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Sheldon delivers Tulalip Tribes ‘State of the Nation’ address

Tulalip Tribes Chair Mel Sheldon Jr., center, elaborates on the Tribes’ plans to Mike Benbow, left, and Ron Dotzauer, right, immediately following his “State of the Nation” address for 2009 at the Tulalip Resort Casino March 27. - Kirk Boxleitner
Tulalip Tribes Chair Mel Sheldon Jr., center, elaborates on the Tribes’ plans to Mike Benbow, left, and Ron Dotzauer, right, immediately following his “State of the Nation” address for 2009 at the Tulalip Resort Casino March 27.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

TULALIP — Tulalip Tribes Chair Mel Sheldon Jr. was brisk in his delivery of the “State of the Nation” for 2009 at the Tulalip Resort Casino March 27.

At the Greater Marysville-Tulalip Chamber of Commerce “Business Before Hours” meeting March 27, Sheldon acknowledged the economic downturn across the country, but expressed optimism that the Marysville and Tulalip communities would overcome these difficulties together.

Sheldon pointed to the approximately 500 staff members that have been added in the nine months since the opening of the Tulalip Resort Hotel last year, and described the Tulalip Resort Hotel as a “premier destination” for both midweek business conferences and weekend entertainment, citing the fact that they’ve been sold out on several weekends. He deemed much of this business as coming from Washington state residents whose dollars were “staying local.”

Sheldon acknowledged that the Tribes have made “necessary but painful” budget cuts, but emphasized that none of these cuts have resulted in any of their roughly 3,000 staff members being laid off. He added that all 3,000 staff members also continue to enjoy health and dental coverage, and praised the work and ideas of Tribal Elder Loretta Zackuse, Quil Ceda Village Deputy General Manager Steve Gobin, HIPAA Compliance Officer Shelly Lacey and the Tulalip Tribes team as a whole. Sheldon admitted that it can be challenging to try and save money during an economic downturn, but he also sees an opportunity to turn the Tulalip Resort into “a viable destination for years to come.”

At the same time that Sheldon stated the Tribes’ intention to pay down its debts “before we borrow more,” he predicted that the Tribes’ new administration building would have a “soft occupancy” date of late June, before opening officially in July of this year. The three-story, 400-person-capacity building has been designed “green,” and Sheldon expects that its geothermal system will yield a savings of approximately $400,000 a year. Out of the nearly $34 million construction budget, Sheldon estimated that $29 million will be spent locally. Another opening, set for late summer to early fall, is the Tulalip Museum, and as a Vietnam veteran whose helmet took a hit during the war, Sheldon was proud to announce that one of the museum’s first shows will feature Tribal members who have served in the armed forces.

Sheldon explained that Quil Ceda Village can still accommodate more businesses, and that Seattle Premium Outlets could expand to include as many as 100 more stores. Among the possibilities for Quil Ceda Village that Sheldon listed were a fine dining restaurant and a gas station with a mini-mart. On a broader scope, Sheldon cited the Tribes’ work with the city of Marysville and Snohomish County on a culvert project on 116th Street, as well as their efforts alongside state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen on behalf of a university campus in North Snohomish County. Since 1992, the Tribes have made $27 million in community contributions.

Sheldon’s address comes on the heels of the Tulalip Tribes Annual General Council meeting March 14, during which officers of the Tribes’ Board of Directors were elected following polling. Tribal members re-elected Sheldon as chair, Marie Zackuse as vice chair, Chuck James as treasurer and Marlin Fryberg Jr. as secretary. This marks Zackuse’s 19th year as a Board director. The elected Board members and officers were sworn in and taken office at their April 4 meeting.

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