artifacts from archaeological finds affected by city expansion of sewage treatment, power and water facilities.

"In order for us to survive, we all need to work together," McCoy said.