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Chairman maps Tribes' future with commitment to the past
Times Snohomish County bureau
Gill nets, pulled by tides and wind, arced across Tulalip Bay during the coho run this summer, their cork floats and nylon lines dotting and dashing the water's surface.
Tulalip Tribal Chairman Stan Jones would rather be out fishing than almost anywhere else.
But between weekly meetings of the tribal board of directors and of the committee that oversees the Tulalips' booming casino and retail development at Quil Ceda Village, he contents himself with driving to the Tulalip Marina several times a week and puttering on his boat, the Skipper J.
Jones' long life — he turned 80 in July — has paralleled the history of Native Americans in the past century, from boyhood impoverishment on the reservation to his work to win tribal fishing and gaming rights, to the relative prosperity and political power the Tulalip Tribes enjoy today.
And he has matured, from a hard-brawling young man to a revered tribal elder known for consensus building and the revival of Native traditions once banned by the federal government.
Under his leadership, the Tribes have built a modern medical clinic, expanded services to the elderly and offered college tuition to all of their members.
Jones has served continuously on the Tribes' board of directors for 40 years, 27 of them as chairman.
"We've had a number of good leaders, but in my mind, Stan's the best chairman we've ever had," said Bernie Gobin, 76, a tribal member and Jones' lifelong friend.
In all his work, Jones said, he has been guided by the desire to do what's best for the tribe and its future.
"We look seven generations down the line. We have to leave something for the youth," he said.
Jones initially said his brother, one of seven housing-authority directors, was being made a scapegoat. But more recently, he has taken a less-charitable view.
"I don't appreciate what he's done," Jones said. "I don't make excuses for him."
Visionary ideas, usually
Jones sometimes spins off new business ideas without thinking them through. This spring, he proposed flying wealthy casino patrons to Lopez Island, where the tribe owns a dock and an abandoned fish-processing plant. He suggested that the squat brick building could be replaced with a heliport and a fishing lodge.
The proposal raised an outcry on the rural island amid concerns the Tulalips would use their status as a sovereign nation to skirt local land-use regulations.
Jones has since backed away from the idea, suggesting instead that the property be used for summer youth programs for the Tribes.
But over the years, many of Jones' ideas have turned out to be visionary. In 1990, with the salmon industry in collapse, he called for the Tribes to use their land along Interstate 5 to attract new commercial development. He said if the Tribes could put their own people in management, "We could create so many good jobs."
He was the first chairman of the National Task Force on Indian Gaming that pressed the federal government for the right to open casinos on reservation land and give tribal governments a means to become financially independent.
"We'd been to Reno and Las Vegas. We knew it would be a huge economic boon," Jones said.
And he saw the value in joining with other tribal governments to elect political candidates sympathetic to the Tribes' interests. Between 2000 and 2005, the Tulalips contributed nearly $1.8 million to state political races and causes, according to records filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Jones also kept track of Tulalips who had moved away from the reservation and made names for themselves in business. Tribal Board member Chuck James was a vice president for Bethlehem Steel when he returned to help run the new casino. State representative and tribal member John McCoy was a manager for a Washington, D.C.-area technology firm when he returned to manage Quil Ceda Village.
McCoy said the tribal chairman called him repeatedly over the years, always with the same question: "When are you going to come back and help your people?"
17 different families
Despite his long-range vision, Jones said he could not have imagined today's prosperity as a boy growing up on the reservation.
His mother died when he was 3. His two brothers and sister were taken away from home by police when he was 4 and sent to a government boarding school. His father remarried and, with his new wife, had 11 more children.
Unsure where he fit in, Jones lived sometimes with his grandmother and sometimes with friends. By the time he left the reservation to join the Marines in 1944, he had lived with 17 different families.
"Stan was just like an orphan," said his friend Gobin.
The Tulalip reservation in those days was marked by government handouts and subsistence living. Men fished when the salmon ran. In winter, they chopped wood. There was no running water and no electricity. Hunger was a constant and jobs nonexistent.
"Basically, we were the poorest people on Earth," Jones said.
When he returned to the reservation after World War II, he took up his father's life of fishing and logging. Gobin remembers his friend as a "wild young man and a well-known fighter."
Jones said that, fueled with drink, the young men of one tribe would challenge another. With more amusement in his voice than braggadocio, he notes that he usually won.
But in 1950, he met his future wife, Jo Ann. When their first child was born the following year, he vowed to never let his children see him drinking. He stopped smoking, too. When he thinks back on his life now, and reflects on all of the Native Americans for whom alcohol has meant "ruination," Jones counts among his achievements that he has been "clean and sober all these years."
In the living room of their midcentury brick rambler on the reservation, Jo Ann fills in the gaps when her husband's memory falters. On the walls are Native American paintings, as well as pictures of Jones with former President Clinton and Jesse Jackson, politicians who actively sought tribal advice and financial support.
When a creaky chair causes Jo Ann to switch seats, Jones winks at his 73-year-old wife and says, "I thought that was you."
Jones' living-room recliner is surrounded by books and papers. On the Tulalip board of directors, to which Jones was elected in 1966, he established a reputation for a strong work ethic.
"He's a constant reader," said Roy Hatch, a former council member. "He'll sift through a stack of papers for meetings, sift through all of it. He'd be ashamed if he didn't do it. He takes his responsibility seriously."
McCoy said Jones is also a skilled consensus-builder.
"He knows when to be firm and decisive and when to let people go off and talk some more," McCoy said.
The tribal chairman also is credited with helping to revive Tulalip ceremonies and traditions. After the Boldt decision in 1974, which awarded Washington tribes half of the state salmon catch, the Tulalips gathered some of their elders to teach the younger generation traditional songs, drum chants and dances. Jones transcribed the Native words into English.
In 1976, the First Salmon Ceremony was held along the shore of Tulalip Bay. As hundreds of tribal members watched, Jones and other tribal leaders greeted a canoe at the shore and accepted the season's first king salmon from a young tribal fisherman.
Mason Morisset, a Seattle attorney who represented the Tulalips in the Boldt case, said Jones' testimony in that case and his detailed recollections of fishing in Puget Sound with his father as a boy, helped establish that the Tribes' traditional fishing ground included salt water, not just the mouths of rivers and the shores of their reservations, to which the state had restricted them.
Jones' testimony also stressed the close spiritual link between salmon and coastal tribes, the belief that their lives were mutually dependent and intertwined. In asserting their treaty rights to salmon, they were also asserting their culture and heritage, Morisset said.
This summer, Jones gave his deposition in another federal lawsuit that could have consequences as far-reaching as the Boldt decision. The suit asks the state to replace thousands of highway culverts that tribes say block salmon passage. A coalition of 20 Washington tribes argues that implicit in their hard-won treaty rights is protection of the salmon's habitat.
"There's no right to fish if there is no fish," said Morisset.
While Jones has continued to press for economic development for the Tulalips, for expansion of their business investments and the modernization of their government services, he has never lost sight of their tribal identity and the importance of environmental stewardship.
Said Morisset, "Stan never had the benefit of a formal education, but he became wise."
Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company