Tribes play a key role in economic development | Noo-Kayet

The prosperity of tribes also impacts the health, safety, and quality of life of the communities in which they live

In Washington state, there are 29 federally recognized tribes. In each of the counties that these tribes reside they are often one of the area’s major employers. In short, tribes make a huge impact on the economics of Washington state.

There are a lot of examples: the Tulalip Tribes’ Quil Ceda Village, accounts for close to 5,500 local jobs with an annual payroll of $98 million. The Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribes are top employers in Kitsap County, alongside the Navy and the school districts.

The prosperity of tribes also impacts the health, safety, and quality of life of the communities in which they live. For example, Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish gift thousands of dollars each year to non-profit, educational, and community groups through our respective giving programs.

While it’s fairly easy to measure the economic impact of tribal-owned businesses, it’s far more difficult to measure the money brought in by one of our state’s most essential employers: fisheries.

Most members of the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribes practice their treaty rights by working with our local fisheries. Not only does fishing take on a lot of different forms — commercial, subsistence, fin vs. shell — the trickle down effect is massive.

For example, shellfish harvesting from Port Gamble Bay and the Hood Canal brings in millions of dollars each year. This revenue has an aggregate economic effect for Kitsap County businesses and surrounding communities. During the harvest, fishers require essential goods and services, such as marine gear, food, special clothing, daycare services, and more. The harvest also helps employ local buyers, processors, and shippers, while grocery stores, seafood distributors, and restaurants benefit from having access to locally caught seafood.

As fishers are paid for their hard work, that money is spent at local stores and restaurants on food, clothing, fuel, home goods, school supplies, and other family needs. In short, a lot of people depend on fishermen.

This picture plays out all over the Puget Sound. Recently, Crosscut, an online publication, wrote a series of articles that tried to measure the importance of fishing to Washington’s economic health. While they concluded that more than $6 billion is brought in by commercial fishing, the number of jobs linked to the industry can only be estimated at tens of thousands. This is because there are a lot of jobs — engineers, boat builders, gear manufacturers/retailers, etc — that rely on fishing indirectly. In an area that today might be sometimes better known for coffee, high-tech, and aerospace, there’s little argument that fishing has a deep economic influence.

Given the money they bring in, tribal fishermen in Kitsap County are responsible for more than feeding their families; they are a part of our state’s economic recovery.

Fishing is one of the hardest and most dangerous jobs around, but, for those who do it, it’s also one of the most rewarding. It brings our fishermen (and women) closer to our culture and ancestors. It’s a proud tradition; one that I’m positive will exist long after the Microsoft and Starbucks are but a distant memory.

—Jeromy Sullivan is chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Contact him at