Mixing tradition with progress in Washoe Tribe

Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily Tribune

Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily Tribune

After a month as tribal administrator of the Washoe Indians, a South Lake Tahoe woman with a little Cherokee in her and a lot of civics experience said she wants to advance heritage issues and an economic development plan for this century.

As for the cultural resource issues facing Nancy Kerry, the Washoe Tribe's high-profile case as a party of action with the U.S. Forest Service against Cave Rock climbers is expected to make California's 9th District Court of Appeals in San Francisco in the next few weeks.

And with the latter, the former assistant city manager for Solano Beach didn't rule out its own Indian casino to help the 2,000-member tribe with roots in Tahoe and ties to California, Nevada and 13 counties build on its financial future. The tribe owns at least 66,000 acres primarily in Douglas, Alpine and Sierra counties, some fueling stations and the Meeks Bay Resort.

But constructing its own slot-machine, table-game haven represents an ambitious concept for Kerry, which may come long after the healing, consensus-building and outreach - internally and externally.

Kerry, who notes she doesn't fear adversity, said the job as the head of the tribe didn't come easy for a predominantly Caucasian woman. But she's touting her leadership and communication skills to conduct outreach within the tribe and outside the Native American culture.

One of the first orders of business was to get the tribal council to meet every other week like local governments do.

"It's a struggle for them - and that's pretty courageous on their part. But I told them they have to give me a chance," she said, citing nepotism in tribal leadership positions as creating a culture of unethical behavior and distrust. "We're going to have adversity and a difference in opinion. I want to help them find their voice. It won't be my voice or my vision. It will be theirs."

In the short time she's been on the job, Kerry said she's learned the tribe's "hearts are broken," and racism still exists, if anything, from the non-progressives in society. Many have come up in the form of jealousy when tribal members make money on the Indian casinos.

But Kerry envisions a world in which these issues become less prominent. She pledged to have her 400-member staff work toward a compromise that recognizes the sensitivity to the tribe's experience with injustice in the past and the contemporary view of progressive thought in white culture.

Kerry, who also has a background in criminal justice, will manage the day-to-day administration of business and government operations of the tribe recognized by the federal government in the 1930s.

Under the direction of the Gardnerville-based tribal council, Kerry intends to host more community workshops for the tribe. The first one was scheduled last Friday.

"Nancy has been an important asset in the transition for the new council because she has a broad background in governmental administration," said Waldo Walker, tribal chairman.

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