The Gateway to Old Spokane —
There’s a room in the office building Greater Spokane, Inc., calls home with a plaque outside its doorway. A lot of people walk by it on their way into meetings. GSI’s primary corporate conference room is big — can fit a healthy 50 or so folks. They hold press conferences in it, board meetings, committee meetings, even regular old routine meetings. This is where Spokane’s most influential power brokers conjoin, where they ritualize consensus building — a unique custom formed over the course of generations whereby the topic de-jure is thoroughly analyzed to ensure it won’t jeopardize anyone’s best business interests. You want to know why Spokane is mired in old-thinking and why younger folks have such a hard time changing it? Because the gatekeepers that are old Spokane are exactly that: gatekeepers and old Spokane. And on their gate is a plaque that reminds them all, every time they walk through it, just who is in charge of what – it’s really quite the metaphor.
That plaque outside the door is a reminder of who’s throwing around all the money lately – memberships, sponsorships, advertising revenue, naming rights (and who knows what else). It doesn’t have Avista’s name on it, nor does it have Kiemle & Hagood’s, or the City of Spokane’s, or Fairchild’s, or the Spokesman Review’s, or Riverpark Square’s, or even one of the hospitals.
To the contrary, those folks are all old news. In fact, most all of them are chasing the new kid on the block vying for his attention, chasing the money.
The Vegas Incident
Tedesco received a poor performance review earlier this year that criticized him for, among other things, not being “respectful of the city process or protocol.” It also mentions a “series of incidents which have not reflected positively on the DSP,” including “the ‘Las Vegas incident,’ involving a representative of the Kalispel Tribe.
from The Spokesman Review, Sept. 20, 2012
In May of 2012, I found myself having a high-priced sushi dinner in a sheik Vegas restaurant. Among those in attendance were the brass, including the President, of the local Spokane real estate brokerage Kiemle & Hagood. Also in attendance was an upper level administrator for the Kalispel Tribe of Indians – Kiemle & Hagood reps were particularly interested in gaining his favor. All told, there were roughly 20 of us sitting around the table.
The dinner was casual, we spoke about this and that. I made an effort to extoll the virtues of finding a way to keep the retailer H&M interested in downtown. Trouble was, the broker who was trying to attract H&M to the Valley Mall was also at the table and proceeded to lecture me on the power of the free market and how it’s not government’s job to dictate where retailers choose to set up shop. In return, I lectured him that I get paid to attract business downtown, I’m not employed by the government, and I’m not serving the best interest of downtown Spokane if H&M migrates to the Valley. (Sadly, H&M now calls the Valley Mall home. I guess the greater good doesn’t matter so much when you’re chasing a commission. Looks like I lost that argument.)
But H&M is not the purpose of this story. With just a touch of frustration in the air, once the last glass of wine was poured and the night life of Vegas was starting to call, I turned to the Kalispel administrator and asked a simple question: “So, if they moved it, would you still be against it?”
Thus marked the beginning of the end of my tenure as President and CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership. The storm that followed was swift. The whole table proceeded to dress me down. One of my employees in attendance called me an asshole (and he was probably right), and the rest of the trip was pretty much a total bust.
Upon arriving home, the text messages and phone calls from important people up and down Spokane rolled over me. In a vain effort to control the damage, I called a meeting with Kent Caputo – the metro’s Stealth Powerbroker, and the one most responsible for the largess the Kalispels have found within the Spokane market.
So we sat and had coffee, the most powerful man in Spokane and myself – he was really quite hospitable and understanding of how overblown the situation became. He was, however, also very clear: if the Downtown Spokane Partnership were to take a position opposed to the Spokane Tribe’s gaming proposal, Northern Quest sponsorship money would rain down upon the organization.
For my remaining time with DSP, we never took the sponsorship money. Upon my termination from employment with the Downtown Spokane Partnership, however, they have officially taken a position against the Spokane Tribe’s casino proposal. I wonder how much their “sponsorship” and “membership” revenue streams have grown since my departure?
As for Keimle & Hagood, as I write this post, they have a large for sale sign on a parcel of land directly adjacent to the Spokane Tribe’s STEP project. The investments the Tribe has made into their property (and will continue to make), have inflated land values all around it. Kiemle & Hagood stands ready to capitalize on the Spokane Tribe’s investments, despite their general opposition otherwise. I guess the greater good doesn’t matter so much when you’re chasing a commission. Looks like that booze and sushi they fed me back in 2011 is about to pay off.
How to Defend a Dissertation
Over the course of the 1930s, a white guy by the name of Verne F. Ray was writing his dissertation in Anthropology. The specific subject of study was Cultural Relations in the Plateau of Northwestern America (1939).
Dr. Ray wanted to know where the aboriginal boundaries of all local tribes were actually located. His research was exacting (as all scholarly research ought to be). He rode on horseback with elders from numerous tribes, mile upon mile, navigating the many diverse terrains of the Inland Northwest, and eventually was able to map their historic boundaries – the Spokane and Kalispel tribes’ amongst them.
The results of his work sat quietly for many years. Dr. Ray established himself as a professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington and, over the course of his long career, became the nation’s foremost expert in plateau Indian ethnographies.
Not until Congress passed the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946 did Dr. Ray’s dissertation (and field of research) begin to dictate the nature by which the United States government defined the historic aboriginal boundaries of our local tribes.
In 1961, the Spokane Tribe won a claim against the United States government that, for the first time in Euro-American history, firmly established their ancestral boundaries. Dr. Ray’s academic curiosity unintentionally established a firm legal foundation courts and federal bureaucrats have leaned on throughout the years when looking toward documentation of historic aboriginal lands.
The latest federal ruling that leaned on Dr. Ray’s findings (among many others) was from the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Kevin Washburn. In writing to Governor Jay Inslee to recommend approval of the Spokane Tribe’s STEP project, Washburn explicitly states:
…we conclude that the proposed site for the Spokane Tribe’s casino in Airway Heights is within the aboriginal area of the Spokane Tribe, and that Airway Heights is not within the aboriginal lands of the Kalispel Tribe.
The Spokane Tribe has a long history of welcoming neighboring tribes to enjoy the fruits of the Spokane River and her surrounding country. The Kalispel’s Northern Quest casino is the latest example thereof.
(For the court’s full finding, download this: Indian Claims Commission.)
The Art of Misdirection
Modern politics is predicated upon repeating simple talking points and remaining on message, however near or far from the truth it may be. The roots of this political truism can be traced back to a 20th century French philosopher, Michel Foucault, who dwelled deeply on the relationship between discourse and power; which is to say, what organizations communicate and how it influences the masses.
I suspect Foucault would be pleased at how effectively the “encroachment” argument has segregated the community’s opinion regarding the Spokane Tribe’s STEP project, so much so that amongst many circles, it is considered infallible dogma. But what’s even more brilliant is how the encroachment argument enables the Kalispel Tribe to avoid the simplicity of head-to-head opposition against STEP – a losing position to be sure.
Thus, GSI carries the banner of encroachment – an argument built on a foundation of speculation that spills over a cascade of maybes and what-ifs. By design, encroachment deflects and distracts from the more foundational argument at hand: the Kalispel Tribe doesn’t want the competition.
The link at the bottom of this post is a download of Assistant Secretary Washburn’s letter to Governor Inslee recommending approval of STEP, as well as another 117 pages of supporting documentation. In it, Washburn’s office makes no small effort to painstakingly cite and retort every argument and public document the Kalispel Tribe placed on the record in an effort to kill the Spokane Tribe’s proposal. The vast majority of the Kalispel’s arguments against STEP hinge on the “threat” of increased competition. Simply put, the Kalispel Tribe successfully navigated the exact same process the Spokane Tribe is navigating to gain approval for an off-reservation gaming facility. To boot, their gaming operation is on another tribe’s ancestral lands. Now that the Kalispels have successfully captured the bulk of the market, they simply don’t want to share it.
Assistant Secretary Washburn, however, disagrees with their position:
Mere competition to Kalispel’s Northern Quest casino from the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino in an overlapping gaming market is not sufficient, in and of itself, to conclude that it would result in a detrimental impact on the Kalispel Tribe.
Even more appropriately, Washburn points out that the Kalispel Tribe are victims of their own hypocrisy:
When the Department issued a positive Secretarial Determination for the Kalispel Tribe’s Airway Heights site in 1997, the Secretary expressly noted that the Spokane Tribe had a substantial investment in 3 casinos that would be impacted by competition from a Kalispel gaming establishment. Nonetheless, the Secretary issued the Secretarial Decision for Kalispel and stated that, “intense competition can be expected” from a new Kalispel casino.
As for GSI, they are simply the Kalispels’ hired gun. Independent of the encroachment argument, under the guise of “economic development” GSI purports to advocate for job creation and the best interest of metro Spokane. However, either by tragic coincidence or by design, they achieve the exact opposite.
The general purpose of GSI isn’t to improve the greater good of metro Spokane, the purpose of GSI is to give the business community a tool to vet proposed economic development projects and decide whether or not the competition jeopardizes their individual best interests; and with another round of sponsorships and diamond membership renewals, GSI will take the position that best protects its largest donors, despite the greater good.
There’s a room in the office building Greater Spokane, Inc., calls home. It’s called the Kalispel Room.
About the Author
I’m the Planning and Economic Development Director for the Spokane Tribe of Indians. If you accuse me of bias, you’d be right, but it’s well earned.
Here’s the full Letter from Assistant Secretary of the Department of Interior Kevin K. Washburn to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.