Tribe to Sign Land Settlement Pact : Indian claims: Puyallup members will share $162 million for relinquishing interest in acreage in Tacoma area.
Leaders of the Puyallup Indian Tribe here will join local, state and federal officials today in signing the second largest native land settlement agreement in history.
In exchange for relinquishing legal claims to thousands of acres of land owned by non-Indians in and around Tacoma, the tribe will receive $162 million in cash, real estate and economic development programs.
Each of the 1,545 Puyallup tribal members over age 21 will receive a cash payment of $20,000 in the next two months. The tribe itself will receive 900 acres of land, including some prime waterfront property.
“It means becoming totally self-sufficient, not having to rely on the local, state or federal government for funding,” said Roleen Hargrove, vice chairwoman of the five-member Puyallup Tribal Council.
She said the hundreds of millions of dollars that is now expected to flow into the area through development of the Port of Tacoma means a bright future for her people. “It’s incredible,” she said. “It’s left to the imagination” how much the settlement will change the lives of tribal members.
Attending the signing of the agreement at the U.S. District Court in Tacoma with Puyallup Chairman Henry John will be U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, who is credited with seeing the agreement through Congress, Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. and Washington Gov. Booth Gardner.
The agreement came after six years of negotiation with 13 municipalities, the state and the federal government, Hargrove said.
The only larger land settlement case was the 1971 Alaskan Native Claims Act that cost $960 million and involved 40 million acres.
The Puyallups had alleged that white settlers swindled them out of their land following the signing of the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854. In 1974, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the tribe’s reservation boundaries, covering 18,000 acres throughout the entire Tacoma area.
In 1984, the tribe sued the Port of Tacoma and the Union Pacific Railroad to regain possession of tide land on Commencement Bay and the riverbed of the Puyallup River.
Since then, title to property held by non-Indians within the reservation boundaries has been clouded, stifling resale and hindering development.
Shirlee Kinney, director of administration for the small city of Fife, which is entirely encompassed by the boundaries of the reservation, said the agreement will free the city to prosper.
But not every member of the Puyallup tribe is pleased with the settlement. “I think these non-Indian people got away very, very cheap and we are the ones who are going to pay for it,” Debbie Joseph told the Associated Press.
Curtiss Napoleon said the Port of Tacoma, built on claimed lands, entitled tribal members to $500,000 each. But he said he could see benefits for fisheries, housing and other tribal programs in the settlement.
The tribe’s unemployment rate is 60%, and Leo Whiteford, program manager of the tribe’s treatment center, said the urban tribe has been affected by crack cocaine and heroin, as well as alcohol.
He said the $20,000 one-time payment is a potential problem, particularly to those with drug and alcohol problems. “That’s a huge amount,” he said. “A lot of people have not had that much before at one time.”
Contributors to the settlement include the federal government, Washington state, private businesses and nearby municipalities.
Benefits that will flow to the tribe include 300 acres of bay side property, $51 million for bridge construction over the Blair Waterway and $10 million for fisheries enhancement.